Thank You


By: Julie

I had so many plans about what I was going to write after the walk. I was really going to bring it with all kinds of metaphors connecting the marathon to the struggles we’ve faced over the past year, and a full recap of all of the tear-jerking moments of the day. I write in my head before I ever put anything down on paper so, as I nursed my swollen feet and my aching calves I had plenty of time to assemble the piece in my mind. It was good, really good. At least I think it was. I honestly don’t remember any of it now.

Just a week after finishing the walk, while still coming down from the high of accomplishing a feat (albeit a very slow version of that feat) that elite athletes work and train so hard for, and while still watching our fundraising total creep up past $22,000, the wind was suddenly knocked from our sails. It was just a subtle change in one of Travis’ eyes, he was having trouble looking to the left, but we knew what it probably meant, and just like that our focus shifted back to crisis mode. In all of the chaos of scans and tests and added appointments, the joy that we felt just a week prior just disappeared (along with all of the words I had planned to say).

The past 8 weeks have been a bit of a blur, much like the first 8 weeks of the original diagnosis. A small problem with one of Travis’ eyes became a major problem with both eyes. His speech became slurred and his arm and leg muscles became weak. The man who finished walking a marathon nearly a full hour ahead of the rest of his team, was suddenly asking to turn around just a mile into our daily dog walks. It all happened so quickly that we both started questioning whether one of us accidently made a deal with big guy (or worse, the other guy).

We’ve caught our breath. He’s still fighting. And here are some amazing numbers we meant to share with you after crossing the finish line in September.

  • 4 – The number of miles walked with our Delaware supporters at White Clay Creek State Park.
  • 2 – The number of miles walked with our Ohio supporters in the Cleveland Metroparks.
  • 5 – The number of days between Travis’ most recent chemo infusion and the date he tackled the marathon.
  • 6 – The number of Team Wolverine walkers at the Warrior Walk in Rochester.
  • 6.2 – Miles walked by Team Wolverine at the Warrior Walk in Rochester.
  • 8 – The number of states represented by Team Wolverine team members in Boston.
  • 13 – The number of Team Wolverine walkers who walked all or part of the course in Boston.
  • 26.2 – The number of miles walked on September 24th by a man who was told less than a year prior that he likely wouldn’t live to see that day.
  • 31 – The number of states where our donors reside.
  • 38 – The place Travis finished among all fundraisers for the Jimmy Fund Marathon (38/10,000+)
  • 60 – The age of the oldest Team Wolverine team member to walk the 26.2 mile course.
  • 241 – The number of handwritten thank you notes we are sending to donors who made contributions to our team.
  • $2,612 – The number of dollars raised by Team Wolverine for the Wilmot Cancer Institute.
  • 6,091 – The number of roundtrip miles traveled by our farthest traveling teammate to come to Boston.
  • $12,878 – The number of dollars raised beyond our original fundraising goal.
  • $22,266 – The number of dollars raised by Team Wolverine for the neuro research team at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.
  • $24,878 – The total dollars raised by Team Wolverine, which will be used to advance research for patients just like Travis.

Thank you to everyone who walked with us, who held a fundraiser, made a donation, bought a t-shirt, and shared our stories. Thank you to everyone who kept us going personally so that we could focus on doing things for others. Those words hardly seem like enough, but please know that they are spoken sincerely. Thank you.


How do you measure a year?

By Julie

In one month, God willing, we will celebrate Travis’ one year cancerversary. Probably over a sushi dinner, because that’s how we tend to celebrate milestones… and Tuesdays. We aren’t currently celebrating remission, being “cancer free” or even the end of active treatment. We still travel to Rochester every other Wednesday and spend the day at the infusion center, and physical and cognitive rehab are still on the docket twice a week. Slowly but surely, however, cancer is just becoming a part of our daily lives rather than dominating every minute of every day.

Given my background in museums and archeology, I have a tendency to look at material things and instinctively organize them into stories. The vestiges of Travis’ cancer story are scattered about our house like a poorly curated museum exhibit just screaming for organization and context. His radiation mask, flipped upside down and filled with slips of paper from a raffle we did to raise funds for cancer research, sits on our living room bookcase next to a file folder filled with get-well cards.

