In any journey, the first step can sometimes be the hardest. For Joe Beeler, Colorado native and active outdoorsman, his journey, despite its hurdles, has only just begun.
Three years ago, Joe was at the top of his game. A successful real estate broker, Joe worked alongside Terri, his wife of 28 years. He was physically in great shape, even setting a state record for his age group in dead lifting. At 61, he was looking forward to slowing down and spending time vacationing with Terri.
One day after training, his journey took an unexpected turn. Joe began feeling pain in his calf--something he tried to shrug off—but his wife insisted that the pain was not normal and that he should seek help.
When Joe first came to Good Samaritan Medical Center in 2016, his pain was diagnosed as an unprovoked blood clot with further tests hinting at a possible cancer diagnosis. Joe’s entire world changed when the oncologist diagnosed him with multiple myeloma, a rare cancer of the plasma cells.
Multiple myeloma is a cancer that starts in your bone marrow, specifically in your plasma cells. These normal cells go through a series of changes, which can eventually cause excess cell growth, resulting in tumors in the bone.
After a bone marrow biopsy revealed 90 percent malignant plasma, Joe was shaken to his core, asking the age-old question: “Why me?”
Like many individuals facing a new diagnosis, Joe kept his cancer private from most of the people in his life. In these early days, Joe found anger to be the most accessible emotion and feared that people may begin to see and treat him differently.
Joe waged an aggressive treatment plan that included seven rounds of chemotherapy and other drug therapies to prepare stem cells for two bone marrow transplants. Joe found himself hooked up to IVs in both arms for five hours a day, four days straight.
Before he could undergo a bone marrow transplant, life threw him another curveball: Joe contracted MRSA, a deadly bacterial infection that depleted almost all of his white blood cells. Joe spent the next 11 days in the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit, where his doctors and care staff worked around the clock to control the infection in his body. Amid the fogginess of the medicines, Joe recalls feeling ambivalent for the first time about life and death. He’d already been through so much—diagnosis, seven rounds of chemotherapy, stem cell harvesting, and now this? The physical, emotional and financial weight was taking its toll.
Thanks to the support of his wife and family and the Good Samaritan Medical Center doctors and nurses, Joe’s body began producing white blood cells again and his doctors told him that he was going to be okay. At this point, Joe’s journey made a transformative shift, both physically and mentally.
In the next few months, Joe began a holistic trek back to health by working out, eating right and resting. He also began channeling his anger into action by becoming an advocate for himself, something he strongly suggests to other patients. He found his questions shifting from, “why me?” to, “why NOT me?”
Joe’s approach is three-fold: First, he considers his treatments as his first line of defense, rounded out by knowledge and healthy living, which encompasses diet, exercise and emotional wellness. Janelle Wagner, his nurse practitioner at Good Samaritan Medical Center’s Cancer Centers of Colorado, said she’s “continually amazed at the strength of cancer patients,” but that Joe seemed to take greater control of his situation than most patients do.
Joe began to embrace his role as an advocate for himself and his condition. He started attending seminars and becoming active in online multiple myeloma groups, rediscovering strength in having a support network. In addition to opening up about his diagnosis with those around him, he even started his own support group where he and others could learn first-hand from those with similar diagnoses.
Outside of his involvement in the multiple myeloma community, Joe began incorporating holistic lifestyle changes to improve his recovery. As part of his routine, Joe started working out again, focusing on lower impact exercises, such as yoga, to stay centered and de-stress to allow his body to focus on healing. He also transitioned to a plant-based diet to reduce inflammation and relies on natural foods for their detoxifying effects.
After multiple rounds of chemotherapy, Joe’s cancer is now in remission. He continues to receive treatment every two weeks at Good Samaritan Medical Center, but his recovery reached new heights when he summited Mt. Democrat in July 2017 with his son, Trevor, by his side. And now, father and son are preparing to reach the next apex in their journey: Everest.
In October 2018, Joe and Trevor will participate in the Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma program, hosted by the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF). The pair will climb to Everest Base Camp and Kalapathhar, aiming to raise $20,000 to advance multiple myeloma research to, one day, find a cure.
With cancer currently in the maintenance phase, Joe remains committed to his holistic approach and wants to inspire others to “not take anything lying down.” In his own words, “This is not a death sentence. Live, thrive, survive, make a contribution to society. No excuses. Go for it!”
Click here to support Joe’s journey to Mt. Everest and research for a multiple myeloma cure.