A message from the desert isn’t lost on Ted Koppel | NevadaAppeal.com

A message from the desert isn’t lost on Ted Koppel

Barry Ginter

To Tom Blomquist, survival means many things.

There’s the bigger picture of surviving the cancer he was diagnosed with a year ago. It still controls all that he is able to do. Though the prognosis now seems favorable, each day brings new questions as he analyzes pains and changes in his body’s capabilities … is the failing eyesight just part of aging? … are the headaches just a side effect of the radiation? … or could they be signs that the cancer is back?

All of these things he must balance with the requirements of surviving each day in a dilapidated trailer in the middle of the desert, where he has no running water and just enough electricity (from a few borrowed solar panels) to power a few small lights and a laptop computer. He lives in this place by choice, as we’ve chronicled previously in the Nevada Appeal.

Against all of this, he must also tend daily to the survival of hope. When that is gone, he realizes, all is lost.

To this end, he has relied on the radio, on books and on his many friends.

One friend he never met was Leroy Siever, a journalist who died one week ago from cancer.

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Siever, who was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2006, had shared his observations on living with cancer in a blog called “My Cancer” on the National Public Radio Web site, in on-air essays on NPR and as part of the Discovery Channel program entitled Living with Cancer, hosted by his friend, Ted Koppel.

Thousands of people around the world followed his story, and one of them lived in the middle of the Nevada desert, alone with his two dogs.

“I kind of decided if he survived I could survive,” Blomquist said.

He was listening to National Public Radio on Monday morning, specifically the show Talk of the Nation, hosted by Neal Conan, whose guest was Ted Koppel. They were talking about the life and death of Siever, and Conan invited listeners to call.

And that is what Tom attempted to do, though the attempt was not graceful. In the cramped confines of his trailer, he fumbled for the phone, ending up with a fly strip caught in his hair. He punched in the number he thought he’d heard.

To his surprise, his call went through, and he was the first caller on the show, which reaches nearly three million listeners a week.

After Conan introduced “Tom from Silver Spring, Nevada,” he began:

“I found Mr. Siever very inspirational to me as I have some of the similar cancers, as I’ve now gone a year … survived a year and two days. I live off the grid, have no running water, etcetera, … so the radio has been a great help to me … . “

But he did not miss the opportunity to point out a major difference between Siever and himself ” his lack of health insurance.

“My goal is to point out the average working person, the working class, cannot get enough insurance.”

That brought strong agreement from Koppel, who pointed out that Siever not only had ample insurance, but access to the country’s best doctors.

“I totally agree with what you are saying,” Koppel said. “…The difference between that and trying to hack it on your own without insurance cannot be exaggerated.”

It is the plight of many Americans.

“It’s so strange,” Blomquist told his interviewers. “I was offered marriage in Poland, a woman half my age that I knew from working in Reno, so I’d have healthcare.”

“Doctors in this country are wonderful, but you get minimal care because you are not paying for it,” he said. “I am paying mine.”

He explained part of his strategy for paying his $141,000 in medical bills, the Web site he is using to sell t-shirts that say, “Armed, off my meds and can’t pay my doctor bills.”

“All my doctors wear them,” he told Koppel. “You got to have a sense of humor.”

He also said he had been ready to send one of those shirts to Siever before he heard about his death.

Koppel replied: “Well listen, he would have loved your t-shirt and he had one draped over the back of a chair at his dining room table that said ‘cancer sucks.’ I’ll bet you subscribe to that one, too.”

Bomquist laughed. “Well, it’s been a life changing thing, it really has.”

“Tom, hang in there,” Conan said.

He hung up the phone, feeling less alone in the desert heat.

As he pondered the conversation, many thousands of people around the country were doing the same thing. And hundreds of them were going to his Web site, getthisshirt.com, and clicking on the link that said, “Tom’s History & Who Is This Crazy Bastard Anyway?”

He even sold a few shirts.

Barry Ginter is editor of the Appeal. You can reach him at bginter@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1221.