A long decline in energy preceded it. A series of traumatic events followed it. But looking back, it was a moment at the 2015 CIF State Wrestling Championships that should have tipped off Rich Carnation.
Carnation runs the premier wrestling program in the Redwood Empire at Windsor High, and he had taken four kids — Beau Colombini, Dominic DuCharme, Noah Au-Yeung and Anthony Spallino — to Bakersfield for the state championships last March. The locker rooms at Rabobank Arena are three floors below the competition area.
“I went down the stairs once, and I was so tired I couldn’t go back up,” Carnation recalled.
He pleaded with the guy who operated the VIP elevator, off-limits to coaches, and spent two days taking the elevator up and down.
Things moved quickly, and disturbingly, after that. Two weeks later Carnation was at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships in St. Louis with a friend and found he could walk no farther than 75 yards in cool, comfortable weather. While in St. Louis, Carnation got word that his father had a heart attack and was in the hospital in Santa Rosa. Carnation flew home and his dad, Joe Carnation, died several days later. Rich then went straight from his father’s hospital room to his own after doctors at Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital examined a blood sample he had just supplied.
“Normally your hemoglobin is between 13 and 18 (grams per deciliter) for men,” Carnation said. “They transfuse you when you drop below 8. I was at 4.8. You usually die between 3.5 and four. They tried to give me an IV, and they stuck me 22 times. My veins were collapsing.”
Carnation had a tumor in his colon. A UCSF specialist later confirmed that it was cancerous.
Don’t worry, this is not an unrelenting tale of woe. Flash-forward nine months and the news is much better.
“As far as the doctors can tell, the cancer is 100 percent gone,” said Carnation, known for his upbeat gregariousness. “It’s been irradiated, fully removed, and we got good sub results that say they got it all. Statistically, there’s a 10 percent chance it will come back in the next five years. But I don’t think that’s even gonna happen.”
Which would be just, considering all that Carnation has endured in the past year. Not least was the loss of his father, a person he calls “my man, my mentor, my everything.”
Rich Carnation’s own challenges have been intense. The surgery to remove the tumor was a doozy. “They cut me from hip to hip,” Carnation said. “As soon as I woke up, I knew. Nothing could have created the pain I was feeling unless they cut me from stem to stern.”
Carnation’s doctor believes he was suffering from nerve pain caused by the radiation. The tumor removal wasn’t his only surgery, either. Physicians also recommended an ileostomy, an opening in the belly through which the lowest part of the small intestine is extruded. Its contents drain into a plastic bag. Fun stuff.
Carnation lost a little bit of dignity, but not his sense of humor.
“I joked around with the kids, ‘Guys, don’t squeeze me. You won’t like what happens,’ ” Carnation said.