KENSETT | Faith, family, friends and photography.
Those are the things that have helped Leman Northway, 32, of Kensett, the past eight months following an unexpected cancer diagnosis.
“I’d be lost, especially without Eve and the kids,” he said. “They keep me going every day.”
Northway, a freelance cycling photographer known as Barefoot Leman, started shooting the Bicycle, Blues & BBQ Festival in Clear Lake six years ago after he was approached by Tim Putnam, festival director and John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center director, while he was taking classes at North Iowa Area Community College in Mason City.
This year’s festival, which runs from Friday through Sunday, will be his fifth.
“When somebody gets to be known with your event and has a passion for doing it and then, they’re not able to do it, they’re missed,” Putnam said. “(Northway) is part of the event’s family, and it’s so good to have him back.
“After everything he’s gone through, to see him doing what he loves to do, it doesn’t get more special than that.”
After being severely burned in a fire in the fall of 2016, and subsequent surgeries the year following, Northway was unable to photograph last year’s festival, and in November, he wasn’t sure if he’d make it to this one.
In late October, Northway started having “terrible headaches” accompanied by “wobbly vision” and neck pain that’d wake him up in the middle of the night, and thinking it was attributed to his latest burn surgery or dehydration, he dealt with it.
But when his “headache hurt worse than being on fire” on Monday, Nov. 6, his wife, Eve, encouraged him to visit a doctor in Osage, where he received IV fluids and a steroid injection.
“I felt fine, so I went home and then the same thing happened Tuesday,” he said.
His second visit prompted a CT scan of his brain that showed an egg-sized growth behind his right eye.
“I just had a feeling something wasn’t right, and a couple hours later, he called me crying saying he had a mass in his head and we’re going to Iowa City,” said Eve, who’s employed at Grain Millers Inc. in St. Ansgar. “We didn’t know what it was.”
While in Iowa City on Nov. 8, Northway had an MRI that provided a “much more detailed” look at his brain, and the following day, he underwent surgery in which 5 percent of the mass was removed for a biopsy.
The next day, while recovering in the hospital, doctors told Northway they suspected he had cancer, and five days later, it was confirmed. He was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of cancer found in the brain or spinal cord.
“That hurt,” he said.
In December, Northway began treatment. He received six weeks of radiation and chemotherapy, and in March, he began maintenance chemotherapy, which he takes five days a month, and started using a battery-operated TTFields device aimed at reducing cell division, and destroying cancer cells, in the brain he carries on his hip at least 18 hours a day.
“As far as treatment goes, I got a pretty good one,” he said. “As far as everything else, I got a pretty bad one.
“This is very likely going to be the end of me, but it didn’t kill me today, and it’s probably not going to tomorrow either.”
Northway has an MRI in Iowa City every two months and visits a local oncologist the months he doesn’t travel for scans.
On July 16, he’ll see a Mayo Clinic neuro-oncologist who expressed interest in his care while he and his mother attended a conference in Cedar Falls earlier this year.
“The goal of the treatment was to slow it down, so I’ve got nothing to lose and I have everything to gain by doing every new thing they’ve got,” he said. “I’ll try anything.”
Since being diagnosed with cancer in November, Northway said it’s changed him drastically.
His family’s closer, his faith is stronger and his photography is healing.
“I wake up every day and say, ‘Hey, I’m alive today. I get to be a part of this beautiful world,’ and enjoy another day,” he said. “I’m much more at peace with everything.”
But there’s one thing that still bothers him, and that’s the thought that someday he’ll leave his wife of 10 years, and their twin sons, Mason and Simon, behind.
Northway, who’s a stay-at-home father, spends much of his time teaching his boys how to shoot photos, talking with them about anything and everything and being there for the moments he has.
“That’s really important for them to have as many good memories with their dad and us as a family because we don’t know what’s going to happen,” Eve said.
And when Northway isn’t with his family, he can likely be found barefoot behind a camera at a bicycle race, or other event.
He said he’s looking forward to returning to the Bicycle, Blues & BBQ Festival, where he’s made new friendships over the years.
“I’ll be flying high for two weeks after Clear Lake just because that’s what I love doing. I’m good at it. I love it,” Northway said. “Not many people get to be as lucky as that.”