Life can blindside you. When a crisis hits, the old daily routine quickly gets tossed aside.
“I think we’re still adjusting to the new Walker normal,” Dean Walker says in a recent interview. “We’re learning to take it a day at a time and just really try to enjoy the good things of the day we are given. And that’s not easy.”
Physical therapists Trish and Dean Walker are the recipients of the sixth Community Cares 5K, which annually finds a local who has fallen on difficult times. The Walkers are humbled, but also stunned to realize it’s their turn. They try to participate each year in the event, which begins at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Durango Community Recreation Center.
“We always like to do that one every year, never dreaming that ...” Dean says, and Trish picks up, “... I’d be on the recipient side of that.”
Four months ago, Trish Walker had surgery to remove a large tumor inside her skull. Doctors couldn’t remove it all, and she’s still undergoing chemotherapy, hoping for the best. Before Oct. 6, the 45-year-old had never had surgery, never had a broken bone or a stitch and had hardly even been sick.
“I’ve had a couple fillings. Big wow, right?” she says. “To have this – wow, where did that come from?”
Last fall, she started getting mild headaches that would quickly come and go. She started feeling abnormally tired, and knew something was strange when one day, she needed a nap. She woke up and began vomiting.
The next day, a Friday, their primary-care doctor advised a trip to the emergency room. There, a CT scan revealed a large tumor, 5 by 6 centimeters, in her left frontal lobe.
“This all hit us like, ‘Boom!’” Dean Walker says. “They wheeled in this funny looking stretcher and put her on that and wheeled her away.”
And she was quickly on a plane to Lakewood’s St. Anthony Hospital, where she was stabilized over the weekend. Meanwhile, Dean found a temporary home for the kids – Josh, 11, and Joslyn, 6 – and reached the hospital by car around 3 a.m. Saturday.
Pre-operation, surgeons outlined the plan to the Walkers, using a 3-D image of the brain. Sticky dots on Trish’s head helped guide the surgeons.
“What little I know about neurology, my knees were shakin’ at that point,” Dean says. Fortunately, his wife was there for comfort.
Says Trish: “I kept telling him, ‘It’s gonna be OK, we’re gonna be all right.’”
Doctors got most, but not all, of the tumor. But Trish, whom friend and Community Cares race director Ken Flint refers to as “a spitfire,” wasn’t down long.
On the Wednesday after surgery, Dean Walker says, “she got up, walked out of ICU, walked down the hall, got in the elevator, walked to the car ... and we left.”
Four weeks later, she began radiation. She’s done with that, but is undergoing chemotherapy daily by pill and several times a week by infusions. Hopefully, the residual tumor will shrink and disappear.
“Physically I’ve been doing pretty well,” says Trish Walker, who plans to run in Saturday’s event. “Emotionally, I have to stay on my knees and go back to the word of God.”
“We find that without it,” Dean Walker, 54, says of prayer, “the brain just goes to the negative side.”
Their pastor at First Baptist Church of Durango, Jeff Dobesh, says the 5K fundraiser is an opportunity to take a little pressure off the Walkers and carry a tiny bit of their load.
Dobesh is among the small group that makes the difficult decision each year on the race beneficiary; First Baptist combines with the Durango Parks and Recreation Department to host the event. Usually the beneficiary is not a church member.
“It’s not like they’re the only couple in town who’s struggling,” Dobesh says. “We could run a 5K every weekend. ... You just want to help everybody.”
It’s not something you apply for. The committee puts together a list of candidates on its own.
Dobesh says of the Walkers: “They would give you a list of half a dozen people they think need it more. If it was someone else, they’d still show up and run.”
The crisis has brought several changes in the Walker routine. They’ve had to take a step back on their new business that provides home physical therapy – “PT on Wheels.” Trish Walker, who has a teaching degree from Fort Lewis with a math emphasis, has home-schooled or share-schooled the children until this year.
Meanwhile, friends and strangers have come to their aid, whether it’s preparing meals or making sure the kids are entertained.
“Many prayers have been already answered,” she says. “And the love that the community has shared has far outreached anything imaginable.”
John Peel writes a weekly human-interest column. email@example.com