FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Pat Wiese, a former member of the Dolphins' baseball team and Northeast-10 Conference Man of the Year, wrote a column for the website GetLivin.com about his journey.
By: Patrick Wiese
I want to quickly first make a note that in this reading there are subject matters that are very personal. Some things I have kept inside of me that not even my closest family knows, so please respect what I am about to tell you and please try to understand where I am coming from.
What would it take for you to read my story? I understand your time is limited. As humans we spend our waking hours running around completing daily tasks. My goal right now is to grab your attention for just fifteen minutes because I believe I have something important to tell you. So, how do I do that? How do I get you to listen to my story? What if I told you I spent 74 days in Hell? Did that work?
Have you ever listened to the sound your beating heart makes? I am not talking about the clichéd “lub-dub” that every health and science teacher across the globe uses to describe the sound of the thumping heart. I mean have you ever really listened to the sound of your heart? There is so much more than a “lub-dub.” It’s a lot easier said than done but really try listening to the hymn your heart sings. Try listening to what your heart is preaching. Try it.
Every morning I wake up to complete silence. The world is still for a brief moment. Not a single exterior sound enters my head- not even the sound of more than 20 relatives carrying about their early morning routines on Thanksgiving Day. It’s deafening quiet. I first noticed this silence the morning of May 9th, 2014, one year ago. For a couple seconds I was surrounded by complete and sheer stillness. I thought something was wrong. I assumed I was still dreaming, so I closed my eyes. Upon closing my eyes my chest started to bang. It pounded louder and louder. It was my heart pumping blood through the blood vessels. I took my right hand and placed it over my left breast where my scar lives evidently. I held my hand there as I felt the piece my heart performed.
September 10th, 2013. It was such a pleasing day. Not a single cloud in the sky. It was the start of my senior year at Le Moyne College. I was ready to spend the day going to class and then head down to Dick Rockwell Field for baseball practice. I was excited. I mean who wouldn’t be. It was 80 degrees out and I got to play baseball. Well, at least that’s what I thought.
I headed back from my dad’s office after a couple MRIs on my knee. I remember Zac Brown Band filled the car while my arm hung out the driver’s side window; shades were on. I was ready to take some fly balls and get some swings in but before I could do that I had to head to class (statistics to be exact). My knee had been in some pain for about a year dating back to my junior campaign at Le Moyne. It wasn’t constant pain but when the pain appeared it was excruciating. I would struggle to warm-up before because of the unbearable pain. But as first-pitch approached the pain would go away. Every game I would spend 20 minutes in tears as I tried to get myself ready. I hid it from the team because I didn’t want to complain.
I finished my junior year and the pain slowly went away. However, that summer it crept back in as I played summer ball with Vermont in the NECBL. My last game with Vermont I lined a single to left and stole second. While stealing second I pulled my quad, sending me home early. Little did I know that would be the last time I would be able to play baseball. As I was home rehabbing my quad the pain in my knee decided to come back and this time for good. I couldn’t sleep. I was up every night sweating. It got to the point where I found myself biting my pillow so I wouldn’t scream and wake any of my roommates. I didn’t know what to do. At night I drank a lot to numb the pain. I drank for the sole intention to take my mind off the pain. It was torture. Getting drunk was the only way to treat the pain but it was only a temporary fix. Most mornings I couldn’t even stand up out of bed. I would sit there, head in hands praying for the pain to go away. Most days I found myself taking countless pain pills in hopes to ease the agony. I even mixed them with alcohol but everything I tried just wasn’t enough. It was time to tell someone.
I told my dad that something was wrong and he ordered for an MRI at his office. Being the son of an orthopedic surgeon has its perks, so he got me in right away. This takes us back to September 10th, 2013. I was sitting in statistics class after my MRI when I saw my phone light up. It was my dad calling and immediately I knew something was wrong. I left class and answered. His voice was shaky when he said, “Pat you have to come back in.” I asked him what was wrong? He just said, “Come back in.” At this point I thought it was my ACL or just something that was going to set me back for a little but nevertheless I would be ready come opening day. I pulled in and went to the side of his office where I always entered. He was waiting there. He stood with his head down. I stopped walking. He lifted his head looked me straight in the eyes. I asked him again, “What’s wrong?” He wasn’t answering me. It seemed like forever before I got an answer. Looking back I now understand why he didn’t answer right away. He didn’t want to tell his youngest son his life was about to change. After what seemed to be a couple minutes of silence he said, “You have a tumor.” The last thing a 21 year old wants to hear from their father.
