Hard Country Rick Snelson started radio at KVMR in l982 and throughout the years his ending tag line was "Hard Country will air one more time if all goes well and the creek don't rise"--and in 2003 that tag line came to have new meaning.
Rick was diagnosed with Squigmous cell carcinoma of the tongue and mouth and his radio show took a back seat to saving his life. He quit his job with the Sacramento Kings and took a leave of absence from KVMR. All of his efforts would be focused on living.
After consultation , he was faced with a choice--surgery to remove the cancer or radiation to kill the cells and save his tongue. Because he was a broadcaster the decision was made to take a chance... Kaiser, not having the special facilities in the area for this kind of radiation, sent him to Sutter who shared him with Mercy. Rick received a full course of radiation (he would never again be able to use radiation as a course of action should it come back).
Straws filled with radioactive beads were run through his tongue. (Details added here, so you can read this to your pre-teen who is thinking about smoking.) In Jan 2004 he was told the cancer was gone and he was on his way back to good health. "We will call you cured after 5 years of clean tests, he was told". In April 2004 Hard Country aired one more time.
Although, cancer free, Rick had radiation burns in his mouth that would not heal and 3 years later, tests revealed that the cancer had returned to the jaw bone and the tongue and tongue base. Without surgery Rick was told he had six months to live. Once again Rick had to tell his listeners that Hard Country might not air one more time and the cancer had returned. He told them he was in for the fight of his life.
Throughout the years, Rick's cancer was treated by Nima Pahlavan of Kaiser Sacramento and it is he who hatched the miracle. "Rick, I have a colleague that went to school with a very talented surgeon and he is doing some really interesting things."
MAY 2007 Dr. Bryan Fong, Kaiser ,Walnut Creek, CA--"This is the plan, Rick.We are going to cut your face from bottom lip to throat and side ways to your ear. We are going to remove all the cancerous bone from front to back. Remove most of your tongue and the bottom floor of your mouth. Then we are going to remove your femur bone from your leg, along with some tissue and skin.We will miter-cut the bone to fit your jaw and rebuild the bottom of your mouth with some of the leg tissue. Hopefully, you will be able to walk and talk and eat and be cancer-free when we get done..." The "we" included another talented surgeon, Dr. Gurushantitia of Oakland, Kaiser.
So, on 7-7-07 (lucky day?) in Oakland, CA, the miracle surgery that made everyone's jaw drop began.
JULY 2007 5:30am-11:00pm--Two talented surgeons work non-stop with four surgical teams (they only work eight hour shifts) so 2 shifts of 20, 17 hours of surgery, 6 days of ICU, and 2 other surgeries to hook up things and to make minor adjustments. It all seemed to work and he looked better than anyone ever expected. On the 12th Rick was discharged from Oakland, Kaiser Hospital and sent home with his wife to recover.
Since discharge Rick has worked hard to heal and recover his ability to walk, and talk. Swallowing has not returned so rapidly. By his birthday in November, he was well enough to travel some. A flight to Tucson to visit his mother-in-law ( always recommended for quick recovery) Rick rented a car and traveled all over southern Arizona and New Mexico practicing his speech. F's and K's are the hardest. It was hard work, and a struggle, but Rick would come up with some really funny (tho Xrated things to say with F's and K's.) While visiting a tiny 10 watt community radio station in Bisbee, AZ (KBRP 96.1 LP FM-- LP meaning low power), Rick told all of us that he was going back to radio in Dec and so the plan was made.
As the first of December approached, Rick again did not feel well but he couldn't quite put his finger on it. The Sunday after Thanksgiving, the balloon holding his feeding tube exploded and Hard Country is on hold again. "It would have been easier to have my bathroom remodeled at Christmas than it was to get Rick's plumbing taken care of." Audra told Steve Baker and so again, Hard Country listeners were told that Rick was AWOL and would hopefully return in the new year.
Six months to the day, after leaving the hospital, Rick returned to the air. The circle was complete. He had fought back and was once again in the studios of KVMR with his friends and music. Honky-tonk filled the Saturday airwaves and the party was on. Rick, being a man of few words sometimes, laid out the plan...."They cut my tongue off so Audra Mae is going to do most of the talking. Sooo, let's get back into the music... and that's how the return went. Great honky-tonk, lots of friends and Steve Baker (program director), with a hawk's eye and a big smile.
Rick's back and KVMR has one of its own back in the saddle. The closing song this time--"I gotta lot of living to do " and the Snelsons got on their horses and rode out. On to new adventures...and his name is Rick and he'll be back in two weeks, if all goes well.
Rick would like to thank everyone who sent cards, good wishes and prayers. Each of them helped us go on and were very special gifts. We also want to thank our awesome doctors, without whom this is just another obituary.