I am Bob Norvelle and this is my story.
In 1997, about a year after my wife and I relocated from Oklahoma to the Phoenix area, I got a call from my mom at work. My Dad had prostate cancer. I remember feeling like I had been sucker-punched, to the point that I almost couldn’t breathe. At the time, I equated cancer with death, and remembered feeling like I had lost my Dad.
Dad was an avid cyclist. Since my childhood he was always commuting or just riding for fun. I remember as a grown up thinking how dumb it was, how he looked in those clothes, and why on earth anyone would ride a bike a hundred miles. He was heavily involved in PAC Tours, having completed the Central Transcontinental and several shorter rides with Lon Haldeman and Susan Notorangelo and then volunteering his time for many other PAC events. He and Mom also were RAAM fans, and served as race officials a few times. Obviously, he was in good physical condition, so he opted for surgery. The procedure went well, and he was back on his bike within a few weeks. We pretty much forgot about the cancer and went back to our lives. Until 2011, anyway. Dad had skipped an annual checkup, and by the next time he was tested his psa numbers went from normal to over 100 in the space of 2 years. The cancer had metastasized and he was in stage 4. After 2 years of chemo and radiation he passed away at home in January of 2013. I was fortunate enough to be there for the last 6 weeks or so, to help my Mom take care of him. Even as his body decayed and finally died, his spirit was always triumphant. He refused to be angry, or to feel sorry for himself, and in that respect, he definitely beat the cancer.
My wife Del Ann and I were busy raising 4 wonderful children here in Arizona, and Mom sent us all of Dad’s bikes after he passed away. Del Ann has always been active – she played basketball in high school and never really stopped running and working out for the 34 years we’ve been married. I, on the other hand, had fallen pretty sedentary with a desk job and business travel. In 2015 a friend challenged us to do a sprint triathlon with him, so I dusted off the bike that had been hanging in the garage for 2 years and learned how to ride it. “No problem” I thought. “I was on swim team when I was 10 years old, and I ran cross country in high school. How hard could it be?” Dad’s bike was a state of the art (for 1999) carbon fiber Trek Y-Foil, by the way, and as soon as I sat on it and turned the cranks for the first time I realized what he saw in it. It wasn’t like any heavy, poorly maintained steel monster that I was used to riding.
Well, that first sprint triathlon was really hard! What a wake-up call. But as soon as I finished the race, I knew I could do better. In other words, I was hooked. I started a regular schedule of triathlons, bike races and ran a half-marathon a couple of times even though running is not my favorite thing to do. I started to lose weight and feel good, and kept looking for the next step forward.
Meanwhile, due to my Dad’s passing, my family doctor had been ordering regular psa tests for me. By March of 2017 I had passed 4.0 and the numbers had accelerated upwards, so he suggested I have a biopsy done to see what was really going on. When we went to see the urologist to get the results, I thought I was ready to hear it. I wasn’t. I know we were with the doctor for at least 30 minutes, but the only thing I heard him say was “You have cancer”. I felt the sucker-punch again, but this time it was so much worse. For the next 4 weeks we agonized over the decision between radiation or surgery. Del Ann was my rock through it all, and my family doctor was able to put things into perspective. Considering my age and physical condition, we opted for surgery. I underwent a “Robotically assisted radical prostatectomy with bilateral lymph node dissection” on May 25th of 2017. (That DaVinci robot is pretty amazing, look it up on YouTube if you have an extra 5 minutes.) 4 days later the urologist called with the good news – “We got it all”.
This was great news. It meant that the cancer hadn’t spread, and I wouldn’t need to undergo any chemo or radiation treatments. Men- Early Detection is so important! If you’re over 50, please get tested, or at least have your doctor add the psa test to your usual bloodwork.
It’s amazing to me how much energy a body uses recovering from surgery, or even sickness for that matter. 5 days after the surgery I was feeling ok, so I took a quarter-mile walk in the sunshine. 2 hours later I was down for the count, so I stayed inside for another few days. I started walking again, and really had to take it easy or I would be wiped out. 6 weeks later (ok, I may have cheated by a day or two) I went on a celebration ride with Del Ann. My friend and training partner, Toru, joined us, and I started my slow comeback. I had gained back the 20 pounds I had lost over the last couple of years, and had little in the way of strength or stamina.
With the support of my family, tri club and cycling club teammates, I never had a chance to feel sorry for myself. Full recovery was the only option I had, and I’m grateful for each of them.
In August that year, just 10 weeks after the surgery, I was able to complete a 65-mile mountain bike ride from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon with friends, and I started training for my first half-Ironman at Oceanside, California. I crossed the finish line of Oceanside 70.3 on April 7th – exactly 1 year after the doctor told me I had cancer, and I cried like a baby.
My urologist recently broke up with me, as it’s been 2 ½ years and my psa is still “undetectable”. That’s an interesting word to me, undetectable. The resolution of the psa test, at least today, is 0.03. You might be tempted to say that my psa is zero, but there’s no way to know that for sure because the test can’t see anything unless it’s over 0.03, hence the word “undetectable”. Technically my psa level is not zero, but it’s below 0.03. But you know what? That’s fine. I can live in fear, and lose more “living”, or I can go out there and do epic things and live life to the utmost.
I choose life. Even if it comes back, I will strive to live fully until the end, the way my Dad taught me.
This year I have completed several longer cycling events, including the 206-mile Lotoja race and the WTTC in Borrego Springs. I covered 325 miles in 24 hours riding Dad’s 1999 Trek Y-Foil. I have left his name decal on the frame all these years, and I can see it when I ride. I hope that he is proud of how I am living. I choose to spend more time with family and friends, and purposely try to enrich the lives of those I come in contact with. Being selected for the RAAM21 Gear up for Cancer team fits my choice perfectly. Obviously, I love riding bikes at least as much as Dad did, but even more important I can be a part of the fight to stop this devastating disease.