MaskThe cards themselves are a treasure trove of content that show love and support from around the world and the timeline of the relationships we’ve both built across our lives. About half of the 100+ cards are from one single person who has sent Travis at least one card, letter or care package every week for the last year. If I were curating an exhibit I’d certainly call out the story of their connection and how much her simple gesture has meant to us both. I’d also note how much a hand-written card can mean to a person who is so low after a 12 hour day at the hospital, and how much it means to that person’s support person when she’s lost the strength to be supportive after the 2 hour drive home that followed the 12 hour day at the hospital.

There’s a stack of half-complete elementary school workbooks from the earliest weeks and months after Travis’ brain surgeries when he had to relearn letters, numbers, colors and basic sentence structure. Both the incomplete and complete pages are reminders of how far he’s come. The incomplete pages subtly remind us that he’s come far enough to no longer need such basic activities, while the earliest attempts to identify objects and colors are startling reminders of the days when we weren’t sure how much of Travis we’d get back.


I opened our kitchen pantry this week and removed a large shopping bag where I’d been dumping empty pill bottles since last fall (saved not because I’m a pack rat, but to benefit an organization that collects old pill bottles for medical missions and recycling). After I’d peeled all the labels, steamed and washed the bottles and left them in the dish drainer to dry, Travis was shocked to see just how many we’d accumulated over the last year, as was I. For me this was the most striking visual reminder of what he’s been through this last year.


When we came home from Travis’ first hospital stay over 10 months ago we brought with us about 10 pill bottles and each month there were more and more. Each time a pharmacist would sit down with me to discuss the reason Travis was taking each drug, how exactly to take each one for the best results, and how to protect myself from the more toxic medications I would be dispensing. Though I can still name each medication he’s been on and give you a complete oral history of his experience with each one, over time they became simply known as “the big one,” or “the yellow one,” or “that one that makes me feel like crap.”

If I were curating a Travis’ cancer exhibit I guess you could say that the pill bottles would be a key design feature. I would strategically locate them in a place within the gallery that draws the visitor’s eye, and arm the tour guides with stories about “the big one” that would inspire eager guests to learn more about brain cancer and the value of research.

For now I’ll just continue to pass by these things each day and allow them to remind me of how far we’ve come. How grateful I am to have had the miserably difficult year I’ve had, knowing that the alternative would have been a year without Travis. And, of course, how much I need to declutter the living room.

Why I Walk (June)

By June

I am not athletic by any means, but I enjoy walking. Walking gives me time to reflect, put things in perspective, and count my blessings.

When I was 13 years old I lived in Pennsylvania. Not only was I queen of the social group I ran with, I thought I was queen of the world. The day after my 7th grade school year ended, my parents broke the news that we were moving to Maryland. I  was extremely angry, telling my parents numerous times that summer that I would never have another friend again and it was all their fault.

That fall, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. What I missed as a disgruntled teenager was that my mom’s doctor in Pennsylvania had told her that she was as healthy as could be and could skip her mammogram. She switched doctors when we moved and, on the advice of her doctor in Maryland had a mammogram. Lo and behold: cancer. The year following her diagnosis was one of the hardest and scariest for my family, it was also a year that brought us closer together.

In 2007, my mom’s 10th year in remission, I walked 60 miles for the Susan Komen Breast Cancer Walk. That year I walked in celebration, alongside my best friends (Julie included!), thankful for that move that years ago that I had once resented. As I walked I reflected on the year after my mom’s diagnosis – recalling the time we all shaved parts of all of our heads when mom was losing her hair because of chemo and the night my 16-year-old brother modeled different fake boobs for mom to choose from. I reflected on how our family used a traumatic event to become closer than ever and I reflected on the power of medicine. We bought mom a dog that year and named him Phoenix – after the mythical bird that raises from the ashes. That year we rose together from the ashes. My mom is celebrating her 20th year in remission this year. We still call her our one boob wonder — and I’m just happy that we still get to call her something.

