Curtis Schwartzkopf in his Man Cave, the corner of the family living room that is done up in everything Wyoming brown and gold. He’s holding his most prized possession ever, a Cowboy football helmet signed by all the players of the 2013 team. (Ernie Over photo)
(Riverton, Wyo. ) – Wyoming’s thrilling overtime victory over Hawai’i in the Poke’s last home game last month was a dream come true for a 24-year-old Riverton man who had never seen his beloved Cowboys play a game in Laramie. Curtis Schwartzkopf, you see, is battling terminal cancer. He was first diagnosed with the disease in 2007 when he was a student at Riverton High School and 17 years-old.
“I had chemo then, and it receded,” said Schwartzkopf who was born in Rawlins, but lived in Saratoga until his family moved to Riverton in 1999. After high school and his initial diagnoses, Curtis did what many young men in this area do. He went to work in the oil patch. But because he worked most Saturdays, he never had a chance to see the Cowboys play.
“When I was in fifth grade we actually were on a school bus heading to see a game, but the weather turned us back. That’s the closest I got to seeing the Cowboys play,” Curtis said.
Most recently, this past August, Curtis was working in the Bakken field in North Dakota for Fluid Pro. He started to get a backache after one of his two week shifts began, but he worked through the pain. After he returned home, and the pain was increasingly bad, he went to the emergency room. After visits to several doctors, and a CT scan, it was discovered the cancer had returned and a tumor had blocked off his kidney. Curtis was rushed to Casper where a stent was placed inside the kidney to open it back up again. “That’s when the crap hit the fan,” he said. Doctors there recommended he go for further treatment in Denver and Fort Collins. He had a two week chemo treatment in Denver and for the next six weeks he traveled for medical appointments between Casper, Laramie and Denver hospitals.
Things seemed to be going okay for for Curtis until after he had a long-awaited date here in town. He started to have pain in his side and back. That’s when the black curtain fell. “Dr. Caldwell told us what was going on. I had reoccurring testicular cancer that had wrapped itself around my spinal cord. It was a terminal diagnoses as the cancer is now in my spinal cord and aorta, inoperable.” he said without blinking. “They recommended hospice for me.”
The tumor has rendered Curtis’ legs disabled, and he now gets around in a wheel chair. “Dad found a used motor home and we’ve turned that into my taxi,” he said. ”It took me about a day and a half to get the wheelchair figured out,” which he said he can now manipulate with ease. The “taxi” was modified to allow a couch/bed/recliner where he could sleep or rest and a spot for his wheel chair.
Always a big Wyoming Fan, Curtis and his family have turned his living room quarters into quite a Man Cave, including a floor to ceiling Wyoming bucking bronc logo in brown and gold, and nearly every other Wyoming memento you can think of. He also has a bookcase filled with two shelves of Wyoming Cowboy stuff, and the bottom two shelves for his nurses’ and medical supplies. Curtis said he was always a big Wyoming fan. “Anything that has a bucking horse on it I’ve got it.”
His wheelchair is decked out in brown and gold with a big Wyoming pillow and a nice Wyoming bag on the back for whatever he needs when using the chair. He has Wyoming hoodies, hats and knit caps, sweat pants, sweat shirts, blankets, throws, pillows, sunglasses, cups, a Wyoming trash basket, bobble heads, pennants, novelties, stickers and you name it. There’s no doubt where his loyalty lays. And his truck outside, a jacked-up black Ford pickup, is decked out with silver Cowboy emblems and a big cowboy sticker on the back window. Unfortunately, he can’t drive the truck anymore because his legs don’t work and his dad, Jeff, said he can’t find any hand controls for it in the area. “And they’re pretty expensive,” he said. So, it’s the taxi whenever Curtis goes out.” And that he does. His dad said he takes Curtis out as much as he can, including fishing at Ocean Lake where they have a secret spot there, they go shooting when Curtis feels good, and Curtis helps his dad when he can with his catering business, Jeff and Feff’s Catering operated out of Archer’s Buffet and Grill in Riverton. In fact, Curtis was just recently helping his Dad with the Fremont County Fair’s “Gold Buckle Ball” for the royalty. On this trip to Laramie, they took an extra day for Christmas shopping in Cheyenne, and two trips to the Brown and Gold outlet in Laramie and one to the souvenir stand under the West stands of War Memorial Stadium.
“Everyone is getting Wyoming stuff this year, except Mom,” Curtis said. “She wanted some foo-foo smelly stuff,” he laughed. And so did Mom, wiping a tear from the corner of her eye.
Curtis said he has been able to cope because of the support of his family and his best friend, Cody Crawford. “He’s always here to help, not only me but all of us. He came last night and sang a song for me, and I cried. It was so special.” Most of the family shed some tears too. “It was pretty emotional,” Mom Karen said. Curtis also invited Cody to come with the family to the game in Laramie. “I don’t know what I’d do without him,” he said.
