This article is reprinted with permission of the Laura Kirkham Agency
I was born and raised in Stockton, Ca. When I was 4 years old, my family moved to a walnut ranch in the country. When I was about 22 years old, my future wife Arlene’s parents bought some land nearby and we were neighbors. Through farming, I became good friends with Arlene’s father and mother. I learned a lot about farming from her father. At age 23 I enrolled at UC Davis and farmed and went to college. After two and a half years I earned a degree in agriculture. Meanwhile, Arlene went off to college in San Jose. On a business trip there, I asked her out and then I asked her out again the following summer. By that February we were dating regularly and on June 14, 1957 Arlene and I were married.
I farmed and worked for PG&E at night. Arlene also worked until our children came along. We raised five children, two girls and three boys, in Manteca, Ca. In 1969, I started Brown Sand Company, a business that excavates sand for commercial use. Using my imagination and a bit of business adventure, I invented the first tubular recreational water slide. In 1974, I opened Oakwood Lake, a waterslide park and campground. Oakwood Lake closed 31 seasons later and at that time the park had 22 water rides, a 2,500 square foot pool, 400 campsites and a 6,000 seat amphitheater. All the while I was still farming.
Over the years, Arlene and I along with our children, enjoyed camping, sailing, spending time with each other’s families as well as working together. After our children left home, we traveled all over the world. I am immensely proud that all of the children have become successful in their own right.
Life was good and the family was growing. Nine grand children came along. In 1990 we found a little ranch in northern Nevada and moved there. We worked together for four years remodeling the old original home and growing alfalfa on the land. In 1998 as the result of a routine mammogram, a small tumor was discovered. Arlene’s grandmother and mother both had breast cancer, so there was a strong history of the disease in her family. We expected to beat this and continue with our lives.
Soon after the diagnoses of the small tumor, Arlene had a lumpectomy, followed by radiation treatments. She began to take tamoxifan. Arlene was pronounced cancer free after the radiation. She had annual mammograms, all of which were clear. In 2003, we were celebrating five years of being cancer free with a trip to Mexico. While having a massage, her rib broke. We went home immediately and sought medical attention. Tests revealed 9 brain tumors, liver lesions and cancer in her bones. The next two years were a series of doctor appointments and phone calls to experts.
We had an appointment with an oncologist at UCSF. We drove there, spent the night to be on time for an early morning appointment, waited all day and the doctor didn’t ever show up. We rescheduled and at the next appointment waited six hours to see the doctor. We met for about half an hour and then consulted with another doctor. This doctor discussed a new treatment but could give us no assurances that it would work. Arlene decided not to participate in that untried treatment.
We tried to see doctors at UC Davis but couldn’t get an appointment, despite help from those connected with the medical center. In the mean time, we were keeping track of her disease with MRI’s and blood tests. Results were discouraging.
Arlene sought care from a man who had an herbal program. She was faithful about taking the herbal medicines routinely. After about eight months on this regime it became apparent that the person treating Arlene did not have her best interest at heart. She decided to quit his recommendations.
We found a doctor in Reno who had a way of administering chemotherapy at about half the normal dosage, but Arlene decided to get more information before making a decision to undergo his treatment.
By now, our options were dwindling and we were anxious to find treatments that could offer positive results. Next, we consulted with a personal friend – a radiologist who suggested a healing center he knew of in Brazil. We traveled there and participated in the center that is run by John of God. Arlene had some success there in that two of the brain tumors were healed. We returned home and through radiation, the other brain tumors were killed as well.
Soon after the end of her radiation treatments, we moved to Ripon, Ca., so Arlene could be near her children and grandchildren and so that I would have help with her care.
In July of 2005, Arlene started chemo in Modesto, Ca. On the day after Thanksgiving in 2005 she died, leaving me, five children and their spouses, 9 grand children and 3 great grandchildren behind. (Now there are four great grandchildren.) We miss her more than words can say.
