For most of us, our freshman year at college went down in similar fashions. We spent our time studying, partying or a combination of both.
For Rick Czaplewski, typical college life wasn’t a luxury after he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease at 19 and forced to drop out of the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire for cancer treatment.
Two decades later, Czaplewski wrote a book, “Better Dirty Than Done: An Inspirational True Story,” detailing the harrowing experience of being diagnosed with cancer, “beating” cancer, relapsing, and eventually receiving a clean bill of health.
And yet, the book is not really about cancer.
“It is about time, second chances and hope. It balances mortality with free, finite time and how to use it,” says Czaplewski.
Czaplewski wrote the book during the Covid shutdown – from 2020 to 2021 – while sitting at his kitchen table in Wauwatosa with his Shih Tzu, Lambeau, never far from his side.
Originally, Czaplewski’s intention was to type up a few family stories for his 19-year-old son, Lance, and leave the pages for him to find someday in the attic.
“I put the manuscript in my attic like a long-lost, valuable relic for him to one day discover. It sat there for more than a year,” says Czaplewski.
Czaplewski told a close friend who had lost a brother to Hodgkin’s Disease about his “hidden writings” and she was appalled.
“She told me it was the stupidest idea she’d ever heard. She convinced me my story could help a lot of people, so I decided to try to get it published,” says Czaplewski.
Czaplewski found 3L Publishing, a media/publishing company in Sacramento, Calif., and the company agreed to publish his 156-page book.
Czaplewski’s non-linear storytelling weaves together a coming-of-age-while-ill memoir with flashbacks to his childhood as well as fantasies he imagined during treatment. Most revolve around sports and reaching physical goals, something that has been and still is prevalent in Czaplewski’s life. (An experience he had during a Brewers game at the long-defunct County Stadium is especially endearing.)
“I was fortunate to have been a high school athlete because sports gave me a strong body which helped endure treatment,” he says. “I was still angry my body let cancer in. So, exercise became the only thing I could control. Those stories make up the book and I wanted to show that there is life after treatment and you can bounce back.”
Eventually, Czaplewski was cancer-free and he graduated from college. He has worked as a CPA, strategic supply manager, project manager and senior director in the finance, high tech and water industries. Currently, he is embarking on a motivational speaker career based on his book and the experiences that led up to it.
His main message is one of maximizing whatever time we have through passion, adventure, love, forgiveness and determination.
“When I was sick, my plan was to pack in as much life as I could – events, vacations, jobs, all of it. I still live by that sense of urgency today, doing as much as I can while I’m here,” says Czaplewski.
Read more about “Better Dirty Than Done: An Inspirational True Story” here.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.