This Day, Every Day, Broomfield Man Can Celebrate
June 22, 2009
This day, every day, Broomfield man can celebrate
Given 12 weeks to live, local man marks 11 years of beating cancer
By Sally Bridges
Sunday, June 7, 2009
Photo by David Jennings
SOURCE OF THERAPY, STONE BY STONE: George Brandt sits next to the water featured he designed in the back yard of his Broomfield home. Brandt, who is beating brain cancer after 11 years, said the project served as therapy as he worked his way through his 'foggy, oatmeal brain' one step at a time.
For more information on National Cancer Survivors Day, go to www.ncsdf.org.
BROOMFIELD, Colo. — When George Brandt was diagnosed with brain cancer and given less than 12 weeks to live, he was crushed. He needed at least 16. He had plans.
In 16 weeks, he was to celebrate his 45th wedding anniversary with his wife, Ann. They had rented cabins in the mountains. They were going to renew their vows. They had purchased new wedding rings. Family and friends had been invited.
Cancer? Brain cancer?
Given no hope of survival, Brandt began intensive in-patient chemotherapy determined to find four more weeks.
In September, Brandt, now 75, will celebrate 56 years of marriage. Today, he and Ann celebrate survival.
It is National Cancer Survivors Day. Across the country there are hundreds of events slated to honor America's 12 million survivors.
"NCFD is the world's largest and fastest growing cancer survivor event," said Paula Chadwell, National Cancer Day Foundation spokeswoman.
Now in its 22nd year, the event is observed around the world, including in Australia, Italy and Malaysia, she said.
"A 'survivor' is anyone living with a history of cancer -- from the moment of diagnosis through the remainder of your life," Chadwell said.
It is a notion, Brandt's daughter, Cindy Preytis, questions. Preytis, diagnosed with breast cancer a year ago, just had her first hair cut two weeks ago since losing her hair to chemotherapy. She's watched her father's battle, endured her own and before that, she was with her husband as he lost his leg to cancer more than 23 years ago.
The doctors didn't want to amputate it, because they didn't think it would save his life, she said.
"I think (using the term 'survivor') is bizarre," Preytis said. "I think the people who say that, have never had cancer."
Though now divorced, Preytis, a mother of two teenagers, said she didn't have time to let cancer stop her.
"During my treatment people would ask me, 'Are you fighting it?' 'Are you getting it all?'" Preytis said. "How the heck do I know that it's not gone to my bone, brain or liver? You don't know until 10 years out. The worst part of cancer is that you never know."
Still she is a survivor. Cancer is different when it's personal, she said. She sees the subtle changes it made in her father.
"Nothing is scarier than brain cancer," she said. "It changes who you are."
Today there will be several Colorado events honoring cancer survivors, including a 5K run at Lutheran Medical Center's Cancer Treatment Center in Wheat Ridge. But there are no Broomfield events planned, Ann Brandt said.
The Brandts will stop today and honor survivors, as they have every day since George Brandt's initial diagnosis in 1998.
Brandt, an engineer, had made his living as a thinker, a problem-solver for NASA and IBM. Cancer robbed his memory, made simple tasks impossible. Unable to swallow, unable find his way out of a store to his car, unable to feed himself, cancer had stolen his identity.
"I was a vegetable," Brandt said.
Before his diagnosis, he had been falling down. His family physician thought Brandt was suffering from depression and prescribed an antidepressant. On a routine glaucoma screening, his ophthalmologist told him he needed an MRI because there was something pressing on his optic nerve.
The MRI revealed four large tumors tucked inside his brain. Inoperable. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"Jackie Kennedy Onassis, the richest woman in the world died of this," George Brandt said.
If she couldn't survive this, how could he, he said.
A new cancer study, just before Brandt's diagnosis, which discouraged the use of whole-brain radiation to treat Brandt's form of cancer, might have saved Brandt's life. But that's not how Brandt sees it.
He credits angels.
He was angry and sobbing in bed after being admitted to University of Colorado Hospital in Denver to begin chemotherapy when the first of many angels came to visit him, he said.
It was an angel who had died instantly after hitting a tree while skiing, Brandt said.
The angel told Brandt he was lucky to have 12 weeks to say goodbye to tell those he loved how much loved them. Twelve weeks the angel never had, Brandt said.
It was a gift of hope, Brandt said. When he awoke the next morning he had let go of his anger. He said prayers with his doctor.
"I had no vocabulary. I couldn't compose a sentence, the thing that saved me was prayer," Brandt said. "I saw it as a win-win. If I died I'd go to heaven or I'd survive."
On the kitchen table in his Broomfield home, there is his picture from his latest MRI. The tumors are there, but they are dead. Brandt is alive and still a fixer.
He landscaped a little water feature in his back yard, one rock at a time. The whole project that should have been completed in an afternoon, took him three months as he worked his way through his "foggy, oatmeal brain" one step at a time.
He's dedicated his life to helping people newly diagnosed with cancer, especially brain cancer patients, and works with many cancer support groups, he said.
"I used to be a fixer of things," he said. "Now I'm a fixer of people."
© 2006 Broomfield Enterprise and Boulder Publishing, LLC.