For those of you that don’t know my father, he doesn’t show emotion whatsoever. When it comes to showing emotion he’s a sack of bricks- emotionless. To see his eyes water up a little bit scared me. I didn’t know how bad it was but when I saw his face I got scared. So scared I didn’t know what to say. My mouth was moving but no words came out. I didn’t believe him. I whispered, “What do you mean a tumor?” As is the tumor wasn’t a real entity.
I then asked my father, “Am I going to be able to play baseball again?” He responded, “I don’t know.” I know now he was only saying that to protect me. The next hour was the longest hour of my life. I was sent for rounds of x-rays and MRIs. For what seemed like two hours I stared at the inside of the MRI machine as questions raced through my head. Is it life threatening? If it is how long do I have to live? Will they be able to remove the tumor? Are they going to have to amputate my leg? Are they going to have to replace my knee? Will I be able to walk again? What about run? What about baseball? Am I going to be able to dance with my daughter at her wedding? What about play catch with my son?
For a couple weeks these questions polluted my head. I couldn’t get rid of them. I continued to be thrown through tests so doctors could try and figure out what my life would become. All the tests came back and fortunately the tumor was localized in my knee and not in other life threatening parts of my body. The tests revealed that I would need an extensive knee replacement where the surgeon needed to take the whole knee out along with parts of my femur, tibia, muscles, joints and ligaments in the surrounding area. This was all necessary to eliminate the golf ball-sized tumor in my knee. With my new bionic knee I wouldn’t be able to do anything impactful. No running, no jumping etc… something an active 21 year old didn’t want to hear. That was not the end. Doctors also came back explaining that parts of the tumor were high grade- it was aggressive. Because of this I would need six months of chemotherapy where I would spend 74 days in the hospital being pumped with chemicals and fluids. I would come to learn that I had three new best friends: Adriamycin, cisplatin and methotrexate. The worst part though, my baseball career was over.
The knee surgery took place in October of 2013. For the next couple months I had to learn how to walk again. I started with simple stretches. I then made my way to walking to the bathroom in my hospital room. When I was released from the hospital I would walk to the end of my driveway. I would then make my way to the end of my street- about 100 yards. After a little while, I would be able to walk around my block. I had to relearn the simple process of walking and the pain was forever present. Just when I started to learn how to walk again I started chemotherapy. My schedule was mapped out for the next six months. Three weeks receiving chemo, two weeks recovering. I repeated that monotonous schedule for six months.
The first month was by far the worst. I didn’t eat anything. Sometimes the chemo made me throw up. The smell and taste of food made my stomach turn. Most times when I could eat it would just result in heartburn. My mouth was covered in canker sores; any substance that touched them burned. I had to get up at least three times in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. I felt nauseated 24/7. When I did finally get a spec of rest my IV pole would go off and wake me up. I didn’t sleep most nights. Most nights I would lie awake listening to the fuss of fluids being pumped into my chest where an access port laid acting as a funnel to my veins. I was hooked up to that port for four straight days at a time, making it uncomfortable to lie on my side. I would get rashes that always itched. When I was receiving chemo treatments at home I would be hooked up to a fanny pack with a pump that pushed chemo through my port. While in bed my muscles and bones would ache to the point where I would bite my forearm so I wouldn’t yell in pain. I spent 74 days hooked up to chemo treatments and the rest of my time recovering. I felt like the walking dead. I reeked of chemo because I couldn’t shower for up to four days at times. It was hell, pure hell.
My faith was tested. I routinely told myself I couldn’t do it. I become depressed. Dark thoughts entered my head. Many times I just wanted to give up. The hardest thing was getting up every single day knowing nurses were going to pump my body full of chemicals that made me throw up and beat the hell out of me. It was even harder knowing that the chemo might not even work in the end. Knowing that the end was not guaranteed made it that much tougher. It’s like waking up every day and going to receive medicine that might not even work. It beat the living daylights out of me and I still didn’t know if I was going to make it to the end.
