Community appreciation lets Steve Tolen be on the receiving end for a change

Laura Beaton
Staff Writer

Steve Tolen is faced with the toughest battle of his life. Diagnosed with prostate cancer the summer of 2010, he underwent surgery in September 2010. Now the cancer has metastasized to his bones.

When he woke up after surgery, his friend Shawn Webb was one of many by his bedside. Webb had been battling brain cancer for over a year, but was there to support Tolen despite it. Sadly, Webb lost his battle in February 2011.

Tolen carries several items in his left front pocket, including a coin from the Cook Islands given to him by Webb. “A little piece of Shawn is with me all the time.”

Currently, Tolen is undergoing a clinical trial at UC Davis Medical Center. The trial uses everolimus, a drug that interferes with cell-signaling pathways and deters cancer cell growth.

One of the biggest side effects of the drug is oral ulceration from ingesting the pill itself.

Tolen, who derives great enjoyment from teaching, came up with a protocol for ingesting the drug without it making physical contact with membranes inside the mouth.

From his vast experience in the hospital world, Tolen knows the power of jello.

So rather than take his pills surrounded by a spoonful of whipped cream, like other patients had tried with limited success, he began to take his pills inserted into a big spoonful of Jell-O. “Jell-O shots,” he joked.

His doctors have begun recommending this procedure to other patients.

When asked if there was anything he would like to say to Feather Publishing’s readers, Tolen paused for a long moment.

There were so many thoughts coming to his mind, he said, but he did zero in on two messages to share with our readers.

The first is to take advantage of the biannual health fair at Plumas District Hospital clinics. He encourages all people to participate. The fair provides low-cost screenings that can discover things that really make a difference.

“The fair has saved lives. It has probably prolonged mine, but it can save others.” Tolen’s cancer was detected from the health fair’s blood screening.

The second message Tolen wanted to impart was for folks to appreciate their community.

“I feel so blessed to live here,” Tolen said. “I feel like I’m the luckiest man alive. The outpouring of support is almost hard for me to comprehend. It’s humbling.”

Tolen has been a fixture in the Quincy community since the early ‘70s. After a two-year stint in the Naval Hospital Corps in San Diego, he attended Feather River College from 1970 – 72.

As early as fourth grade, Tolen wanted to be a funeral director. When he came to Quincy in 1965 as a teenager working at a summer camp in Keddie, he met Andy and Gayle Anderson, who owned and operated Anderson Mortuary.

Anderson was also the fire chief back then, and inspired Tolen to become a firefighter and volunteer on the Quincy force for 17 years.

An emergency medical technician and paramedic, as well as a certificated teacher of many medical related subjects, Steve has served Plumas and neighboring counties for most of his adult life.

At present he is safety officer for Plumas District Hospital, and started teaching EMT classes at Feather River College Aug. 20, his 25th year of instruction there.

From training staff in first aid and CPR to working the High Sierra Music Festival and volunteering at Quincy High School football games, Steve has been a friendly, capable, generous presence in Plumas County for four decades.

He has come to the aid of countless people and saved many lives. His students have gone on to become professional health care workers all over the country.

Tolen has six children and three grandchildren. His youngest grandson, Steve III, rode with him in the fair parade where he was grand marshal.

Tolen calls his family “very extended.” When he had a heart attack in 2006, he woke “surrounded by wives and kids. The poor nurse was absolutely dumbstruck.”

Steve is a self-proclaimed workaholic, often working 16-hour days, seven days a week. At least he used to.

Now he is forced to take it easy. He thinks this will be his last year of work. That will leave Tolen, 62, caught in no man’s insurance land — too young for Medicare and unemployed.

Which brings us to the upcoming weekend-long community benefit to help pay for Tolen’s medical expenses.

Plastered all over Quincy are banners and flyers advertising a slew of events Sept. 7 – 9 to raise funds and honor Tolen’s many heartfelt contributions to the community.

The latest event added to the already busy weekend is a Filipino dinner at Tolen’s church, St. John’s, Saturday, Sept. 8, at 6 p.m.

Steve Tolen is a well respected and much loved member of the community. You are invited to join his many friends and family in honoring and giving him what he has given so many: love, caring and assistance. Let Steve be on the receiving end for a change.

If you have a photo or a story to share with Steve, write it down and bring it to the fairgrounds benefit Sunday, Sept. 9, at 11 a.m. so it can be included in a walk down memory lane for Steve Tolen.

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