News spread quickly, as it was advanced stage 4 pancreatic cancer. In most cases, it is a death sentence. For Todd Fertig, a 44 year old father of three kids, it meant the start of a fight. His own strength may have been inspiring to his family, but it didn’t mean they didn’t have their own moments to cry.
It was during one of those moments that Todd’s story was given to Rachel Kendall. The long-time Tiger Schulmann’s Joshu and undefeated fighter was once roommates with Todd’s sister-in-law Kristen Sigler. Kristen is considered more second mom than aunt by the Fertig kids. Kendall was the best friend she turned to for a chance to let off some steam.
“I just needed to talk to you because I just need to be totally unrealistic and I know you can think like that,” was the message Kristen Sigler gave to her best friend.
Unrealistic meant finding a way to raise thousands of dollars while maintaining the positive attitude that Todd would indeed conquer this terrible diagnosis.
Todd and Michelle had decided to put everything into fighting his cancer. That meant Michelle giving up her job and Todd putting aside his consulting gig until he was past the battle he faced. Of course, the down-side of this meant no income. The Fertig’s three kids still needed daycare, there would still be bills to pay, and both Michelle and Todd hoped to take advantage of new treatments not always covered by health insurance.
This is where Kendall’s mind immediately kicked into high gear. It is often the simplest of statements that lead to the biggest of events. For Kendall it was one line she heard from her best friend.
“Man, I really just want to kick cancer in the face!”
Todd uttered the phrase while in a hospital bed. Surrounded by family and already having lost a brother to the terrible disease it was an expression of frustration. The movement that the phrase has started has been downright unbelievable.
The pathology report showed I have metastatic, stage IV, adenocarcinoma on the "tail" of the pancreas. A follow-up PET CT scan showed generalized metastasis. The only symptoms I had were ongoing pain in the abdomen. I lost my appetite and was losing weight. For you that know how I love to eat---this was a BIG red flag. Raspberry jelly filled donuts didn't even tempt me. :=)
I had a surgical "port" installed under the skin in my right shoulder to be able to easily take the IV chemo which is the treatment of choice for my type of cancer. The port stays under my skin, until I am taken off chemo. I started chemo on Friday 11-28-14 at Sutter, Roseville. I spent all day at Roseville on Friday in the out-patient oncology center and am spending today (Saturday) at home with 46 hour IV drip of 5-FU (5-Fluroruracil) which will be removed from the port on Sunday 11-30-14 at 11 am at Sutter, Roseville. I am experiencing some of the chemo side effects and trying to conserve my energy. I am even finding responding to text messages difficult. It is hard for me not to respond in the moment and that's why I'm using Caring Bridge. You all mean a great deal to me, and I will keep you updated as there are major changes in my health.
There will be a total 6 -- three days IV sessions over the next 12 week period. Every person responds differently to everything and I am hearing a lot of "it depends" in response to questions to my medical team.
Please know I will be doing everything I can to halt this cancer. I am going to live and enjoy every day of the rest of my life interacting with friends and family. I am also a realist, and, currently, my chances of long term survival don't look good - but I accept whatever time I have left. It is what it is. Our Native American friends have always "viewed death as being on their left shoulder". Each of us is given a new day every day, and we never know how many tomorrows we will have. In talking to my veterinary colleague and friend of 26 years, Dr. Linda Fisk, who many of you know, she made the comment, "It doesn't sound like you have a bucket list?" She was absolutely correct - I don't have a bucket list. My bucket list has always been full of people and life's experiences. I have met many outstanding and wonderful people in my nearly 70 years of existence and been fortunate to be a part of the "best profession in the world"--Veterinary Medicine. Dianne and I have traveled to see family scattered across the United States as well as vacationed to other places in the world, and there is no place left that "I have to go or see".
I have been delighted to reach out and mentor many veterinary students in the last 20 years from UC Davis and other Veterinary Schools. I have helped teach multiple communication courses at UCD on how veterinary students develop listening skills and show empathy to clients and their beloved pets. One of the courses I help teach is on "Death and Dying". I am hoping I'll be able to show compassion for myself. I am learning to really appreciate how the four stages relate to me and how I am personally experiencing them. Truly understanding the death and dying process is hard, and I hope I will be able to "walk my talk" and "practice what I preach" as the process relates to me personally.