How did I cope with all of this? Because of all the love and support everyone gave me during that year. All the visits, texts, phone calls, gifts and emails that I received kept me going. My mom was my rock. Doctor’s suggested I take the year off from college. They recommended I finish my senior year after all my treatments were done. I didn’t want to. I wanted to graduate with the class I came in in with. I wanted to walk across the stage with my friends but more importantly I wanted to prove to everyone and myself that I wasn’t going to let cancer win. Excuse me- WE weren’t going to let cancer win. I wasn’t going to let cancer ruin my life so with the steadfast support of faculty, staff, friends and family I was able to complete my senior year from the bed of a hospital room. I couldn’t have done it without everyone. I will forever be in debt to everyone who helped me graduate- I truly mean that. On this journey I was constantly pulled out of hell by what my father calls “cancer angels.” These are the people who took time out of their day to help me in anyway possible. I want to take this time to simply say “thank you” to everyone who reached out to me. You all helped save my life. You all made a difference in my life. I know I am rambling on so I’ll start to wrap it up.
A good friend who went through a similar situation visited me one day. I almost broke down in tears when I told him I just wanted to feel normal again. He told me that nothing would be normal ever again. Some advice right! But then he continued. He told me that things would never be normal again but instead everything would be EXTRAORDINARY. He said I wouldn’t complain about it being too cold or too hot outside. He told me that I would never complain about traffic or Mondays ever again because no matter what life threw at me, it would never compare to what I went through. He was right. Everything now is EXTRAORDINARY.
Let me leave you with a couple thoughts. One of the things I loved most was taken away from me in the blink of an eye. Baseball was my escape and I loved it more than anything. One day it was taken away from me without me ever having a say. So take me as an example that whatever you love to do or whomever you love CAN be taken away from you before you know it. I urge you to do what you love EVERY SINGLE DAY. It doesn’t have to be the same thing all the time but everyday you owe it to yourself to do something you love. If you love to play baseball, then play baseball. If you love to cook, then cook. If you love to read, then read. If you love to play music, then play music. If you love to drink beer, then drink some beer! If you love to dance, then dance. Don’t cheat what you love. Go do what you love and invest your whole self into doing it because you never know when you might wake up and it will be gone.
Exactly one year ago today I was told I was cancer free. But as any cancer survivor knows you are never cancer free. As I sit in monthly checkups I know for a moment I am cancer free but there is always a chance it can come back. It is tough waking up everyday knowing it can come back at any moment but that won’t stop me from living. I use this to constantly remind myself that tomorrow is not guaranteed so why waste the day? Why waste the day complaining? Why not help someone out and do something you love?
Take me as an example of how to take on life. Life is filled with questions and uncertainties. So why waste your time? If I told you that tomorrow you wouldn’t be able to do the things you love what would you do? I’d bet you spend the whole day doing the things you love. So do them every single day! It doesn’t have to be one thing but just something you enjoy, something that puts a smile on your face. You owe it to yourself because tomorrow it might be taken away from you just like playing was taken away from me.
You might want to know what do I do everyday that I love? Right now it is still baseball. I am blessed to be able to coach a group of young men that want to be around the game of baseball. I also found love in the Patrick Wiese Foundation that friends and family started in my name. I am blessed to have the support and resources to help young adults and kids in my community who battle cancer. I love adventures. I’ll get on my bike and explore new roads and trails. I love to swim and play golf. Just because I can’t run doesn’t mean I can’t be active! If anyone wants to go on an adventure let me know, I’ll be the first one to join you. And in the future I know I’ll love to start a family with my wife. But right now it’s baseball and today, on my one year anniversary of becoming cancer free, I get to be around the game I love.
Every single morning I wake up in silence and place my hand over my chest. The first sound I hear is the song my heart sings, “Today you’re cancer free, you’re cancer free. Do something you love today. Do something you love.” GetLIVIN everybody!
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