Second Bout With Cancer, Ready For A Fight

Thirty-four years ago Tyler Warren was a freshman in high school when he first heard the word: “Cancer.” Now he’s back at IU Health Simon Cancer Center for a second diagnosis.

There’s a picture that Tyler Warren likes to show people. It’s a picture of a young man using a crutch. He’s standing on one leg. The picture was taken of Warren shortly after his left leg was amputated – a result of Osteogenic sarcoma.

“I was a freshman in high school. I wasn’t about to use a prosthesis because this was the only thing I had control over at the time,” said Warren. Osteogenic sarcoma, a cancer that starts in the bone, is most common in the thigh, upper arm, and shin. It is generally associated with patients between the ages of 10 and 30 – especially teens going through growth spurts. It is known to start in the ends of bones where new bone tissue forms as a child grows.

Over time, Warren embraced the use of a prosthetic leg. It gave him newfound freedom and allowed him to take part in sports he had never considered. 

He graduated from Centralia High School in 1988, in a town of about 13,000 people, named after the Central Railroad. The town was actually built where the two original branches of the railroad meet. But Warren is more interested in talking about his high school. Known as the “Orphans,” Centralia’s basketball team was once recognized as the high school with the most wins in the nation. The team reached the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) State Finals more than two dozen times (starting in 1909) and capturing multiple state championships. It was in that same high school where Warren formed friendships that continue today.

He’s returned to Centralia for class reunions, and talks often about those special people in his life.

“I was very social in high school and had lots of friends. They’re still my friends today and have helped me through some very tough times,” said Warren, the youngest in his family, including three sisters. “They looked out for me.”

He never played on that winning basketball team. In fact he never really had an interest in the sport except cheering from the stands. “I think not having an interest in basketball or baseball was God’s way of preparing me to lose my leg,” said Warren. He was 14.

Other pictures show Warren with crutches standing next to Sammy Davis Jr., and with Lisa Hartman – 80s Dynasty fame. But mostly, his pictures are with high school friends. He went on to graduate from Centralia, attended school with General Motors in Carbondale and began working as a mechanic. Later he worked as a heavy equipment operator on the I-69 construction project in Southern Indiana.

He lived in Madison for a time where he owned a retail shop and has added life events that some people only dream about – including skiing the black diamond slopes in Lake Tahoe. He’s also participated in wheelchair tennis and a billiards league. Since his freshman year of high school, Warren says he’s had 18 prosthetic legs.

He learned to find humor in the situation. When he was asked if he could run with his leg he answered: “I have no interest in running. If I need to go anywhere fast, I get in the car.” 

It is a point of pride that he talks about freely – living life to the fullest and not feeling sorry for the cards he’s been dealt.

“I wasn’t going to let it slow me down. I’ve tried to stay active,” said Warren who turns 49 in January. “I look back and I think that I’ve really made a lot of friends through it all and I’ve found the support I needed now.”

The “now” he speaks of is his second cancer diagnosis. Last summer he became ill and when he went for treatment he was diagnosed with Stage 4 Esophageal cancer. It was tough for him to swallow or keep down foods. At one point he weighed about 100 pounds, collapsed with a stroke, and spent time in a nursing home. His balance was so poor he had to learn to walk again.

At the beginning of the year Warren came to IU Health Simon Cancer Center where he is under the care of Dr. Shadia Jalal, who specializes in hematology/oncology. Every other week he drives nearly 200 miles for chemotherapy.

“I come here to IU Health in Indianapolis knowing I’ll be miserable and weak for the next seven to 10 days, but I do it because I know there’s something more to this life . . . There’s those three to four days I’m maybe 50% of what I used to be and for now that’s what’s its all about. I love life, I love nature, I enjoy socializing with people, and trying to be a good man,” said Warren. “. . . I know why this fight hasn’t ended. I’m not in charge of any of this; God is. He has a plan for me and I have a purpose. He’s not finished with me yet, and I’m not giving up.”

— By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
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