Surviving the worst

Cancer patient knows first-hand how Regional Cancer Center will benefit future patients

REED CITY — When Rick Kempton took a drink of a festive beverage at a Christmas party in 2007, the burning sensation that followed felt like cruel torture. “It was like someone took a red hot poker and put it down my throat,” Kempton explained. A visit to the doctor the next morning confirmed his worst nightmare. The then 50-year-old chain smoker had a cancer tumor growing in his throat. “So I said, ‘Cut it out and it will be ok, right?’” Kempton said. “Well, it wasn’t quite that easy.” After a surgery to remove the cancerous tumor, daily treatments of chemotherapy and radiation began. The Canadian Lakes business owner fought a five-month battle with the deadly disease, losing 50 pounds, struggling with depression and seeing the emotional burden on his family as they watched him teeter on the edge of life. The painful process of cancer therapy treatments still is vividly seared into his memory. “Every day I’d get on the table, they’d clamp my face down so I couldn’t move. The treatment is horrendous. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone,” Kempton said. “When you hear of people going through it, you don’t know how bad it really is.” As painful as the cancer treatment was, the journey between treatments only added to his pain. Required to get two shots and radiation every day for 36 days, Kempton would drive to the Infusion Therapy Services building in Reed City for the shots, then travel across the street to the Crossroads Radiation Therapy Center for a second dose of treatment. “Twenty minutes after the shots, I had to get back in the car and go over to the radiation center and get zapped over there. I had to do that every day,” Kempton said. “I actually thought when I was doing the treatment, this would be a lot easier if we put it all in one.” Aiming to fill the needs of cancer patients like Kempton, the Susan P. Wheatlake Regional Cancer Center will house radiation and chemotherapy treatments along with a host of new technologies under one roof when it opens in summer 2013. “This project is so much more than brick and mortar. It’s people like Rick,” said Spectrum Health Development Director Christie Carlson. “These people who have been through the journey are making this possible. Whether they are helping financially or just giving their time to spread the word about the campaign, it’s all needed.” The campaign’s goal is to raise $2.4 million to add 9,000 square feet to the existing Crossroads Radiation Therapy Center, located at 4499 220th Ave. in Reed City. Currently, nearly $1.4 million has been raised through support from community members, businesses and organizations. Construction to expand the facility on the south side of the current building will begin next month. Fundraising will be ongoing as construction begins. For Kempton, the hardest part about going through a battle with cancer was the toll the disease took on his family. After his mother, Mary, passed away at 60 years old, the family was not strangers to death caused by cancer. When Rick got the disease, they feared the worst. “It was scary. ...My dad, he actually said that he would take my place. I always remember that,” Kempton said. “And he would’ve. He would’ve taken my place.” Though cancer claimed the life of his mother, Kempton is determined not to let the deadly disease overcome his ability to help others. Coldwell Banker Lakes Realty, which Kempton owns, has supported the Susan P. Wheatlake Regional Cancer Center financially in Mary’s honor. The family also established the Kempton Center for Women, which offers personalized women’s imaging services in comfortable and supportive clinical surrounding at the Mecosta County Medical Center. “When you have cancer, you get mad because you don’t really think that it should happen to you,” Kempton said. “It’s a tough treatment to get to the other side. But once you get to the other side, it’s not all that bad. In a weird way, it has improved my life.”
HOW TO HELP There are many opportunities for donating to the Susan P. Wheatlake Regional Cancer Center and additional facility naming opportunities as well. To donate, log on to or contact Christie Carlson, development director of the Spectrum Foundation at Reed City Hospital, at (231) 832-7184.