Sandy and David Pickens
Since 1989, David and Sandy have been summer caretakers of a unique California
relic: the historic Hodges Cabin in the Trinity Alps Wilderness, near
Coffee Creek. They've volunteered their time to the U.S. Forest Service.
In their words, it's been "a labor of love." (At about $1.00
per hour, it hasn't been the money). They stay from June to September
and come as close to "living off the land" as Henry David Thoreau
did on Walden Pond.
Imagine the routine. In June, they park their old Ford pickup truck at
the trail head, hoist packs of food on their backs, and hike four miles
(and a 1200 foot rise in elevation) to the Cabin. At the cabin, they play
host to as many as 350 hikers who are either visiting the cabin, passing
through or flat out lost. David recalled: "We've fed people and
believe it or not we've clothed people. We've had people come
over the mountain and say `Where are we?'" For David, there is
no greater joy than hiking those mountains. In 1996, he made the four
mile trek from the trail head to the cabin 64 times -- when he was seventy-two
David is no stranger to adversity. He proudly served in the U.S. Navy for
thirty years, and fought in three wars. At the age of sixty, when most
of his peers were settling down in front of the television or fireplace,
David took up marathon running. He has run in over twenty-five marathons.
In 1989, a local runners club started holding a road race in David'
s honor. the race is 22 miles:in David'"/images/patient-stories/davidp1.jpg"
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In January, David made another appointment with his primary care physician.
A chest x-ray revealed fluid in the area of the right lung. A thoracentesis
was performed, but the cytology was negative for cancer. The working diagnosis
was heart failure. The doctors performed a battery of tests, including
a flex sigmoidoscopy, but could find no explanation for the fluid. David
returned home. David and Sandy had always been very self-reliant. Now
they were forced to put their trust in the hands of the medical experts.
In February, the pain and the fluid returned. A CT scan confirmed a pleural
effusion. David was referred to a thoracic surgeon. The doctor recommended
that a thoracoscopy be performed to determine the diagnosis. The new working
diagnosis was lung cancer. David and Sandy arrived at the hospital on
the evening of February 23rd to prepare for surgery the next morning.
On the morning of the 24th, however, they were informed that the hospital
did not have any beds available. The hospital staff asked them to return
the next day.
On February 25th, they were again advised that there was no room in the
hospital. On the 26th, they reported to the hospital at 5:30 a.m. to prepare
for a scheduled 7 a.m. surgery. David waited anxiously on the gurney for
the next four hours. The doctor finally arrived at 11 a.m. The wait was
exhausting and nerve-wracking.
A right thoracoscopy, a pleural biopsy and a talc pleurodesis was performed.
The surgeon removed 3.5 liters of fluid. A chest tube was also inserted,
because David's lung had collapsed. The tissue specimens were analyzed
and the diagnosis was malignant pleural mesothelioma.
David remained in the Critical Care Unit for several days. The fluid returned
to his pleural cavity and another talc pleurodesis was done. On March
2nd, he was transferred to the intermediate cardiac care unit. He remained
on oxygen and was heavily medicated.
David is a strong man with a healthy sense of humor, but this sudden illness
tested his resolve. Laying in the hospital with tubes running in and out
of his body, pure oxygen pumping down to his lungs, the constant humming
and beeping of machinery, David was far away from the peace and quiet
of Hodges Cabin and the pristine beauty of the Grand Canyon. In order
to survive from minute to minute, he would mentally transport himself
back to the tranquillity of the woods and canyons. He says he would have
given anything to be able to get up out of that hospital bed and start
up the trail to Hodges Cabin. "I don't mind the right kind of
pain, like the pain you feel in your legs after hiking for 20 miles through
On March 3rd, his chest tube was removed. He was discharged on March 7th
and returned to his home. Unfortunately, his family physician and local
oncologist were not familiar with the disease and did not offer any viable
treatment options. The local doctors failed to prescribe antibiotics after
the surgery and David developed pneumonia.
David then consulted with a "big-city" oncologist but, like his
hometown doctors, the big city oncologist did not recommend any treatments.
The family decided to design their own treatment plan. They asked David
to name the program, and with characteristic humor, this is what he came
up with: "The Superchallenge Program for El Veijo Cerrote."
Loosely translated, "The Superchallenge Program for the Smelly Old
The program is composed of several parts, as follows:
Pray at the start of each day.
Deep Breathing exercises.
Take Vitamin C.
Take other vitamins.
Eat plenty of carrots and tomatoes, at least one serving a day.
Drink at least eight, 12 ounce glasses of water a day.
Listen to Tapes.
Walk every day if possible, re-setting your goals.
Carry weights when you walk, working on upper body strength.
Work around the house and in the garden/yard when possible.
Use Humor as a Tool.
Protect yourself from Negativity.
Read books about healing.
Use positive imagery.
Imagine the Vitamin C at work, healing your body.
Picture yourself hiking, biking, running, or doing any other physical activity you love.
Reach out to others.
David is blessed with a very smart, compassionate and loving family who
are rallying to help him get through this nightmare. As of this writing,
David and Sandy are interviewing surgical oncologists on the West Coast
about his candidacy for an aggressive multi-modal treatment plan. David
was exposed to asbestos while serving in the U.S. Navy for many years.
David and Sandy were recently featured in a newspaper story in Northern
California. The reporter said it best when he described David in the following
manner: "He's a blur of movement. That's why the hammock
came down. It set there for two years, but David couldn't find a use
for it. `I laid in it a couple of times, for a couple of minutes,'
he said. `But just for a couple of minutes. Then I'd think of something
One of the things David enjoyed doing was searching for gold in Coffee
Creek. According to family lore, he knows where it's buried, but he's
keeping the precise whereabouts hidden for now. In the eyes of his family
and his friends, David carries with him wherever he goes the most valuable
treasure in the world: a heart of gold.
He and Sandy are eager to talk to others who are facing this challenge.
They can be contacted through this office.
POSTED JUNE 26, 1998
Hodges Cabin was more beautiful than ever this summer and my little memorial
service for David was attended by 26 family and friends who trudged up
the trail to say "hello and goodbye."
Here is a picture of our "ring around the flag pole" yesterday.
I also have one of David taken two weeks before his death....his radiance
is still there.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
David Pickens passed away on May 15, 1999 at the age of seventy-five. He
chose to live his life without chemotherapy, radiation or surgery. Some
people are so full of life and joy they don't really die. This was
David Pickens. A giant Redwood of a man. RGW
POSTED SEPTEMBER 29, 1999