What I’m thankful for

It’s been four years, three months, and eleven days since my last update – and my last dose of chemo.

And six years, eleven months, and twenty-six days since I first checked myself into the E.R., on the night of my 29th birthday, having difficulty breathing.

I didn’t know it at the time, but my life was about to take a turn.

Almost seven years, and a few plot twists later, I have so much to be thankful for. I’m healthy and happy; a husband and a father; and 100% cancer-free.

I’ve got a lot to be thankful for

Natasha and I were blessed with a son, Jasper James Wagner, on December 29th, 2016. I could fill an entirely different blog with reflections on fatherhood, and he’s not even two yet. We are fully embracing the challenge, and are grateful for the love and support we’ve received as rookie parents from friends and family – especially his grandparents Mory and Sarah, Jim and Marlene. Baby sister is due in March of next year (!!).

This past summer, I left my in-agency position to begin working for myself as an independent brand/communications strategist. It’s early days, but the response so far has been encouraging. Launching my site (BRIGHTN.CO) and landing my first paid projects were big recent milestones.

This past weekend I rode my bike (along with nearly a dozen of my teammates from Wolfpack Cycling) in the #PadresPedal, a charity cycling event benefiting Moore’s Cancer Center at UC San Diego, among other local cancer research and treatment facilities. Having spent nearly 3 years of my life in the care of UCSD’s cancer team, it’s a cause that’s personally meaningful to me.

Each rider was given a card to fill out that read: “I ride for ______.”

As the ride was about to start, I realized I forgot to fill out my card. Of course, I was riding for myself, I thought. But somewhere out on the course, as I reflected on my journey, I had a realization:

As difficult as my experience was for me personally, I can say with 100% confidence that it was even harder on my family. And, I would guess that most survivors would say the same: That a disproportionate share of the burden of a cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment, falls not on patients themselves, but on family members and caretakers.

So that’s what I decided, mid-ride. That I would ride for the caretakers. Not just my caretakers but for all of the caretakers, who shoulder the burden right alongside their friends and loved ones, everyday.

It was a fairly long ride, and after a few hours of this idea bouncing around in my head, I was feeling a bit emotional as I approached the finish. And who was waiting to greet me? My biggest fans, and my own personal cheering section. The two most important people in my life. It was a great finish to a great ride, and a welcome opportunity to give thanks.

Wherever you are, and wherever you’re celebrating this Thanksgiving, I hope it’s a great one. Don’t forget to tell your own caretakers how much you love and appreciate them.

And, for anyone interested in supporting my fundraising efforts, you can contribute via my rider profile page here.

Lots of love,

–T

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“Courage Through Cancer”

NATASHA_&_TYLER_WEDDINGWe agreed a long time ago that no news is good news, so I know you’ll forgive me for waiting almost a year to write an update.

All is well – Natasha and I got married in October and we moved into a new home in November; I’m working at an amazing creative agency (Parallax Branding + Interactive) with a bunch of amazing people; and, 26 months after being told those three little words (“you have cancer”), I’m happy to report that I’m 100% cancer-free.

Maintenance therapy continues. I’m still on the same combination of oral and infused chemotherapy (POMP), which means I only have to be in the infusion center once every 28 days. The monthly infusions leave me feeling less than stellar for a few days each month, but thanks to regular neupogen injections I have a semi-functioning immune system and have been fortunate to avoid further complications or infections. Knock on wood…

We were  humbled recently to have the opportunity to share our story in the UT San Diego, as part of a series called Courage Through Cancer.

Check out the article here: Courage through cancer: Infections add to cyclist’s tough battle

Special thank you to Doug Williams and to Clay Treska for giving us the chance to talk about our experience.

Until next time…

Lots of love!
–T

The thrill of hope, a new and glorious morning

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The Gift Wrap Crusher

I have a dog. A unique and curious fellow, and although I try hard not to talk about him too much, I feel he is the best one to tell this story. He is the kind of dog that yelps when you touch his armpits, smiles when you frolic with him, and tries with all his might to be a real boy. His face has more expressions than mine, and we have become expert conversationalists. Perhaps it is in his genes, or perhaps it is in mine, but we are the peas and carrots of man and his dog.

