It seemed just like any other weekday when Bill Milstid headed out to lunch with co-workers on Jan. 9, 2004. He started to fill a bowl with food for the chef to grill when his life suddenly changed.
“I woke up in an ambulance on the way to Evergreen Hospital (in Kirkland),” Milstid, 31, recalled Wednesday at his parents home in Kent. “I was looking out the window and wondered what the hell was going on. The last thing I remembered was scooping mushrooms into a bowl.”
Milstid had suffered a seizure at the restaurant. He’d never had a seizure or any other major health problems until that day. Doctors ran a MRI and CT scan and discovered a large tumor, as well as several smaller tumors, on his brain.
“It’s something you never want to hear,” Milstid said. “I was in shock for a couple of days.”
A biopsy later determined that Milstid had brain cancer with Grade 2 tumors. Doctors told him he could have anywhere from five to 20 years to live, but they didn’t really know for sure. Grades 3 and 4 are the most malignant tumors, with Grade 4 patients often given less than a year to live.
Milstid and a group of his relatives and friends were expecting to turn out for the 11th-annual Relay for Life of Kent Friday and Saturday. Taking place at French Field near Kent-Meridian High School, the 20-hour relay is expected to draw upward of 5,000 people.
This marks the sixth year Milstid has participated in the relay’s cancer-survivor lap around the track.
“When you see 5-year-old kids on the survivor lap, it really opens your eyes to this horrific disease that there is no cure for yet,” he said.
Milstid, who is divorced with a 10-year-old daughter, counts on family and friends to help him live with his disease. He worked in Web development for several auto dealers before his doctor put him on medical leave last October during his latest round of chemotherapy. He continues to remain on leave.
“I have to give credit to my friends and family,” he said. “They have a shoulder there when times are down.”
That line of support includes his parents, James and Shelley Milstid, older sisters Jamie Harres of Bonny Lake and Sarah Craft of Kent, as well as friends such as Ken Weeks, who even provided car rides to Milstid during a period when he could not drive a vehicle.
Jamie Harres became involved with Relay for Life after cancer struck her brother. She has served as a chairperson of the event and was the team development director this year.
But family members have learned from their son and brother as well.
“Bill has been an amazing inspiration to the rest of us with his attitude,” said his father, James Milstid. “It’s been a mutual thing. With his positive attitude, when we’re down, he pulls us back up. It has drawn the family together.”
Relay of Life teams meet regularly at the Kent Senior Activity to map out their plans, and Milstid willingly shares his cancer story at those gatherings.
“I like to get the message out that you’re not alone,” he said.
The Relay for Life gives cancer survivors a chance to meet others going through the same challenges.
“When I started the relay, there’s hundreds of others like me out walking,” said Milstid, a 1996 graduate of Kentridge High School. “It’s an inspiration to me when you share the different stories of cancer survivors.”
About a month after Milstid’s first seizure, he had a second seizure. Since then, he has had sensory seizures, where he feels kind of fuzzy and his face turns numb, but he does not black out. The sensory seizures have been more frequent the last couple of years.
“It’s like an electrical snafu in your brain,” he said.
Milstid had six weeks of radiation treatment within the first month after the initial diagnosis. His chemo treatments continue.
“It’s a lighter dose by pill and the side effects are not as severe,” he said. “So far, I’ve been able to keep what hair I had.”
But doctors recently discovered a small spot on his brain that grew to grape size from pea size in a few months. Milstid is waiting for the final report on a recent biopsy to determine whether his cancer has moved to Grade 3 from Grade 2. Grade 3 probably would mean chemo through intravenous therapy for Milstid.
“I have not had to do that, and I hope I do not need to,” he said.
Milstid enjoys playing golf, Xbox, going to the movies and most of all, spending time with his daughter, Kyra.
“I pick her up from school and see her all of the time,” he said.
There are good and bad days for the Kent survivor. But through the struggles, he keeps looking forward.
“I try to keep the attitude that you don’t let it slow you down,” Milstid said. “There’s plenty of life to live.”
Milstid prefers to face his cancer head on.
“I’ve come to the realization that if cancer takes me, it takes me,” he said. “I don’t let fear get to me. I’m not going to live my life in fear.”
• To donate to the American Cancer Society through Relay for Life of Kent, go to www.rflkent.org. Donations will be accepted online after the event.
For more information about the American Cancer Society, visit www.cancer.org.
What: Relay for Life of Kent
When: 6 p.m. Friday to 2 p.m. Saturday
Where: French Field, Kent-Meridian High School
Benefits: American Cancer Society