My first thought when I heard Travis had been diagnosed with Glioblastoma, was “What do I say? What can I do?” Over the course of Travis’ treatment, I’ve tried to find ways to brighten their day and show them support – even from 10 hours away. This walk is something I can do to show support. I am not sure what reflections will come out of these upcoming 26.2 miles but I’m walking to show Julie and Travis they’re not alone.

Why I Walk (Julie)

By Julie

I was blessed with four wonderful grandparents, two of whom I was lucky to have in my life until just last year.

My mother’s father got to know my husband during the first eight years we were together. The two of them had so much in common that there was rarely a moment of silence during our visits, and I would have to pry them away from Grandpa’s shop at the end of our time together. He made me a beautiful bookshelf and a lamp for my high school graduation. I see them every day and think of him.

My father’s mother taught me to bake, not once or twice, but in phases and with varying degrees of difficulty in the 32 years we spent on this earth together. She made me scrambled eggs and toast when I was sick (or when I just didn’t want to go to school and I could convince my mom to drop me at her house). She came to dance recitals, tennis matches and school plays, and could recount the details of these events even at 92.

My father’s father passed away suddenly when I was a teenager. He was 84 and just days before had beaten me in multiple sets of tennis. We once spent a whole day together, just the two of us (that’s a big deal when you have 20+ cousins to compete with), while on vacation in Louisiana. We went for a long walk and played racquetball.

My mother’s mother died when I was seven. She had a wig that she used to let me wear when I was at her house. She had breast cancer. I was so young that instead of memories that play over and over in my mind like home movies, I’m left with only snapshots. Even then, I’m not sure if those are real memories or photographs that I’ve seen in family albums.

Watching my mom take care of my Grandma was my first experience with cancer. As a kid all I knew was that I was going to Grandma’s house, and I was going to play dress up with her wigs. I don’t know if those were good days for her, but they were good days for me. Even from just the snap shots in my mind I know that those were good days for me.

As an adult, and as the primary caregiver of a cancer patient, I know now that they probably weren’t good days. I know now that my mom was probably at her house because it was a bad day and my Grandma needed her. She probably needed help with medications, was too tired to do much needed housework, or was having some existential crisis and just needed a hug and a sympathetic ear. I now know what bad days look like for a cancer patient. They look like tears and chills and muscle aches. They look like bland food, or no food, and taking a 3 hour nap because walking the dog around the block wore you out. There have been 25 years between my first and second (and I hope last) direct experience with cancer. As difficult as the good days are for Travis, I know that medical advances have allowed us to have a lot more good days in the past year than a lot of people have post-diagnosis.

My Grandma was my first “why.” I did Relay for Life as a teenager, walked two Komen 3-Days, and dedicated my first Jimmy Fund Marathon to her memory. She deserved more good days, and I deserved more good days with her. The advances in research that have happened over the past 25 years have already given my husband more good days. They’ve given us more long walks, more sushi dinners, and milkshakes for breakfast four times in the past year at our favorite restaurant in New Hampshire.

I walk for more good days.


“He is my hero and inspiration. I’m proud to wear this symbol to show it.”

By Courtney

travMy brother Travis has always been well put together. He always has the right words to say and he’s well liked by all –honestly, the list goes on. I may not have realized just how much I looked up to and admired him while I was growing up – but I certainly realize it now.

Last fall, I was on my way to a friend’s house when I received the call from my sister-in-law, Julie, telling me that Travis was in the hospital and that he had a brain tumor. My heart sunk. I felt unsure of what I should say or even think. Actually, my first thought was to call Travis and see what he would say or how he would advise me to handle this, but quickly remembered that this was about Travis and he couldn’t help me. I had to pull myself together. I said “Okay, what do you need me to do?” She said please call your parents and let them know. So I did.

In the weeks after, there were updates. Then the date of the surgery was finally set and I made the trip to Rochester, NY. That was a long trip. Not just by time and distance, but it was very taxing mentally. I was unsure about how he would be or if I would not be able to handle seeing him this way.

Seeing Travis for the first time in along time, I felt guilty. Why I felt that way, I’ll get to in a moment. Physically he looked the same, he still had his same goofy smile. He still sounded the same when he spoke, he just couldn’t get all the words out. We went to dinner with my parents, and Julie and Travis. He couldn’t find the words for different things on the menu and it was hard for me to see him like this. He would tell Julie and she would figure out what he wanted and then order it. That just wasn’t him. I fought back tears and, as I was fighting back tears, the guilt really kicked in. How could I let days, weeks, months and, yes, even years go by without talking to him? My heart grew heavier.

