WESTBY, Wis. -- It is a beautiful, crisp fall day just outside of Westby. A perfect day for a hunt. "We're gonna have a good pheasant hunt today."
Over the years, Father and son Tom Hutchison and Philip Schroeder have had a lot of days like these. "It's just time that we get out and can actually talk just about anything. Laugh about stuff. Bring up old memories, the fun things we've done. Some of the fun things we probably shouldn't have done." "A lot of good times. Memories more than anything. We have a lot more fun than we actually do hunting. So it's an extremely special day where you get to be out with your boy and enjoy mother nature. And if you get lucky enough to get some game - that's the bonus. The rest of it is why you go."
It's a pastime that, like so many fathers and sons, has bonded them together. "Not only are we father and son, we're best friends. If I had to pick my best friend - Philip would be my best friend."
But this hunt is a little different than most. Because this hunt could very well be their last. "Memorial weekend, 6 years ago is when all this happened. He was on the way over to our house. He was supposed to be there at 7 or 8 and showed up at 10 or 11 which isn't like him. I said, 'what's the matter, did your alarm clock not go off this morning?' I turned around to look at him and he was a kind of gray color. And he said, 'I think I've got the flu.'"
"I went to see the doctor and they did a lot of blood work and the doctor came in and says, 'I have Leukemia.' My wife was there and she looks at me and says, 'What's he say? And I said, 'I think he said I have Leukemia."
"What was that like hearing that diagnosis? Scary. We knew nothing about Leukemia. To this day I still don't know exactly the Leukemia he has I just know there isn't any of it that's good."
"They pretty much gave me three weeks that I'd be around."
But Tom wasn't about to go down without a fight. "They threw me in an ambulance and rushed me down to Mayo. The doctors all came in and said, 'what do you want us to do.? We can treat it aggressively or just treat it.?' I said, 'I want you to get rid of it. Either cure me or kill me. But do something."
They immediately started a rigorous round of treatment. And somehow, remarkably..."Two months later they did a bone marrow biopsy and it was clean. Then like a bad penny, it came back. And it just wouldn't go away."
The second time around, Tom was given 3 months to live. That was almost two years ago. But even so - he knows his days are numbered. "I hope there's a few days left, cause I got things to do! Used to be a lot of days. Now it's just a few days."
Which makes this year's hunt that much more meaningful. Because for a man battling leukemia, hunting isn't as easy as it used to be. That's where an organization called NASA the North American Squirrel Association is helping makes this possible. "What our mission statement is to help elderly and disabled and youth recreate. From biking to skiing to hunting. Deer hunting and upland game pheasant hunting."
Free of charge NASA organizes every aspect of this hunt and others like it. The guide, the dogs, even the special transportation when Tom needs a hand getting around. "We have fellas that haven't hunted for 20 years because of a disability. There's a lot of tears, there's a lot of emotion. Because they're able to do something they haven't done in years. It really is amazing to see the fun in their eyes and the glimmer in their eyes."
Because of NASA - this father and son now have one more memory they can tuck away. "I get to look at it as another hunting trip I get to do with my father. It's time I get to spend with him." "Every hunting trip is important. It's important that we spend time together. You never know when it might be the last time you get to do it."
"Every night I say a little prayer and thank the lord for a good day. No matter if it's raining and I've gone through chemo - it's a good day. And I pray for more good days."
And today, with his boy by his side, was one more 'very good' day.
If you are interested in learning more about the special services the North American Squirrel Association offers, you can visit their website at www.nasasquirrel.org. You can also find information on how to volunteer or make a financial contribution to the association.