Ray Paulsen is lucky. He is lucky because, even as he experienced the pain of cancer and a succession of uncomfortable treatments, he lived a remarkable life.
"When they tell you that you've got cancer, that doesn't mean you're going to die," said Paulsen. "Those six letters are not the end of the world. It helps if you just keep going. Put it in the background and just live."
Paulsen has had cancer for 25 years. He'll tell you no one knows him better than Dr. Bob Niedringhaus, his oncologist who, until he semi-retired a year ago, he saw at least once a month.
"Everyone wants to live, but there are some people who do it better and with a little more grace," said Dr. Niedringhaus. "ray didn't let cancer run his life."
Paulsen and his wife Carmen, both private pilots, were diagnosed with cancer within a month of each other at their pilot physicals. Carmen was the love of Paulsen's life. Energetic and fearless, she excelled at everything she tried from stock car racing to gardening.
Throughout her battle with breast cancer, Paulsen said, she absolutely refused to complain. "Every morning she would get up, open the drapes and no matter what the weather-rain, snow or hail, she would say, ‘Well, it's another beautiful day.'"
She had cancer for eight years and died at age 43. "In the 22 years we were married, we lived a better, more productive, more enjoyable life than 99 percent of the people out there."
Paulsen credits his son, who is also battling cancer, and daughter-in-law for helping him stay in his house."He has had seven surgeries and he still finds time to come up here and help the old man," said Paulsen. ray's daughter is also a survivor, having struggled with serious kidney and bladder ailments her whole life, and has proved all "life expectancy" estimates very wrong.
From Dr. Niedringhaus to neighbors and friends from church, he has found there are a lot of good people out there. "I am so grateful to so many people who just show up and help out."
Paulsen has found a way to give back. He set up a charitable gift annuity in 1998 when he first learned about the cancer research fund, and he has been giving every year since. "With research, I feel there's something around the corner that just needs a little nudge and it will help a lot of people."