That night I went back to my hotel room and thought about us as kids and the fun and amazing summers we would have at our grandparents’ house. I thought about the times that we were “treated” to cheesesteaks and I would do something that would upset him and he would eat all but the end of my cheesesteak. The countless fights, the countless talks. The joy in his voice when I told him he was going to be an uncle. And, of course, about why we had even stopped talking in the first place.

20161101_163038The following day we visited Niagara Falls, it was nice to spend some time with him and take some family photos together. The day after that, Travis had brain surgery. Following the surgery, he experienced all of the complications that less than 5 percent of folks get; from a bleed, to excessive swelling, to having seizure activity as well. He ended up having three surgeries within that first couple of weeks.

I had to return home before Travis was ready to leave the hospital, which meant leaving him lying in the Neuro ICU hospital bed and hoping I would see him again, but not really knowing for sure. The whole way home I thought about the treatments he would have to endure. The amount of strength he would have to have, both mentally and physically was unspeakable. On that long drive, I decided to do something that would give me a daily remember the fight he was just starting with cancer. I decided to get a tattoo.

I spoke with Julie several times over the next few weeks about Travis and his progress. When a loved one has a serious cancer, conversations about final wishes are unavoidable and, ultimately, my tattoo was inspired by something Travis said he might want to have done with his ashes. Travis has always loved the outdoors. He was a Boy Scout growing up and achieved the rank of Eagle Scout. He has always loved camping and hiking.  His choice of a career in the forest service was no surprise, since it would lead him to something to do with the outdoors, and it also made sense to hear that he has expressed an interest in placing his ashes with nature – specifically, to have his ashes mixed with Bear Oak Tree seeds and planted. I took that information and ran with it.

20170714_115610I called my tattoo artist, Steve, and told him what I thinking and why. He was moved by my thoughts behind this piece of art and the appointment was set. I am not a fan of pain or needles – tattoos, of course, have both – but throughout the time Steve was tattooing me, I reminded myself that I can deal with this pain if it shows my support and love I have for my brother. The tattoo was finished and I was super-happy with it. My work schedule has not allowed me to show Travis the tattoo in person, but he has seen pictures and loves it as much as I do!

I continue to show my support for his fight by helping to fund raise and will proudly walk next to him in Boston in September for the Jimmy Fund Walk. He is not only my brother and the uncle to my kids — but he is my hero and inspiration. I’m proud to wear this symbol to show it.

Keep fighting Travis – kick cancer’s A$$!


By Julie

The better part of two decades ago, my high school religion teacher made the statement: “there’s no such thing as an unanswered prayer, it’s just that sometimes the answer is ‘no’.” At the time this statement didn’t have a huge impact on me, except to ruin one of my favorite Garth Brooks songs. I don’t remember the context, so I don’t know if it was part of a larger lesson that she had planned or if it was just something said in the moment, but all these years later it means something to me.

Over the past 8 months numerous people have looked at our situation and commented on how strange, funny, amazing, remarkable etc…, it is that we always seem to find ourselves in the right place for whatever we are facing. And it’s true, while there’s never a good time to battle brain cancer, Travis and I are in a better position right now to take on the fight than we ever would have been before.

In all of my obsessing about why this is happening, I’ve looked back at the past 10 years and thought several times–what if it happened then? What if it happened while Travis was a full time student? What if it happened while we were living in an even more remote area, nowhere near a major research hospital or cancer center? What if he’d been uninsured? What if… I could go on and on with the “what ifs,” but “what is” is more than enough to deal with, and “what is” is that we’re exactly where we need to be right now to deal with what we’ve been dealt. Whether through fate, chance or divine intervention, every decision we’ve made and the decisions made by those around us, have all been leading to this moment.

