Denfeld News

May 2004
Twin Ports People

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 difference.

“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 22.”

Tim says surviving cancer is all about attitude and heart.

“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 the corner.”

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, I guess.

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, Tim says.

“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 Swanson.

“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 a lot.

“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.

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