Decision To Take Action To Fight Breast Cancer
After Arlene’s death, I knew that I had to channel my energy into something positive that could fight breast cancer. I was looking for another label for our wines and my youngest daughter, Kristi, told me about a wine label that was for sale that might be of interest. She told me it was called Cleavage Creek. I thought it over, waiting a few months before I contacted the seller. I bought the label in 2006, and the first thing I changed was the focus of the label from the original racy type of marketing to something more tasteful.
The original label was contributing 10% of profits to breast cancer research. I wanted to do more. I got the idea to have an actual breast cancer survivor on the label. I decided to give 10% of the gross to breast cancer research and support. I wanted to inspire and honor breast cancer survivors.
I have spent a lot of time being angry because my wife died. I was angry because during the five years between her first and second diagnosis, we were not advised to monitor her condition with other tests besides the mammogram. I was angry because we spent time with doctors who didn’t seem to care, and who didn’t know about protocols at other major cancer centers.
I knew if I didn’t do something positive, my anger would eat me alive. So I turned to my passion for growing grapes and making wine. Anger morphed into determination … Determination to see that other women could have a better experience during the treatment of their disease , so that they could be better informed, so that they could take charge of their treatment, and so that they could have a better outcome.
The women we choose to appear on the Cleavage Creek labels are incredible examples of thriving and using their experience with breast cancer to make a positive difference. They are very brave and strong. They inspire other women. On our website (www.cleavagecreek.com) we have a page called “Choices.” This page is full of information and links to other websites which inform a woman who has been diagnosed with breast cancer that there are many, many choices and alternatives available for treatment. The page encourages women to take charge of their treatment and choose a doctor and a protocol that is right for them and their individual diagnosis.
Wine sales are the only way money for contributions is generated. By purchasing Cleavage Creek wines our customers receive a quality bottle of wine and also make a real contribution to help other women. If we can transform just one woman’s fear into initiative, and save just one life, then we are reaching our goal.
To date, Cleavage Creek has donated over $55,800 to breast cancer research. I believe in my heart that Arlene would be proud of the progress we are making and the lives we have touched. I know that I am.
Cleavage Creek wines have made significant contributions:
$30,000 to establish an Integrative Oncology Research Center for breast cancer.
With this grant from Cleavage Creek, the Bastyr University Integrated Oncology Research Clinic opened in February 2009. Bastyr University is located in Kenmore Washington. This outpatient facility provides state-of-the-science and state-of-the-art naturopathic and traditional Chinese medicine treatment and integrated management of cancer patients. The new clinic offers comprehensive support and treatment for each stage of the cancer patient’s experience, from diagnosis, treatment decisions, and restoration of immune function and health after completion of standard treatment.
Bastyr University will collaborate with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle to do a controlled outcomes study. This study will compare the ‘disease free survival’ and quality of life in breast cancer patients who are treated in the new Bastyr Integrated Oncology Research Clinic to women living in Washington State who do not include complementary, alternative or integrated therapies in their treatment regime.
$14,000 Payment for care of 2 breast cancer patients
Dr. Lois Johnson, an oncologist in Santa Rosa, Ca., specializes in homeopathic and natural medicines to treat women diagnosed with breast cancer. Dr. Johnson works with patients in all stages of treatment as well as with other oncologists so that women can have integrated treatment. Cleavage Creek is sponsoring two woman in Dr. Johnson’s care, purchasing the natural medicines for these patients during her term of treatment since these types of medicines are not usually covered by insurance. The cost for a year’s worth of medicine for each woman is estimated to be $7,000.00 per patient.
$11,800 Sutter Breast Cancer Center, Santa Rosa, CA
These funds go towards the purchase of Dedicated Breast MRI Technology, an Aurora Breast MRI System. This MRI technology detects tumors that are not typically identified by mammograms, especially those found in denser breasts of younger women or, in some cases, tumors, which develop in high-risk women or those with a strong family history of the disease. Unlike mammograms, which utilize X-rays, Aurora uses MRI technology to detect breast cancer.