The first e-mail arrived September 3, 2008. It started:
Eric Skogman“I am 38 years old and was diagnosed with Retroperitoneal Liposarcoma in March of this year. I had surgery at the U of M to remove a six-pound tumor.”
It was my first communication from Eric Skogman, a man from Minnetonka who had added some large words to his vocabulary. He had played it cool on the outside when he was diagnosed. Days before the surgery in April of that year, he was at a happy hour with his wife, friends and colleagues. He also hit a Twins game just before the big event.
He came out of surgery, joked about the tumor, and went on with life. The e-mail continued:
“In August, I learned that the tumor grew back and am now one cycle into chemotherapy and less than two weeks away from cycle number two.”A setback, but he was otherwise healthy and decently fit. He had ample support from friends and family. Any fears started to focus into action.
“Knowing how rare sarcoma are, I want to help generate as much funding as possible to help fight this disease and do what I can to help RIS do that and more.”
It wasn’t just lip service. Skogman was ready to go, and he had a plan. As a long-time writer and editor for magazines in the powersports industry, he’d seen some remarkable fundraisers. He started asking himself the “What if…” questions and came up with some ideas. “Over the years, I’ve covered and written about many charitable snowmobile rides that have taken place through out the country. Believe it or not, snowmobilers are very giving people. Myself and the owner of the company where I work have discussed developing a snowmobile charity ride to benefit the Karen Wyckoff Rein In Sarcoma Foundation. We are thinking of conducting this ride as part of a non-charity “mud dog ride” to the state snowmobile convention in February”.
Overwhelmed that a young man fighting serious sarcoma was ready to fight for everyone with sarcoma, my husband, Pete, and I agreed to meet at the Northland Inn for coffee. He arrived wearing a silver/grey ball cap that said “Fox” on the side. He was charming, intelligent, funny, engaging but most of all determined to beat sarcoma for himself and everyone else. It was the start of an all-too-short but intense relationship. We came to love Eric as a member of the family in a very short time.
The First Mud Dog Ride
I road tripped to Grand Rapids to meet Eric and the Mud Dogs when they came in from the first ride in February 2009.
Seven snowmobilers — Eric, friends and colleagues — had ridden through snow and ice for about 300 miles. Eric was shaking with fever and cold from having ridden so far and just coming off chemo two days before.
He was physically drained, but mentally high. The “Dogs” were all very pumped up about the amount of support they were receiving. That night Eric and I spoke at a small dinner before the main conference began. After we finished, people crowded around Eric handing him bills and wishing him luck. A young woman whom Eric had never met came up with $500 in pledges. She had heard about Eric’s cause and rode to the event from northern Minnesota without telling Eric.
At that moment, we understood that snowmobilers were very giving people.
With Eric, we looked for any excuse to celebrate and this night it’s at Signatures Restaurant in Minneapolis. The celebration involved dinner, flowers, a sarcastic t-shirt and a special dessert created by the chef.
Eric had a surprise for us. When he removed his long sleeved shirt to change into his new T-shirt he proudly unveiled his arm. It was tattooed with a large yellow ribbon that had the words Rein in Sarcoma curling through it.
He had just finished a round of chemo so my first thought was, “Don’t they check your blood levels before tattooing?” I was sure that his arm would get infected and have to be amputated. I told him, in my best mom voice, that I would take his amputated arm to a taxidermist and put in the museum of bad medical decisions.
He just laughed and said, “That will never happen.” He proudly wore that tattoo as he continued to use every means he could think of to raise money and awareness of sarcoma. After dinner he put the flowers carefully in his motorcycle bag, waved his tattooed arm and drove off.
A unique flower-loving man with a big yellow tattoo and an agenda in life, Eric was off to think of more ways to kick sarcoma’s butt.
By 2010, Eric was divorced and subsequently had his house foreclosed upon because of his astronomical medical bills and the very bad housing market. He moved into a friend’s condo and continued to fight sarcoma on all levels. At that time sarcoma wasn’t on the list for fast-track social security and there was little financial help available for Eric or other patients.
The chaos of life was in full force for Eric, and he found an outlet to sanity by focusing outward.
He again organized the Mud Dog Ride and wrote sponsorship letters for Rein in Sarcoma. He continued to hang out with and be loved by his numerous friends, who would usually join him when he took chemotherapy. He volunteered and attended RIS events and often came to our house to eat and scheme more ideas.
Pearl Jam and The End
By the 2011 Mud Dog Ride, Eric was very sick. He could feel the tumor growing back and often rubbed his gut as if to size it up. Up to this point, he’d continued to work full time in addition to his various activities with RIS and his especially active social life.
While he still continued to look forward and be open to treatment, the approaches seemed to become more desperate and experimental. A drug that had promise for Eric’s type of sarcoma was in clinical trials in the U.S. Eric used a, RIS donor’s frequent flier miles to go to New York for a second opinion. We joked about going to Paris in April where the drug was already in general use. In the meantime Eric’s condition worsened dramatically.
He was hospitalized in the Twin Cities in March, 2011, and never left. With Eric’s father Roger and brother Colin, Pete and I spent a lot of time sitting by Eric’s bedside. We talked, we were silent, and we shared.
As I was sitting by his bed he suddenly said, “Why didn’t I think of this before? I know someone who works for the band Pearl Jam. I bet I could get them to do a concert for us.”
The next day Eric died.
The day after that we received a call from New York that Eric was approved for the trial. We never had a Pearl Jam concert. Eric’s incredibly generous snowmobile friends continue the annual Mud Dog Ride raising money for Eric’s dream of a world without sarcoma.
Sue Wyckoff with Pete Wyckoff and Lynn Keillor
To make a donation in honor to Eric, chose “Eric Skogman/ Mud Dog Ride Fund” from the drop down menu.