But I didn’t just come to this realization over the past 8 months. My deeper understanding of my high school teacher’s “unanswered prayers” remark actually came a few years ago. I was still settling into a job that I wasn’t sure I loved, after leaving a job that I definitely loved. I’d run up against a wall with my previous employer who had chosen to look outside rather than promote from within for a position that I desperately wanted. I left my job in a bit of a huff. I pretended that I was okay with how things had gone down. I had not one, but three job offers, all of which included a higher salary and greater responsibilities, so clearly someone recognized my professional capabilities. But the truth is that it wasn’t the way I wanted it to go. It’s not what I planned, it’s not what I prayed for.

The person who got the job, ultimately, was, and continues to be, very well suited for the position. She’s doing great things for an organization that I greatly admire and respect, and I’m doing great things as well. But professional success aside, this all goes much deeper. You see, about two years ago as I was still settling into my “new” job, and as the person who got the job I really wanted was likely still settling into hers, her life was turned upside down in a way that I could not imagine at the time. Her husband was diagnosed with cancer.

I watched from afar on social media as he fought through surgery, radiation and chemo at the Wilmot Cancer Institute in Rochester, NY. I thanked God for my health and the health of my husband as I thought about the pain of uncertainty that must come with such a devastating diagnosis. And I found a much deeper understanding in why my prayers had been seemingly ignored, and why my plans had been rejected by whoever it is that controls our individual destinies.

You see, by the other person getting the job that I wanted, their family was able to return from out of state to their hometown. It meant rather than being halfway across the country when the cancer struck, they were close to the family members and friends that they would need to fight their fight. They were exactly where they needed to be to take on the challenges they were facing.

It was quite the revelation for a newly minted 30 year old who previously thought she had it all figured out. Sometimes things happen, or don’t happen, in your life. Sometimes you figure out why they happened, and sometimes you don’t. And sometimes when you do, you realize that the reason you didn’t get what you thought you wanted had nothing to do with you in the first place.

I won’t pretend to understand the complexities of destiny vs. choice. I don’t truly grasp why it is that we must suffer pain, loss and uncertainty, and my faith in something greater than us has never been more shaken than it is right now. But I do know that there is meaning and purpose in the life that I’m living. There is fate and there is free will, and the harmony in which those two concepts live create the road map of our lives. I pray for wisdom and enough understanding to make it through each day. And when I am left wondering why my life has taken a particular turn, I pause and remind myself that it may not be about me.

Tough Conversations

By Julie

While on our honeymoon we went to a steakhouse where Travis promptly ordered a 20+ OZ ribeye (rare, of course). I couldn’t help but laugh when the still-mooing slab of beef (which was easily the size of the plate on which it was delivered) arrived at our table. “You know,” I quipped “my first husband Travis used to eat steaks like that all of the time!” I can’t count the number of times I’ve reused that gem in one form or another over the past 5 years. Joking about your husband’s untimely death is pretty funny, until it’s not.

When your life is normal these types of jokes are normal—at least they were for us so I assume they’re normal for everyone. We’ve made jokes and had casual discussions about the type of funeral we’d want, who we’d date if the other one wasn’t around, and even how we’d go about killing each other if, you know, we were going to do that. (Ok, so that last one doesn’t exactly sound normal so I’ll just clarify by saying that conversation came after a day of binging episodes of Forensic Files and judging others for how bad they were at covering up their crimes.)

Our lives ceased being normal when cancer became a daily part of our conversations. At first I adapted by not making jokes, which is unbelievably hard for someone who comes from a long line of people who use inappropriate humor as a coping mechanism. But, reverting to living and talking as if nothing had changed didn’t feel quite right either.

At some point we had to get on with living our lives in the context of a new normal, and that includes returning to conversations that were once normal, and having tough conversations that often become uncomfortable. Ultimately, we seem to have struck a balance among all of the feelings of discomfort and awkward laughter, and the need to actually talk about the giant elephant/zebra in the room (both for sanity and practicality sake).

In the past 6 months I have written down the details of a lot of the conversations we’ve had for posterity (and because Travis initially suffered some short term memory loss so I needed proof/plausible deniability in some cases). I’ve summarized some of our more interesting/morbib/painful/enjoyable conversations below, all of which included a combination of laughter and tears.

