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‘Don’t give up’: Cody Finke chosen as Nobles County Relay for Life Honorary Chairman

BREWSTER -- Cody Finke of Brewster was selected to be the 2016 Nobles County Relay for Life Honorary Chairman, but attendees at Friday night's Relay on the Nobles County Fairgrounds in Worthington may not see him there.

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Holli and Cody Finke of Brewster take a break from planning their next camping trip. Their family is making the most of each day after Cody was diagnosed with Stage 4 glioblastoma (brain cancer) a year ago. Julie Buntjer

BREWSTER - Cody Finke of Brewster was selected to be the 2016 Nobles County Relay for Life Honorary Chairman, but attendees at Friday night’s Relay on the Nobles County Fairgrounds in Worthington may not see him there.

You see, he’s not much of a public speaker. He doesn’t want to get up in front of a crowd and share his story - you can read that here. Instead, he will appear via video - through photos and clips playing with his three young children and enjoying all there is to experience with this life he has been given.
If anyone knows the meaning of life, it is someone who has been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.
For Cody, terminal doesn’t mean much. How can doctors predict how long he has to live? A year ago, when he was diagnosed with very aggressive Grade 4 glioblastoma, they gave him 14 to 16 months to live.
“It’s been 12,” he said from his Brewster home last week.
“It’s surprisingly easy for me, for some reason, to stay positive,” Cody shared. “I’ve never been down about it. I’ve never asked why. You gotta do what you gotta do. Obviously, I’ll do anything I have to and can do to survive. I know my chances of surviving even a couple more years is very slim.”
This isn’t Cody’s first diagnosis with brain cancer. In 2005, doctors diagnosed him with a Grade 3 brain tumor - astrocytoma. Surgery was performed and doctors removed as much of the softball-sized mass as they could. He followed surgery with chemotherapy and radiation. He spent nearly 10 years in remission before his glioblastoma diagnosis in June 2015.
“I did radiation again and I still do chemo monthly - and I probably will for the rest of my life,” Cody said. “I don’t like people telling me, ‘You’re going to die.’ I didn’t like it 10 years ago when people told me I only had a couple of years to live. You don’t know that. I could get killed in a car accident on the way home from Mayo.”
“You’re never promised tomorrow,” added his wife, Holli. “Don’t take for granted today.”
“That’s right - don’t give up,” Cody said.
On a daily regimen of pills to reduce the potential for seizures, Cody is far from giving up. He still goes to work every day for the city of Brewster to maintain the city’s streets, park, electric, water and sewer services. There are days when he is tired - fatigue sets in especially in the week following his oral chemotherapy treatments - but he still wants to get his 40 hours in at work.

“The city has been very accommodating,” said Holli. “Family time suffers because he’s dedicated to the 40 hours a week of work. It’s a struggle to balance that. It’s important for him to work and to have a job.”
“It just makes me feel good to go to work,” Cody added. “I’m just that kind of person. If you feel like you’re able to work, you should go to work.”
Both realize there will be a day when Cody won’t be able to go to work. So, he works when he is able, spends time with his family when he can and tries to rest when it’s needed.
The family likes to spend their summer weekends camping, which is why Cody may not be at the Nobles County Relay for Life event on Friday. The fundraiser for the American Cancer Society is from 5 p.m. to midnight.
Cody and Holli have three children - 5-year-old twins Kenly and Kaden, and 4-year-old Paxton. The children know their dad is sick “in his brain” and that he gets tired and needs to sleep a lot, but they’re too young to understand the magnitude of cancer.
“We were grocery shopping the other day and they all picked Tic Tacs as their treat,” shared Holli. “They said they could take their medicine like Daddy. How horrible is that? That just broke my heart.
“I don’t think they’re aware that they’re going to lose their dad,” she added.
“It is hard and I don’t know how to talk to them about it - or want to,” said Cody. “You don’t know what they really know.”
Medical staff have encouraged the Finkes to make videos of Cody so their children can watch them someday. Cody doesn’t want to be just talking to a camera, though.
“A video of me sitting in a chair talking - that’s not who I am,” he said. “I would prefer videos of me playing and messing around with my kids - that’s who I am.”
“We take a lot more videos just of our everyday environment,” added Holli. “We do a lot more pictures and videos now.”
Cody’s chemotherapy is “holding everything steady” at this time, said Holli. When the glioblastoma was discovered a year ago through an MRI, the tumor was about the size of a large grape.
Though doctors removed as much of the mass as they could, there were fingers that extended into Cody’s brain. Removing all of it wasn’t possible.
Unlike his first diagnosis, Cody said he didn’t have any warning signs leading up to the discovery of the glioblastoma.
A decade ago, he said he began experiencing dizzy spells and his left arm and leg would go numb. He let it go on for months without telling anyone, hoping the spells would disappear and telling himself if they got worse, he’d go to the doctor.
“It just kind of stayed the same,” Cody said. “In all reality, it probably was getting worse - it was more frequent.”
When he finally told his wife about the dizzy spells, it was on a Sunday afternoon. He was sitting in the doctor’s office the following morning.
“I didn’t think it was that big of a deal, but apparently it was,” Cody said.
Now, a decade later, Holli and Cody have been told Cody’s extended lifespan is basically unheard of.
Both of Cody’s brain surgeries were performed at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, with his treatment plan followed out by doctors in Sioux Falls, S.D., after his first bout with cancer. This time, the oncologist in Sioux Falls referred the Finkes to a brain tumor clinic at Duke University in North Carolina. The Finkes travel there once every two months to have Cody’s MRI read.
“They have an expert team out there - the best of the best,” Holli said. “Really, going out to Duke, we’re hoping to get him into a clinical trial. For now, the chemo is keeping it stable so he’s continuing this treatment plan. When something changes, that’s when another option may open up.”
Meanwhile, the Finkes will continue to go with the flow - or at least Cody will.
“As long as I have everything in order, he goes with the flow,” shared Holli with a smile. “He did say he’d be dead already if it wasn’t for me.”
“I’m not good with pills,” added Cody. “I cannot remember to take pills.”
Holli has noticed that her husband gets confused at times and his memory is not great. There are times when he can’t figure out how to run the microwave or leaves the water running in the bathroom sink.
“There for a while it was really bad,” Cody said.
While he may forget some of the little things, he hasn’t forgotten the important things in life, like family. And, as long as he is able, he will continue making memories to last a lifetime - both his and theirs.

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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