Dan Eigen clearly remembers two incidents last April when he hurt his back - one while reaching into his boat, and another when he hit a pothole while driving his truck.
Little did Eigen - better known to many as Walleyedan, of Walleyedan’s Guide Service in Lake Shore - know the pain over the next two months would escalate to the point of waking him up screaming at night with agonizing back spasms and an eventual diagnosis of multiple myeloma, or bone marrow cancer.
For the past four-plus months Eigen has undergone chemotherapy treatments with the goal to go into remission so he can have a stem cell transplant. He hopes that transplant happens around March, after the ice fishing season.
This Thanksgiving, Eigen has much to be thankful for, including life.
“I’m thankful I have a wife and caregiver that has been with me through every treatment,” Eigen said of his wife, Shelley. “She used to do most of the stuff … now she’s had to do everything.”
“One morning I reached into my boat and grabbed something and felt like I pulled muscles in my upper back,” Eigen, 51, recalled earlier this month while sitting in the cozy living room of his Lake Shore home with Shelley.
That was last April during turkey hunting season, which is a big passion for Eigen along with anything else outdoors. He was favoring his upper back when later that month he jarred his lower back when he hit a pothole while driving his truck while turkey hunting.
He dealt with the pain through May and June, guiding fishing trips with a sore back.
“I remember at the end of June I couldn’t lift a fish out of the water with my net,” Eigen said.
At Shelley’s urging, Eigen visited a chiropractor who said he couldn’t believe Eigen had been fishing and that he needed bed rest.
“Before, during and after, I got muscle spasms that were so excruciating I didn’t know what to do,” Eigen said. “I’d scream in the middle of the night and wake up the house.”
He eventually spent nights in the family’s little cabin to let Shelley and their son, Mac, 17, sleep. The Eigens also have two daughters - Alex, 23, and Elizabeth, 19.
Eigen eventually saw a neurosurgeon who detected a hairline fracture in his back, but said there wasn’t anything that needed to be done.
One night the pain was so intense Eigen drove his truck barefoot to an emergency room.
“Nobody knew what was going on,” he said.
A physician’s assistant friend of his parents asked for Eigen’s charts, and asked if anyone had noticed the high inflammation marks. This was when they started to make some headway into what was wrong.
One night Eigen’s mom was with him in the cabin when he had a back spasm that was so severe she called 911 for an ambulance.
“That’s when we started getting answers,” Shelley said.
On July 19, they learned Eigen had multiple myeloma, which weakened his bones and led to three broken vertebrae that were causing the muscle spasms in his back. It’s unknown how long he had cancer; it could have been growing slowly over the years, a doctor told him.
It wasn’t what they were expecting to hear, but at least they had a diagnosis.
Eigen was hospitalized for two weeks to get the pain under control and to undergo a first round of chemotherapy. Thankfully, an eventual vertebroplasty on a vertebra ended the muscle spasms.
He went home with a walker and returned weekly to the hospital for chemo treatments, eventually graduating to using a cane and then being able to walk again on his own.
Under the care of Mayo Clinic doctors, Eigen takes a chemo pill daily and gets a shot in the back of his arm weekly to fight the myeloma. His numbers were decreasing, but not as fast as doctors had hoped, which led to another chemo treatment that included a 10-hour infusion that he had a reaction to.
He’s now had that chemo treatment weekly and has tolerated it better. He’s more than halfway through the eight-week treatment and had his numbers checked at Mayo Clinic in Rochester a week ago.
“Some days I would be able to walk down the road fine, and the next day …” Eigen said, noting he has a lot of aches and pains throughout his body.
Today, Eigen feels the best he has since May, though he still wears out fast and aches. In the past few weeks he’s gone duck hunting and deer hunting, and on Nov. 16 he guided his first fishing trip on Gull Lake’s open water since May.
“Within the last couple of weeks he’s felt like this,” Shelley said, and both said the past four to five months have seemed like an eternity with being bombarded with information and doctor appointments.
“Every day I have gotten a bit better,” Eigen said.
The Eigens are appreciative of family, friends and community support.
“People care. I truly believe that I got this - God allowed it, He knew I needed this for whatever He had planned for me next, whatever it might to get me ready for the next step,” Eigen said.
“If it’s His will, I’ll carry on. And if He wants me out of here, I’m out of here,” he said, noting they take one day at a time and simply live for the day.