Everyone loves Tim
By Howie Hanson
If we picked a good-guy-in-local-sports all-star
team, Tim Utt would be a unanimous first-team selection. And not
just because Utt, 51, is battling cancer.
He has been popular as a fastpitch player and
coach and even as a Zamboni driver during his lifetime. He’s
touched a lot of people in the local sports world in a positive
way. Everybody loves Tim.
But make no mistake: Tim is battling for his life.
He has Stage III multiple myeloma, a plasma cell neoplasm cancer
found in the bone marrow. It’s been a physical and financial
struggle since he was first diagnosed in July 1998.
Family and friends have stepped up to provide
significant support—especially his wife Mary and their two
children—and Tim’s positive attitude has made a huge
“There have been times that it’s been
tougher on Mary than me, I’m sure,” says Tim. “The
kids have also hung in there with me.”
Tim doesn’t waste time sitting around feeling
sorry for himself. He walks up to four miles a day with his dog
Sheyenne, still works part-time at Hermantown Lumber (in a job they
created for him) and this spring he is serving as a volunteer coach
with the Denfeld softball team.
“I was told that it’s usually a one-
to three-year cancer,” says Tim. “I asked one of the
docs what the record was for surviving multiple myeloma patients.
He said it was 21 years, and I told him that I’d see him in
Tim says surviving cancer is all about attitude
“I’m not going down without a fight,”
he says. “Right now they don’t have a cure, but cancer
research makes strides every day, so I know a cure is just around
Tim’s treatment has included two surgeries
and intensive chemotherapy and readiation therapy. Chemotherapy
uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Radiation uses high-dose x-rays
to kill cancer cells.
“It’s a leukemia type of cancer that
goes through the blood,” says Utt. “It will go to a
bone and make it look like it’s been attacked. I’ve
got it up and down my spine, and in my ribs. I still receive treatments,
but I’m in remission. But it’s incurable. It’s
there. I still receive treatments once a month.
“In layman’s terms, my bones are like
Swiss cheese. Mine is one of ten cancers of its type, and I have
the rarest form. I’ve known three or four people who have
what I have, and two are no longer with us. I’ve been lucky,
Utt had two surgeries early in his treatment.
The first, performed by Dr. Jay Lenz, removed the original tumor
which had destroyed a rib that helps to keep the chest wall attached,
“So, they replaced the rib with some Teflon,”
Tim says. “I always joke that if the Metrodome ever springs
a leak, I could make a great human patch.”
Utt’s second surgery, performed by Dr. Robert
Donley, was to replace a vertebrae in his neck—which the cancer
had also destroyed.
Dr. Robert Dalton is Utt’s oncologist.
“It’s because of Dr. Dalton that I’m
still around,” says Utt. The cancer came as a shock to everyone,
including Tim’s longtime friend, Denfeld softball coach Dick
“All of a sudden he’s got tumors and
his bones are being devoured,” says Swanson. “His odds
weren’t very good. He’s been down, but he’s never
given up. It’s out of his control, and he’s on the experimental
edge of treatment.
“He’d be taking chemo but never lost
his hair, saying it was because he ate so many coneys and his system
was used to it.
The first sign
Tim’s nephew first pointed out a tumor on
his side that appeared as big as a Nerf football, they concluded.
“He saw me laying on the floor and said,
‘Gee, Uncle Tim, what’s that big lump on your rib?’”
says Tim. I knew my ribs were sore, but I hadn’t seen the
lump. I was in shock.”
Tim’s worst fears were realized when the
tumor was found to be cancerous.
“I’ve said right from the start that
I will fight this every day until the end,” says Tim. “I
won’t mope about or feel sorry for myself, and I’ll
do what I can now. There are times when I hurt bad—real bad—and
I get fatigued. At other times I feel fine.”
Tim says the support he continues to receive means
“I couldn’t have done any of this
without my friends,” he says. “In 1998 they did a benefit
that got me through some tough times, emotionally and financially.
I could never repay the people for all that they have done.”
Softball in his blood
Tim is probably most passionate about fast-pitch
softball. The 1971 Denfeld grad and former pitcher was a Hunters
assistant softball coach under Swanson from 1990 to ’98.
“Swanny asked me to get back into it, and
I said I’d help out in any way that I can,” says Tim.
He says the young Hunters could surprise some teams in the playoffs.
“If we can start to get our bats cracking,
we’ll be OK for the playoffs,” Tim says.
Tim will be a volunteer coach at Denfeld as long
as he wants to be, Swanson says.
Never stop fighting
“I know a couple people who got sick, and
because they thought their life was over it became true,”
Tim says. “I never stop fighting.”
Now that’s the attitude of a champion.