HOMEBioFilm rights, Screenplays, Representation2021 Commentaries2020 CommentariesOLYMPIC AFFAIR: HITLER'S SIREN AND AMERICA'S HEROTHE WITCH'S SEASONThird Down and a War to GoHORNS, HOGS, AND NIXON COMING'77: DENVER, THE BRONCOS, AND A COMING OF AGEMarch 1939: Before the MadnessPLAYING PIANO IN A BROTHELSave By RoyThey Call Me "Mr. De": The Story of Columbine's Heart, Resilience and RecoveryA Selection of Terry Frei's writing about World War II heroesOlympic Affair Excerpt: Chapter 1, Leni's VisitOlympic Affair Excerpt: Chapter 15, Aren't You Thomas Wolfe?The Witch's Season: Screenplay opening pagesThe Witch's Season Excerpt:Air Force Game, Bitter Protest, a Single ShotThird Down and a War to Go: Screenplay opening pagesThird Down and a War to Go Excerpt: Ohio State vs. WisconsinThird Down and a War to Go genesis: Grateful for the Guard, Jerry FreiThird Down and a War to Go: A Marines' game on GuadalcanalDave Schreiner, Badger and MarineBob Baumann, Badger and MarineLt. Col. John Mosley, Aggie and Tuskegee AirmanHorns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming: Prologue and screenplay opening pagesHorns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming Excerpt: James Street: Wishbone WizardHorns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming Subplot: The day they stopped playing Dixie'77 Excerpt: AFC Title GameMarch 1939 Excerpt: First NCAA Title GameMarch 1939, Excerpt: The StartersPlaying Piano Excerpt: S.F. EarthquakeA Year with Nick Saban before he was Nick SabanTommy Lasorda and the Summer of '70Press CredentialsThe Sporting NewsDenver PostESPN.comThe OregonianGreeley TribuneKids' sports books: The ClassicsJon Hassler, Terry Kay and other favorite novelistsBig Bill Ficke's Big HeartBob Bell's Food For Thought


“This isn’t a death sentence,” the doctor told Jim DeMersseman — who feared it was

January 25, 2019


Terry Frei 


 Greeley resident Jim DeMersseman, 75, is coping with multiple myeloma. (Michael Brian.)

Early in 2018, a doctor at the Orthopaedic and Spine Center of the Rockies in the Greeley Medical Clinic walked in and posted the image from Jim DeMersseman’s MRI in front of both of them.

“Well,” the doctor said, “this isn’t a death sentence.”

“Oh, —,” thought DeMersseman.

For a moment, he assumed that’s exactly what it was.

“You see all those black dots on your spine and your ribs?” asked the doctor.

“Yeah,” said DeMersseman.

“They’re not supposed to be there,” the doctor said.

DeMersseman had guessed that. When we talked last week, he couldn’t recall the doctor’s name. He did remember the impact of what the doctor said and what happened next.

Within an hour, massive blood samples and blood work already were in motion and a couple of body scans were taken over the next few days.

The diagnosis: DeMersseman, an English teacher at Greeley Central High School from 1971 until his 1998 retirement, had multiple myeloma.

“I’ve always been a pretty positive person,” he said. “I knew I was sick and all that, but it’s hard to vision yourself dead.”

He quickly hooked up with Dr. Doug Kemme, an oncologist at the UCHealth Cancer Care and Hematology Clinic in Greeley, who for the most part plotted his treatment.

“He was in pretty bad shape when we first met,” Kemme told me. “His cancer had really weakened him and was causing a lot of bone pain. I recall that he came in to us in a walker or a wheelchair even. When these folks come in, they’re in such horrible pain and shape that it’s just hard to baby them through the first couple of months to get them responding and improving.”

The Mayo Clinic site explains that multiple myeloma is a cancer that forms in plasma cells within white blood cells, and takes up residence in bone marrow, with the malignant cancer cells shoving out healthy cells. “When they become cancerous, they grow too much and take up space in the bone marrow,” Kemme said. “That can cause all kinds of problems, including weakening and even fracturing on the bones.”


 Oncologist Dr. Doug Kemme has been Greeley resident Jim DeMersseman’s primary physician as DeMersseman battles multiple myeloma. 

At various points in a weekly regimen, DeMersseman has been treated with non-chemotherapy drugs, including the powerful Revlimid in pill form for cycles of 21 days on and 7 off, and Velcade administered in a subcutaneous shot to the stomach; plus bone strengtheners and steroids.

“The doctors’ job is to try to cure you but also see what the body can tolerate,” DeMersseman said. “That’s the key phrase. I could only tolerate the Revlimid for about four cycles. Then I said I was getting this massive rash all over. Doctor Kemme saw it and said, ‘You’re done.'” At that point, Kemme replaced Revlimid with another drug.

Just this month, DeMersseman was able to cut back to infusion visits only every other week.

That was progress.

In addition, DeMersseman makes occasional trips to the UCHealth Hematology Clinic on the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, to visit multiple myeloma guru  Dr. Peter Forbserg. (No, he is not the former Colorado Avalanche hockey player.) DeMersseman also visits the Cancer Rehabilitation Institute program on the University of Northern Colorado campus, communing with other cancer patients.

Multiple myeloma is not the most insidious of cancers, but threatening enough. The statistics fluctuate on how early it is detected, but the five year survival rate is about 50 percent.

DeMersseman is a success story, not a miracle.


Jim DeMersseman of Greeley is among those holding the U.S. flag on the ice on Fight Cancer Night at the Colorado Eagles-Tucson Roadrunners game last weekend. He’s the sixth person down from the top right corner. (Ashley Potts, Colorado Eagles.)