A year ago this month, I had to wake my dog up in the middle of the night. He was sound asleep at my feet, but when I got the call that Tyler was sitting in the emergency room with an abnormal X-ray, I couldn’t move fast enough. I picked him up, quickly and suddenly. My little man screamed. He shook and he glared at me, and when I tried to pick him up again, he screamed once more. My heart was pounding and all I could think was, I still couldn’t move fast enough.  Continue reading

Christmas come early: I’m Cancer Free.

Holiday Greetings Everyone,

This update is overdue, but for the most part, it’s safe to assume that no news is good news at this point.  To that point, I’ll get right to it: I’m cancer free.

I had a PET scan last week and, to quote the radiologist’s report, “there was minimal uptake at the periphery of the mediastinum,” but nothing lighting up in a way that would indicate relapse.  Translation: Everything is looking good.  The activity at the periphery of the mediastinum is common in patients that have received radiation therapy (which I have) and is no cause for concern.  I’ll have a full CT Scan in Feb/March, which will mark our next milestone on this journey back to full health.  Until then, I continue on the maintenance chemo regimen–a combination of daily, weekly, and monthly pills along with once-a-month IV infusions.

In November I had my eighth and final (God willing) dose of intrathecal chemotherapy.

In November I had my eighth and final (God willing) dose of intrathecal chemotherapy.

One year ago this week (December 4th, 2011) I was in the ER with back pain and breathing problems.  An X-ray revealed an unidentified mass in my chest, between my heart and lung. Four days later, on December 8th, I was officially diagnosed with stage IV lymphoma/leukemia.  As we approach the one year anniversary of my diagnosis, I’ve been awash in a variety of not-so-pleasant memories.  It’s crazy to think that it was only twelve months ago that this whole chapter of my life began.  Continue reading

Back On The Grind

Infusion Center Shades

Another day at the office

The honeymoon is over.  Back from our California road trip.  Back to reality.

Don’t get me wrong, Tash and I couldn’t be happier, and our trip couldn’t have been better.  I wrote earlier this week in my journal that if our road trip had been the last week of my life, I would’ve died a happy man.

It was as close to absolute perfection as I could imagine.

The sunny beaches and scenic valleys of Santa Barbara; red woods towering above and craggy cliffs plunging below Big Sur; getting lost in the sights and sounds and tastes and smells of The City; the vine covered hills and quiet roads of Sonoma.  I couldn’t have asked for more.  And to be able to do it all with my best friend, and to come home with a fiancee to top it off…icing on the cake. Continue reading

One small step

I just had a chat with an old friend from college days. It could have been a conversation from September 13, 2004, but it was today – 2012. It is like we took one small step in our goals, and one giant step in our lifetimes. Some dreams are not yet realized, but we are still working at them, and we still have hope. We came to the conclusion that goals have to interlace with life as it unravels, twists and turns and all. This lifetime is a marathon and we can only set milestones to get us through to the end.

A couple members of Team Tyler embarked on their own ‘marathons’ in the past weeks. Both chose to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training, and both trained long and hard to reach personal goals in their feats.

Our Stunner of a Runner – Marjan!!!

My aunt Marjan completed her half marathon at Disneyland in killer time. We are very proud of her accomplishment, especially because I know bad knees run in the family. Marjan trained and ran like a champ (now I just need to work a little harder to convince her to get into cycling- haha!).

Lindsay the Triple Threat!!!

 

 

 

 

The newest green bracelet member of Team Tyler, our friend Lindsay, participated in the San Diego Tri Classic. Lindsay just started seriously cycling a few months ago, and we have had the pleasure of showing her a few San Diego roads. Lindsay hit her time goal on the minute and said it was due in part to her Team Tyler cheer squad.

