Cancer took a lot from Dale Lauman.
It took his weight. It took his body’s ability to defend itself from sickness. And for a period of time, it took his hair.
But more important is what Lauman kept, even when the disease reached its peak last winter and he was in chemotherapy every three weeks.
He kept his focus on his job and the perspective that things could always be worse. And if you ask his wife of nearly 45 years, Lois, he kept any complaints he may have had about his Type 2 non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma to himself.
Now, after being diagnosed with the disease late last October and enduring six chemotherapy sessions through April, Lauman’s doctors say his cancer is in remission.
“This is good, to be on that recovery road,” Lauman said last week.
As a Flathead County commissioner, Lauman is one-third of the county’s legislative and executive branches. The job brings plenty of challenges, but Lauman is quick to point out the everyday changes that keep it exciting.
It was his job, along with his wife and the support of family and friends, that prevented him from dwelling on the negative aspects in his life, he said.
Lauman, 71, was born and raised in “the big little town of Somers, Montana,” and joined the postal service in 1963. He worked his way up through the system, eventually retiring as Bigfork’s postmaster in 1993.
Lois Lauman said she and her husband met at a dance. This December, they will celebrate 45 years of a successful partnership, one that Dale Lauman says got him through the information-overload the battle with cancer often brings.
“We’re a team,” he said, looking at his wife with a smile.
Lymphoma is a tough physical battle, Lauman said, and he is convinced no one – man or woman – could get through it alone.
“It takes a team,” Lauman said. “It takes a couple.”
As the other half of that couple, Lois Lauman said she relied on written reminders to keep each of her husband’s medications straight and to make sure they were doing everything correctly. She also relied on her philosophy to take life one day at a time and make sure to live each to its fullest.
“You could have a pity party for yourself,” Lois Lauman said. “You don’t want (cancer). But you have it, and you just deal with it and get over it and get on with life.”
Sitting in his county office last week, Lauman smiled when he recounted what kept his mind occupied last winter: dust abatement and snow removal. These were the biggest issues residents called or e-mailed him about, he said.
The commitment he made to his job kept his mind off his cancer, Lauman said, and made it easier to continue with business as usual.
“I’m the type of person that, if I have a job to do, I do it,” Lauman said.
County Commissioner Jim Dupont described his fellow Republican as a “typical old-fashioned type of guy” who continually meets his responsibilities head on.
Still, Dupont said no one expected Lauman to keep coming to the office once the chemotherapy began. He could have called the meetings in on a conference call and would have been legally able to vote.
“I was pretty surprised that he showed up as much as he did. I’ll bet I can’t think of five days that he probably missed,” Dupont said.
Commissioner Joe Brenneman was similarly amazed at Lauman’s resilience and ability to stay focused on his work.
“I have the greatest admiration for Dale in general, but in particular this winter, facing all the stuff he went through,” Brenneman said. “He kept in coming to work and doing what he could.”
In the past four years, Lauman said the commission’s biggest accomplishments have been developing dust abatement and snow removal plans, establishing and fine-tuning the county’s growth policy and renovating the courthouse and the Earl Bennett building.
The biggest success on the list was the new Flathead County Dispatch and Emergency Operations Center, he said.
“I think that’s the greatest accomplishment,” Lauman said. “It is the most beneficial to the people of Flathead County.”
There have also been considerable challenges. When he took office, the county was in the throes of developing the growth policy, which has been controversial since then.
Land use is always a huge issue for the commission, he noted.
“It tugs on a lot of heart strings and emotions,” Lauman said.
Unemployment is another trial the county faces – one that Lauman said is especially frustrating because it is largely outside of the commissioners’ control. He said it is hard to talk with business owners on Main Street who are worrying if they’ll survive through the winter.
“It’s heartbreaking; I feel sorry for those people. They put their lives into their businesses,” Lauman said.
His term ends in 2012, and Lauman hasn’t made up his mind yet about running again. He still has goals to reach, he said, and a lot can happen in that time.
“Hopefully, two years from now I can sit here and say I’m happy with what I accomplished or what I helped accomplish,” Lauman said.
Both Dale and Lois acknowledge there are more challenges ahead. They have learned cancer is also a greedy disease; it won’t easily give back the things it stole, and recovery is a long journey. Completing chemotherapy is certainly a milestone, but the chemicals take their toll on good and bad parts of the body.
“It kills everything,” Lois Lauman said.
Her husband’s immune system is still weak, which he said is one of the most frustrating parts of the disease. But Lauman said he is feeling stronger and believes he is slowly on his way back to health.
“I just live each day as it comes,” he said.
When asked if he ever considers taking some time off and calling in to the office, Lauman just smiled and shook his head while his wife laughed and said, “No.”
It’s just not his style.
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