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His legs ached; the pain woke him in the middle of the night. Trips to the doctor netted a dismissive diagnosis of growing pains, but the pain persisted. His mother took him to a different doctor. He was five years old.

“(The doctor) listened to my symptoms; he didn’t even touch me. He asked to see my mom in the hallway. My mom came back in, got me up off the table and we went to the hospital.”

Understandably, he was terrified.

“I was tied to a gurney, fighting and screaming with the orderlies, scared to death, having been rushed from the doctor’s. In comes this lady wearing a white coat, saying, ‘You get those off of him,’ rescuing me.

“She just said, ‘Greg, you probably have cancer. What I’m going to do you is going to hurt, but be aware: If you work with me, we’ll manage it together.’”

That experience set the course for the rest of his life — having cancer, surviving cancer, and the compassion of the doctor.

Because of those experiences, 35 years later, Greg Deitchler is a mental health and Marriage and Family Therapist — with a special spot in his heart for helping people with chronic illness, along with couples, regular people and at-risk kids.

“Helping and hoping and instilling hope is what my passion is: to be around as many people as I can, lifting them up.”

(His doctor was then-pediatric oncologist Bonnie Vestal; read her story in a previous Heart of Treasure Valley.)

His story as a boy continues. For three years, he had successful treatments for acute lymphocytic leukemia and was considered in remission. But one day, he said he didn’t feel good. On the way to the doctor, he fell into a coma and didn’t wake up for 36 hours.
The issue was an intolerance to his drug treatment, but the significance was that his cancer had returned. He was eight years old.

In 1981, Greg says, a leukemia patient with a relapse didn’t have good survival odds. With a bone marrow transplant, the odds were 50 percent, but he didn’t have a match (and there was no donor registry back then).

“My chance of survival went from 50 percent to 1 percent.”

But “one percent” means that someone beats the odds. And that person is Greg.

“I got a blessing after coming out of the coma. My blessing was that I got to live a longer and prosperous life when the doctors thought I was going to die by the end of the week.
“(After five years of difficult and experimental treatment), at the end of it, it worked. The researchers and the American Cancer Society started saying, ‘Here’s our miracle kid.’ I started my public speaking career at the age of 10 …”

He has continued that path of speaking out, helping and giving hope — one-on-one or to large audiences. Both the bad — and the good — emerge from having cancer.
“(Maybe) I should be 6-foot-3. I’m left-handed and maybe I should be pitching for the Dodgers tonight (if the drugs hadn’t been so harsh). But I would be much more prideful — and probably not be married or have the wonderful family that I have …”

“I have to believe I’m making a difference, every day — and directly. Not indirectly. I need to be helping people, inspiring people, helping them achieve their highest potential.”

Counseling is part of that work, as is his partnership with his wife, Karen, teaching classes about marriage and strengthening family ties. That has become part of his passion — and theirs — for helping people.

“If you’ve got (a chronic) illness, the stress just pulls on a marriage. We need to utilize effective communication so the family function isn’t adding to illness problems; the family can be a support for the illness, not a detriment to it …

“Marital happiness tends to help people lead longer lives. It reduces juvenile crime, lowers teenage pregnancy rate and mental issues. Having a good, solid home foundation doesn’t hurt anywhere.”

Hanging on the wall amidst his diplomas is a cartoon drawing of a play on words that says “Drive your own carrot.” It speaks to his philosophy of going after his own goals.

“(Cancer has meant) learning how fragile life is. Whether you have cancer and you don’t know how it will turn out, or you get hit by a bus tomorrow. …

“My high school quote was a Def Leppard song: ‘It’s better to burn out than fade away’ … (You’ve got to) squeeze every moment out of every day … So when I get to see people and how their lives have changed — it makes that day a great day.

“I am in such a great place, driving my own carrot.”


CAPTION:

Surviving one percent odds with childhood cancer has marked Greg Deitschler’s life. Cancer shaped his optimistic outlook as well as his career as a therapist and public speaker, and the strength of his marriage. He and his wife, Karen, teach classes about strengthening family ties, while 3-year-old Brooklyn cements them. “I live each day,” he says.

EXTRA LITTLE BOX:

OWNING THE PROBLEM
These strategies for conflict resolution work well in the workplace and as well as in parent/child relations. They are very universal principles.
For example, owning the problem.
Anytime you’re disappointed, you’re frustrated or you’re upset, you have an unmet expectation.
Ask yourself these two questions: Was it a reasonable expectation and, secondly, was it spoken?
If answer to either is ‘no,’ then it’s your issue. Then we teach good communication skills about how to state your reasonable expectation in a positive way.
For a schedule of the Deitchlers’ classes and seminars, see Greg Deitchler’s website: www.promisinghorizons.com

This article was Written by Kathryn Jones and Published in the Idaho Statesman on May 17 2009