He was part of a UCHealth-organized celebration of northern Colorado cancer survivors, their families and supporters at the American Hockey League Colorado Eagles’ annual Fight Cancer Night at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland on Jan. 19.

Multiple myeloma doesn’t disappear, but the black dots can go away because of healthy replacement bone growth. In the best-case scenario, it is under control and doesn’t wreak havoc. Any remaining cells can grow and divide, leading to relapse.

Officially, he is considered to be in the “maintenance” stage of treatment.

The point is, it was caught and aggressively treated, and now is being held at bay.

For how long?

The best answer is this: For however long that is.

DeMersseman isn’t fooling himself.

“There’s remission, which means you don’t have it any more,” he said. “I won’t be that.”

He said of the chances of a relapse: “It’s not a question of if; it’s a question of when.”

So, yes, there is an on-borrowed-time element to this.

“It’s under control,” said Kemme.  “This is a cancer we cannot cure, but we can control. Every year, thankfully, we’re getting more and more treatments and the prognosis keeps on getting better. The prognosis now is in the four-to-five year range, but that’s data that’s four to five years old. We would hope it keeps getting better. … We talk about partial remissions because we can’t cure it. We can’t make it go away.”

Kemme agrees DeMersseman has perhaps five more years. He also emphasizes he’s basing that on averages.

Those would be five years DeMersseman wouldn’t have had if the cancer hadn’t been diagnosed when it was.

DeMersseman turns 76 in March and is feeling so much better than he was a year ago, he is playing tennis again.

“The only reason to tell the story is you don’t realize how many people have had cancer until you have it,” he said. “Then people tell you things they wouldn’t tell you otherwise. . . I don’t want to be some kind of star. But you need good care, you need good support and a positive attitude. You can’t just sit back and play, ‘Woe is me.’ If you play, ‘Woe is me,’ you lose. That’s my message.”

DeMersseman is familiar to many in Greeley because of his teaching career and eclectic interests, including directing productions of the Stampede Troupe community theater group and playing competitive tennis.

Born in Rapid City, S.D., he didn’t know his real father, Clyde Williamson, an artillery officer who was killed in action in the early stages of the Battle of the Bulge. His mother, Billie, a nurse was left as a widow with two children, Jim and his brother, John.

She remarried.

Jim’s stepfather, C. Joe DeMersseman, was a decorated war hero in the Pacific Theater who met Billie while being treated in Utah.

After he and Billie married, Joe eventually became an Aurora banker, and the couple had five more children. Then a  horrible sequence of events culminated in Joe pleading guilty in early 1962 to second degree murder in Billie’s death. He was sentenced to serve 10 to 60 years in prison.

“I was a senior in high school,” Jim said. “The kids were farmed out to relatives.”

To emphasize his tie in the testing times to his younger siblings, to whom he was (and still is) close, Jim changed his name from Williamson to DeMersseman. “I was never adopted,” he said. “When I was 18, I went to a judge to change my name to DeMersseman so I’m part of this extended family.”

Jim eventually graduated from the University of Colorado in 1966, majoring in English. He got his master’s degree from Johns Hopkins, taught junior high in the Cleveland area for four years, then landed the job at Greeley Central.

At GCHS, in addition to teaching English all along, he also was the head of the school’s theater program for about 10 years and also served as the student newspaper sponsor. In 1974, he was a co-founder of the Stampede Troupe and remained involved in that for many years.

He loved teaching, but retired from the school system in his mid-50s.

In retirement, he has been an NCAA Division I tennis official. Also, at the Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre in Grand Lake, he was on the board of directors and served as chair of the education program.

His wife, Sheryl, was a high-ranking administrator for the Boy Scouts of America, and during the early years of Jim’s retirement, her job took the couple to Colorado Springs for four years of the Los Angeles area for four more.

“Then I said, ‘It’s time to go back to Colorado,'” DeMersseman said. “That was in ’06, and she didn’t come back until ’07 because her contract wasn’t up, but I came back and bought a house in ’06.”

Early last year, he was in pain when he played tennis.

“My back had gotten bad and then it got better,” he said. “I never could figure it out.”

When he clearly was struggling during a mixed doubles match, his partner said, “Jim, let’s quit.”

DeMersseman said he insisted it was just a sore back.

“We finished the match, we won,  and that was the last time I played tennis for a long time,” he said. “That was Jan. 8, 2018 … not that I’m counting.”

DeMersseman had first followed the usual procedures for back problems. Physical therapy. Chiropractor visits. X rays. He had gone through similar trials with bad knees, eventually undergoing two knee replacements. But this time, there was no easy surgical solution.

At his 75th birthday party in March, his family and friends told him he looked terrible.

He said a back specialist finally told him, “There’s nothing wrong with your X rays, Jim,” and suggested an MRI. His high protein count in his blood was suspicious, too.

Then came the diagnosis and the treatment protocol.

“I wasn’t the happiest boy who ever lived, though,” DeMersseman said. “To give you an idea, I lost 35 pounds. My children all thought I was dying.”

But he has made progress.

“I have blood drawn almost every week,” he said, then gestured at his left shoulder. “I have a port right here, so they can keep an eye on the protein count. The myeloma never go away. If (relapse) sets in, it’s not an overnight thing. It’s a slow progressive thing.”

He brought up former New York Yankees pitcher and major league pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre, who died at age 77 recently.

“He’d had multiple myeloma for 20 years,” DeMersseman said.

DeMersseman probably would accept matching that.