Why am I sharing these conversations? Because, while it’s human nature to tip toe around the hard stuff, these are important topics to cover whether or not you’re facing a serious illness. When we’ve brought these topics up with family members and friends we generally get responses like “don’t talk like that, you have to stay positive.” And while we’re focused primarily on a positive outcome, the alternative cannot be ignored. People think that when you have cancer you just sit around having cancer. That may be true for a little while but then you have to figure out how to make life work around it. We can’t go very long without it being a part of our conversations, but we also can’t let those conversations consume us with darkness.

On Final Wishes/Burial

Travis: I know we’ve joked about it before but I really think the eco-urn is the way to go.

Julie: Oh good, way cheaper than a casket.

Travis: I just like the idea of being a tree. There’s something really…

Julie: profound about it…

Travis: Yes. That word. Do you think you wear clothes to be cremated?

Julie: I don’t know. If you do, what would you want to wear?

Travis: Maybe my kilt.

Julie: I guess… Seems like a waste of an awful lot of good fabric, though. I could make curtains…

On Moving On

Travis: Do you think you’ll get married again when… if I’m gone?

Julie: I don’t know. I can’t honestly say I haven’t thought about it a little, but all thinking about it does is tell me that I’m definitely not ready to think about it.

Travis: I guess. I’d want you to be happy though. That could be a long time to be alone.

Julie: Is it weird for you to think about?

Travis: I mean, I’ll be dead so… but I don’t really know what happens to me… I mean, I do kind of wonder if I could see you… moving on.

Julie: That’s a weird and unsettling thought.

Travis: And what about when you die? Are we all together? Double Husbands?

Julie: This is getting a little too deep for me. It makes my brain hurt.

Travis: Maybe you have a tumor.

Julie: You think everyone has a tumor.

Travis: But seriously though, I do want you to be happy.

Julie: Ok, then seriously, I would leave you right now for Adam Levine.

Travis: I’d leave you for Adam Levine.

Julie: Well this is a new development…

Travis: Not like, to have a relationship, I just think he’d be cool to hang out with.

Julie: Couldn’t we all hang out together?

Travis: No one likes a third wheel, Julie…

On Death and Suicide

Travis: If things go south and we found out that I wasn’t going to make it through this, I don’t think I could just wait around for death, but I also don’t think I could kill myself.

Julie: Well I’m not gonna kill you.

Travis: I wouldn’t ask you to do that.

Julie: I mean, I could, but I wouldn’t want to risk jeopardizing the insurance claim.

Travis: Fair.

Julie: We can talk to someone about what it would be like when… if… ummm… we could talk to someone now if you want to… or then… if there’s a then.

Travis: I guess. But I was actually thinking I’d like to go out like The Shootist and I’m not sure that’s something that they could help me with. I’m also not sure if I have enough enemies that would consider going toe to toe for the chance to take me out. Also, we’d have to time it perfectly so I still had a fair chance in the fight, you know, before the tumor takes more of my tactical skills away.

Julie: Wow, you’ve really thought a lot about this, haven’t you?

Travis: I guess… I think about dying a lot and this is one of the least depressing ways to think about it. No one wants to waste away in a bed. I want to go down fighting.

Julie: Well, I guess the good news is that with the current political climate in America I’d say there’s at least a 75% you’ll be able to volunteer as tribute for the world’s first hunger games…


The Make Change Challenge

May is Brain Cancer Awareness Month – or Brain Cancer Action Month, if you prefer. Either way, we’d like to ask you to take action and help us raise awareness this month by creating a little change – or more accurately, collecting a little change.

A little change can go a long way – and that’s more than just a saying – which is why we’re launching the “Make Change Challenge” to raise money throughout the month of May for brain cancer charities. Small amounts add up quickly and can make a big difference.

Please join us! Here’s how to participate.

How to Join the Make Change Challenge:

Step 1: Get out your craft supplies and create a Make Change Challenge container. It can be any shape or size, any color, any material.

  • Also, we would love to see what you create — share a picture of your container on social media with #MakeChangeChallenge and #WalkingforTravis. Find change in an interesting place? Post that, too!

Step 2: Find a prominent place to display your container(s).

Step 3: Collect and save change throughout the month of May.