Game Day in Laramie
“I was so excited, but I was able to sleep on the way down to Laramie,” Curtis said.
Jeff said UW Associate Athletic Director Phil Willie was there to meet them in the parking lot when the “taxi” arrived at War Memorial Stadium. “He told us to pull up and park right next to the stadium and the doors to the Wildcatter Club,” he said. “It was pretty cold outside, but we had to make a trip to the souvenir stand on the other side of the stadium first. “I think Curtis has one of everything ever made for Wyoming,” Jeff said.
The trip up the elevator landed them in the lobby of the Wildcatter, “and we didn’t know where we should go, but Phil was there and showed us to our seats and where Curtis could have his wheelchair. They were great seats and you could see the whole field, we were on the 45 yard line,” Jeff said. “They even had a complimentary lunch with Mexican food, it was very good.”
Curtis said he loved the shredded pork taco the best but that he also enjoyed a chicken enchilada. “It was so fun up there, and one other fan came over and told us we needed to go to the Utah State game, we were good luck for the team,” he laughed.
“They treated us so well, Phil was just great,” Jeff said. “It couldn’t have been any better.”
When asked what the highlight of the game was, Curtis said he knew that Wyoming would win, and the victory was good, but “I saw my name up on the scoreboard. That was great, I was a little bit famous there, it all was great.”
Just a few days ago, Curtis was home alone when he heard a knock the door. By the time he got into his wheelchair and made it to the front door, all he saw was a big box on the porch. “It looked heavy, so I thought it would be okay to leave it there until someone got home. When his folks came home, they took the box inside and, after a little bit, gave it Curtis. “I looked at the label, and it said University of Wyoming on it,” he said. “I started to get excited. When I opened it, that’s when the waterworks started,” he said. It was a Cowboy football helmet signed by the members of this years team. I couldn’t believe it. I’m getting a glass box to put it in for display,” he said.
Jeff said he knew about the helmet, as he had Phil Willie’s help to get it to the locker room and get it signed. “Everyone was wondering why I was taking so long to get back to the motorhome,” he laughed.
Jeff said if Curtis is up to it, the family might try to get to a Wyoming Basketball game this winter too.
Mom Karen said it was a nice experience, “but the best part was we were able to all spend time as a family on this trip.”
How Hospice Helped
By Rhonda Locker, CEO, Help For Health Hospice
One of the questions a Help for Health’s hospice nurse asks a patient is what their goals are that we can help them to achieve. When Cori, Curtis’s hospice nurse asked the question to this young man, he stated he wanted to go to a Wyoming Cowboy football game. When Cori returned to the office and asked me if this could be a possibility, my immediate thought was to call Ernie Over, of County10.com because of knowing him not only as a longtime friend, but many a time he or his brother would come to collect our annual dues to the Cowboy Joe Club in the days when we bought season tickets to also watch our beloved Cowboys. Ernie is also a statistician at the Cowboy home games. It wasn’t long when I heard back from Ernie and he said “let me see what I can do.”
The week before the last home game against Hawai’i I received an e-mail from UW Associate Athletic Director Phil Wille stating that he had heard from Ernie and had approached the Cowboy Joe Club to see if they could use the Wildcatters Stadium Club and Suites seating due to Curtis needing to be inside. He asked if we just needed a couple of tickets, but knowing how much it meant to Curtis to have his family with him, I made the hopeful request of five tickets..one for Curtis two for Mom and Dad one for his sister (who lives in Laramie) and one for his best friend. To my surprise, Phil made it happen.
Once we knew Curtis was going to be able to go, I then met with the Tough Enough To Help Cancer Fund advisory team and approached the group for approval to help them with gas and food. Nancy Wempen, who is a new member to the advisory team, piped up and said she would talk to her CEOs and see if they could help. The CEOs (all ages 13) are Haden Wempen, Dillion Fabricus, James Hampton, and newest member Trayton Paxton, who started the Kids beingTough program after Haden lost his mother to breast cancer. The boys met and decided they could make a donation from the proceeds they had raised from selling their own designed Kids Being Tough T-shirts to help. Last year they raised $4,000 for the Tough Enough Cancer Fund and this year they have currently raised $3,200 and decided to give Curtis $200 to use to buy mementos and whatever else he may need while enjoying the game. They look forward to meeting Curtis and hearing all about the game.
Darla Mason, of KTAK/KVOW, heard about our wanting to make a dream come true for Curtis, she got on the phone and contacted the Hilton Garden Inn of Laramie. They in turn donated two adjoining rooms for Curtis and his family to stay the night after the game. They loved the rooms. Curtis said the rooms were “super comfortable.”
Many different people were involved to make this young man and his family an everlasting memory of joy, hope and thrill of the game. The Pokes came through in an exciting way for all their fans (winning in overtime), but none more than Curtis Schwartzkopf.