Other than physical blocks such as pain and chemo side effects, I intend to carry on with my life as I always have. I feel incredibly blessed to know so many dedicated and caring family, friends and colleagues. I will continue to get strength from all of you and the positive energy everyone is sending my way.
Though controlled with surgical removal, the instances of skin cancer continued to develop despite her diligent efforts. And so Marcella raised the question: Why?
In 2010, Marcella took her question to her doctor who suggested a possible hereditary link between her and her sister’s cancers. She encouraged Marcella to pursue genetic testing which brought her to the team at the University of Pennsylvania.
Thorough testing brought her doctors to the determination that there was undoubtedly a genetic link, but they had yet to pinpoint a specific disorder. Based on their findings, they speculated that Marcella would encounter at least five different cancers in her life. They suggested that she undergo bi-yearly, preventative body scans to detect cancer as early as possible. Now her real journey with cancer began.
At the age of 24, these scans were justified when colon cancer was detected. Miraculously surgery was successful, and she recovered well. Marcella could now add survivor to her list of attributes. She felt lucky and scared at the same time about what the future would bring.
As Marcella continued to carefully monitor her health, her doctors continued to seek answers for her condition. After further genetic testing, the diagnosis of Fanconi Anemia was finally attributed as the link between Marcella’s condition and that of Adriana’s. Her family was faced with the prospect of loss again. Fanconi Anemia is a genetic disorder that primarily affects bone marrow and the reparation of cells in the body. Most individuals with this disorder develop a variety of cancers throughout their lives and have shortened life spans. Fighting FA was now added to Marcella’s list of challenges.
The next few years were filled with numerous procedures, including frequent medical scans and surgeries. She faced her challenges one day at a time. One such scan revealed an abnormality in her brain that required her to undergo an invasive, awake craniotomy in June of 2013. Her bravery was incredible! She recovered and went back to work. Again, surviving another battle.
Despite diligent, preventative measures and frequent monitoring, in 2014 she was given the heartbreaking diagnosis of Small Cell Neuroendocrine Carcinoma, an aggressive and terminal cancer. She has fought this final cancer with continued bravery. By choosing to undergo chemotherapy treatments Marcella has given the greatest gift to everyone around her – time. Time to love her, time to spend with her, and time to watch her bravery shine through at insurmountable levels.
Treatments have made Marcella very sick and after four months of aggressive chemo and many hospital stays, her doctors feel that her body can no longer handle further chemo. She recently made the decision to start in-home hospice and is being cared for by her family. As always, love, laughter, family, and friends surround Marcella during this final journey.
Marcella has one last fight to fight and needs your help. She would like to leave a legacy behind by raising money for this rare genetic condition. Her favorite quote "Everybody dies, but not everybody lives" is so well demonstrated by this final expression of love to help those who might have this future fight with FA.
I had done everything they had told me to do; chemo, double mastectomy and all kinds of continuous care to make the odds of cancer returning slim to none BUT here we go again. This time my family and I were members of TSMMA and it truly is a family. When I found out and shared the news we were immediately surrounded with love and support. As I went through Chemo and surgeries again the financially and mental/emotionally drain was inevitable...however, this time was different. Shane and Rachel Baker set up a Kick Cancer in the Face event for me. People came and took a class to raise money to help us financially and everyone was in pink Kick Cancer in the Face shirts and bandanas and helped us "beat" cancer. There were signs on the bag that said to "Kick Cancer in the Face" and we all shredded them. The emotional and financial support helped me more than anyone can ever know. This foundation is run by amazing, caring and loving people who truly helped me survive!
She helped out at all of the school events from when we had tables at the community fairs to birthday parties and COC's. She was diagnosed with breast cancer for the first time in 2016 and went through chemo and radiation and trained almost the whole time and beat it. When it came back in 2018, we had the KCFF event for her. Good news - she beat it again!
Then in late 2018, she had to have two brain tumors removed. In that process they discovered the lung cancer. That's when we had the KCFF event for her. Although Janet is still currently in the process of fighting it, her two kids are helping her through this time and she has been in good spirits. She was very thankful for everyone's support.