Diagnosed with Stage III seminoma testicular cancer Texas resident Travis Visitew came to IU Health Simon Cancer Center seeking help from Dr. Lawrence Einhorn.
Hanging on the post of Travis Visitew’s bed inside the bone marrow transplant unit of IU Health University Hospital is a set of tiny pink and red boxing gloves. They were a gift from a family whose daughter was in and out of the hospital with complications resulting from Down syndrome.
The tiny little gloves serve as a reminder to Visitew and his wife or 12 years, Megan.
“Coincidentally, I got my first stem cell transplant on Dec. 26, which is Boxing Day,” said Visitew, who was raised in Alberta, Canada. The origins of Boxing Day date back to a time when aristocrats distributed Christmas boxes to their employees. Today, Canadians observe it as an extension to the Christmas holiday. But for Visitew, it was a chance at a new start.
The 5’10 father of three girls – ages 14, 11, and 8 – Visitew was once a running back on his high school football team and wrestled in a 167-lb weight class. He went on to play rugby while attending college in Montana. He earned his degree in engineering and began working as a petroleum engineer. His career took the family to Europe for a time and they eventually ended up in Midland, TX.
In November of 2017, Visitew played a full court basketball game with friends and woke up the next day with what he calls a “crazy back pain.” For a guy who typically has a high tolerance, the pain took him to the floor. At first he thought he had kidney stones or appendicitis. A CT Scan showed otherwise.
“I remember the words of the doctor so well, ‘I’m sorry Mr. Visitew but we found several large masses in your abdomen. There were no masses on my testicles but one mass in my abdomen was the size of a six-inch sub sandwich,” said Visitew.
Looking back, he says there were signs long ago – maybe as far back as 14 years ago. “One testicle was a different size than the other,” said Visitew. “When you’re young and you’re thinking of your future together and family, you don’t think about cancer and no one really talks about testicular cancer like they do breast cancer and some of the other cancers. This has definitely made us more aware,” said his wife.
Visitew completed rounds of chemotherapy in Texas. And from February until September 2018, it seemed he was in remission. Through a social media forum, Visitew learned about IU Health Simon Cancer Dr. Lawence Einhorn, known throughout the world for his successful treatment of testicular cancer – germ cell tumors – using a mix of high does chemotherapies and peripheral stem cell transplant.
Visitew first met Dr. Einhorn in April 2018. “He was just like the sweetest man and knew everything. He has a photographic memory – he recalled everything from my scans,” said Visitew. “It just gave me a sense of peace.”
At that time, Dr. Einhorn felt the chemotherapy had tackled Visitew’s cancer and he had about a 98 percent chance of recurrence. But by September the back pain returned and Visitew’s blood tests showed his markers were on the rise. He had just changed jobs and was worried how his new company would react to the latest hurdle. But the support was overwhelming.
“We are so blessed,” said Megan Visitew. “We have had people come and hang our Christmas lights, prepare meals, plan fundraisers and help pay our travel expenses and medical bills. I have thought so often throughout this that there are so many causes raising money for research which is great, but it would be great if a percentage of that helped families pay for the expenses of travel and treatment.”
The boxing match was on. Travis’ buddies created t-shirts with the slogan: “Testicular Cancer Warriors.”
In early October Visitew returned to Indianapolis where Dr. Timothy Masterson performed surgery to remove the tumors in his abdomen. Later that same month, the pain returned – this time in his chest. By November, Visitew learned there were more tumors.
“I was freaking out. This was a year after my first diagnosis and I thought we tackled it,” said Visitew, 36. He and his wife returned to Indianapolis in early December and he began chemotherapy in preparation for the dual stem cell transplants. A scan after his first stem cell transplant showed the tumors are shrinking.
“She’s been here all but four days when she went back to be with the girls. I couldn’t do it without her. She’s super positive and makes me smile every day,” said Visitew. The girls, who are in the full-time care of a nanny, flew to Indianapolis after opening their Christmas gifts at home. Visitew and his wife keep in touch through Face time.
“Everyone here has been great but it’s still been tough being away from my girls,” said Visitew. “The nurses have been amazing helping me manage the side effects of the chemo. I feel like it’s been a terrible experience but in the end it’s going to be a good thing. Every day I’m in here I feel more grateful for getting a second chance, getting my priorities straight and remembering the importance of family.”
— By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
Reach Banes via email email@example.com.