Tyler hit a milestone last Monday. He completed his final session of radiation therapy and got to ring the Graduation Bell.

Tyler getting snapped in and lined up

Aside from finishing a major step in his treatment plan, this is also a momentous occasion because for exactly a week and three days more from today, Tyler will be free. No IV, no pills, no laser beams.

When Tyler and I would dream about getting him through the rough stages of chemo, we set the goal of taking a road trip. It was our light at the end of the tunnel as we were sitting in the cancer ward. As Tyler was hooked up to constant IVs, blood transfusions, pneumonia; very scary days, this was our light. So now that he has a break in his treatments, and his oncologist gave his blessing, we are off! Life happens, and we are weaving our goal in. This Saturday we will drive up the California coast- camping, biking, the works. A huge milestone for us, and we are beyond excited.

When we return in a week, Tyler will start chemo the next Monday. Until then, we have one free bird on our hands.

At the start of the Red Sea, Two winners watching a huge LOSS!

Radiation Day One

Radiation Mask

Torture device for the claustrophobic.

Radiation started at 6:30am. When I arrive the mask is waiting for me. A few weeks ago they created a plastic cast of my head, shoulders, and upper chest. Laying on my back, the hardened mesh is laid in place and fastened to the table, locking me into place. No moving. No talking. I can’t open my mouth.

“Thumbs up if you’re ok.”

Through mesh and barely open eyelids a grid of green lasers appears, aligning equipment to cast to body to tumor. Science fiction meets real life.

I’m alone. The technicians have retreated to the room next door. A few short x-ray sounds, as machinery hovers above and around me. A tech returns, making mechanical adjustments, then disappears. Longer x-ray sounds now, first on my left, above me, on my right. Am I breathing too hard? Is it hitting the right spot?

Continue reading

Team Tyler – 4 legs are better than 2

Team Tyler lost a very special 4-legged friend last night. Sir Winston Churchill, my Aunt Monica and Brad’s giant bulldog passed, a very dedicated member of Team Tyler as you will see below. I would like to dedicate this post to our faithful friends that always support us, and love us unconditionally. I hope there are giant bones in doggie heaven, Winston.

Team in Training

         For as much as we are Team Tyler, I have started to realize in the last several weeks how we are part of a much larger team. As we meet and chat with fellow patients and families in the Blood and Marrow Transplant ward, it becomes evident that our stories often intersect, and we are all rooted in the same fight. I have learned that what we do know, we share, and it is often tremendous help in our personal battles. I have also learned, that as a unified Team against cancer, we really do not know that much. Even small strides in cancer therapy research are giant improvements in our understanding of this disease and treatment. That being said, several people have asked how they can help with Team Tyler, such as donations for our bracelets.  I would like to extend an opportunity for us to help with a bigger picture, the war on cancer.

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Brotherly Love

Me and Hisoy posing with the banner, which was signed and delivered by my all boys from Sig Ep, Mo Alpha.

Greetings to the whole Team Tyler crew!  I’m happy to share that I’m writing from the comfort of my own couch, and that round 2B is officially in the books.

So far so good.  Liver enzymes are a bit elevated, which is to be expected, but they’re not at a level to be overly concerned.  We’ll watch them closely, along with my blood count over the next few weeks. I’m feeling really good, and am happy to be home.  Nothing like sleeping in your own bed.

A couple of weeks ago a strangely-shaped package arrived at my doorstep.  I opened it and unrolled a six-foot banner, covered from top to bottom in signatures and well wishes from some of the most generous, caring, kind-hearted friends a guy could ever ask for–the men of Sigma Phi Epsilon.

Included in the package was a letter from my good friend Brian Donnelly (aka Donlee, aka Don Mega, aka Count Donnelly):

Shortly after digesting the news of your ailment, Brock, Tim and I started brainstorming on how we could put together an event in your honor so folks back here could show their support.  The event was held late last month (Jan. 28th) at a local bar (in St. Charles, MO) and the enclosed $3,700 check represents the proceeds from that wonderful day. Continue reading