Step 4: Donate your collected change to a program that supports brain cancer research and patient programs.

A few suggestions collecting change:

  • When making a cash purchase, save the leftover coins to add to your change jar;
  • If you live in a bottle deposit state, cash in containers for nickels & dimes and add the change to your jar – collect containers from neighbors to trade in for change.
  • Pick up discarded pennies (note: maybe best to carry some hand sanitizer in case you encounter some sticky money).
  • Do a little spring-cleaning around your house; you may be amazed how much change you’ll find in your couch cushions or under your washer or dryer.

 Are you competitive? Suggest a friendly competition among your family, friends and coworkers to see who can collect the most change in the month of May. You may even consider designating a prize for the person who does collect the most.

 At the end of the month, contribute the change you collect to an organization that supports brain cancer research and programs. Some of our favorites include:


Awareness in Prime Time

By: Julie

photo posted on post-gazette.comIn March of 2016 the CBS crime drama NCIS aired an episode entitled Reasonable Doubts. We’re cord cutters (aka, folks who have given up cable) so we didn’t watch this episode until it recently appeared on Netflix, but here’s the gist of what happened: there was some sort of crime that involved something that happened to someone connected to the Navy. The main character, Agent Gibbs, had a gut feeling about what actually happened, but didn’t reveal what he already knew to the team who worked tirelessly to sort it all out, and in the end they solved the case. It was riveting as usual.

What was more interesting to me, however, was the sub-plot. The father of another character meets a homeless woman who is suffering from some sort of mental illness and he becomes obsessed with finding her the care she needs. In the end it turns out that she had once lived a normal and productive life with a loving family, but she slowly slipped into total madness until she was unable to remember her full name and could no longer function in the world. The cause, revealed in the closing moments of the show, was a brain tumor (inoperable and too far progressed for any effective treatment).

Travis, the Agent Gibbs of our family, suspected a brain tumor from the moment the character was introduced. To be fair, however, these days anytime we watch a show where someone has gone a little crazy, Travis generally diagnoses them with a brain tumor.

It was nice to see a spotlight placed on brain cancer in such a prominent platform, and particularly nice to see symptoms other than headaches and seizures portrayed as part of the equation. Here was a woman who was probably just a little out of sorts at first, but over the years she plunged into total madness from the thing that was growing in her head. Perhaps if she’d been aware that something so horrible could have been plaguing her, or if she had a loving friend, family member or partner who knew intuitively that her behavior was so dramatically different and that one logical explanation was that something was seriously wrong, this poor fictional woman could have been diagnosed before it was too late.

Awareness. That’s what we’re fighting for right now. Sure, incorporating brain cancer into the subplot of a prime time show was a great opportunity to raise awareness, despite the fact that when the diagnosis finally came the doctor delivering the news to the father character totally blew his big moment by horribly mispronouncing glioblastoma (seriously, watch it, – season 13, episode 16, time stamp 39:51). Here’s the thing — not only did the fictional characters miss signs and symptoms, ultimately no one on the set was aware enough to catch the mistake either.

As I’ve written previously, raising awareness for brain tumors can be tricky because brain tumors are zebras. An awareness campaign encouraging people to pursue treatments for symptoms that are most often benign would probably only make things difficult for doctors and patients alike. Further, proper pronunciation is hardly a solid platform to build an awareness campaign around. For one, it is a tough word to pronounce so mad props to the actor, Matt Champagne (who is credited by IMBD as “Dr. Glioblastoma”) for a solid effort. Also, I’ve spent a lifetime correcting pronunciation and grammar and trust me: no one likes it, so that campaign would almost certainly fail.

For months we have been trying to come up with big ways to raise awareness and funds for brain cancer. The more we talk with others about Travis’ diagnosis the more we see how great the need is for awareness. Travis’ decision to share his story was predicated on this need, and it fuels my new propensity to write like I’m running out of time (and yes, that’s another Hamilton reference). As we look ahead to May, which is brain cancer awareness month, we decided to stop focusing on big, and instead we’re going to try to do something small. Think pennies, small.

Stay tuned for another blog post that will go up later this week to learn more about Team Wolverine’s Make Change Challenge.