Lamb battles cancer like a lion
When Ben Lamb was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2014, he decided to take the advice he’d given many times to his St. Croix Central athletes and students.
“I coach kids to never quit. There’s always the chance of fighting through,” Lamb said during a recent interview. “Quitting is not an option. You fight until you can’t fight any more.”
And that attitude has carried Lamb through. Lamb has been pronounced cancer free. He will continue to do a regiment of treatments to make sure the cancer doesn’t return.
Lamb is a special education teacher at St. Croix Central Middle School and he serves as one of the varsity track coaches at Central.
Lamb is a competitor. He played football, basketball and track at Spring Valley High School. He was a linebacker on the UW-Eau Claire football team, graduating in 1997.
It was at the 2014 WIAA State Track Meet when Lamb first noticed something was awry with his health.
“I felt a lump on the side of my neck. I thought I slept funny,” he said.
The lump continued to grow during that weekend. When he returned home, he went to the River Falls urgent care. A CT scan was immediately performed, but the results were inconclusive. He was given an antibiotic and sent home.
The lump reappeared that August. A doctor in Spring Valley was proactive, arranging for Lamb to meet with a specialist who ordered a biopsy.
“On October sixth, 2014, I got the phone call. I was sitting in my classroom when the call came. They told me I had cancer somewhere,” Lamb recalled. “I sat in silence for 20 minutes, everything possible was racing through my mind.”
The next day, Lamb began a two-week series of tests, scans and biopsies to determine where the cancer was in his body. On Oct. 16, Lamb and his wife, Nicole, met with the oncologist. He was told it was esophageal cancer, which had metastasized to a small spot on his liver and the lymph node in his neck. Lamb then sought a second opinion, meeting with an oncology team at Mayo Clinic.
They put him on a “chemo cocktail” that he used throughout his treatments.
At that point, Lamb took leave from teaching to begin treatment and he began informing people what was happening.
“It was hard to tell people, but it was great to tell people,” Lamb said, with his sports mentality beginning to show. “I didn’t want to tell anybody until we had a gameplan. You can’t defeat something until you have a plan.”
What caught Lamb off guard was the reaction to the news.
“The outpouring of pure support is breathtaking. You don’t realize the good in people until something bad happens,” Lamb said. “That was probably the hardest thing to do, to accept help.”
From November through April, Lamb went through a course of treatment that included daily radiation, along with chemotherapy on alternating weeks that was administered through a port that was surgically implanted in his chest. After completing each round of chemo, he’d be sent home with a pump that would distribute another medication into his system for the next 48 hours.
After that treatment, another scan was done.
“It wasn’t complete remission, but the doctors were happy,” Lamb said of the progress shown.
In September 2015, Lamb started another 28 rounds of radiation on his neck and chest, along with another batch of chemo. The radiation was done daily, with chemo done each Monday.
“The radiation was fine until round 18. Then I started having side effects. I lost my goatee. My wife and kids had never seen me without it. I had it 20 years, but it grows back,” Lamb said.
The effects of chemotherapy and radiation also meant Lamb had to remain isolated because his immune system was weakened by the treatments.
“The hardest part, my grandfather was dying and I wasn’t allowed to say my goodbye,” he said. Family members did relay his feelings to his grandfather, who understood why Lamb couldn’t say his goodbye in person.
In January, Lamb began his maintenance routine.
That led to April 1, when he underwent an upper endoscopy. The news was what Lamb dreamed of hearing, that there was no cancer that could be found anywhere in his body.
Lamb credited the people working at the different medical facilities for helping him to maintain a positive attitude through all the tests and treatments.
“Everyone has the same positive attitude, from the chemo rooms to the radiation places. The nurses at the River Falls hospital (where Lamb took most of his treatments) are some of the best people I’ve ever met,” he said.
Helping to maintain the attitude to fight the cancer every day was Nicole.
“My wife has been amazing, just pure strength. She never batted an eye. She never let me feel sorry for myself,” he said.
The challenges of the past two years have been difficult for Lamb and his family. But he’s come through it with a new attitude and a realization of what is important.
“The last two years have taught me to do the big things, that’s what matters. That’s family, followed quickly by friends,” he said.
Lamb said the experience has changed his attitude, causing him to be a happier, more relaxed person.
“I’m living every day the way I want to live. Dad, husband, teacher and coach. I have the four greatest jobs in the world,” he said.
Not knowing what his future held, the Lambs packed as many adventures as they could into those two years.
“We were making memories. We’re not going to wait. The last two years have been a blast because the memories we made will last a lifetime,” Lamb said. “I’ll look back in 30 or 40 years and smile.”