Keenan: Finding hope in Stage 4 cancer
On March 27, Michael Weichbrodt broke down when doctors told him over the phone he had Stage 3 colon cancer. “The first thought that went through my head was: ‘I’m not going to make it to Christmas,’ ” he said.
But his second thought was providential. “I realized that I was standing in the exact same spot where I received a call about how we could never have kids,” Weichbrodt said, “and today we have 5-year-old twins.”
While the 35-year-old would face even more dire news in the coming weeks — his cancer metastized to his liver and restaged his cancer to level four — the reminder that he and his wife, Heather, 33, had defied the odds before became a ray of hope that shed light on some very dark days.
“I felt we did it once, and we can do it again,” Weichbrodt said.
That hope was evident this past weekend when the season’s first snowfall blanketed the family’s front yard in Royal Oak with over a half foot of snow and Michael built a snowman with the twins, Milo and Eloise. Heather posted a photo on social media: “Sure doesn’t look like Stage 4 cancer to me.”
In October, the young couple made the weighty decision to stop chemotherapy and pursue alternative treatment. That path involves amping up his nutritional diet and supplements. They also are exploring new treatments to fight his cancer, like immunotherapy, IV vitamin C, radiofrequency ablation and hyperthermia
“Some people might think that since I’ve stopped chemo that I’m just ready die,” Weichbrodt said. “I’m not. I’m not giving up. I’m just fighting cancer in a different way.”
A couple weeks ago, Weichbrodt started a blog, mikeyversuscancer.com, that chronicles his cancer journey. “We are learning so much. I want people to know there are options out there.”
To be sure, they received some backlash, but as Heather Weichbrodt said, they don’t take it personally.
“We’ve gotten some flack, but we understand that they are coming from a place of love for us. Also, we know that talking conventional medicine in a negative light only takes away from being positive about alternative medicine. We really believe that when people share their stories, we all can find hope.”
In 2003, Michael Weichbrodt was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. In short order, he went from 200 pounds to 115. Raised in Clinton Township, the Web designer for General Motors believes the years of immune suppressive drugs and chronic inflammation provided fertile ground for his cancer. Indeed, he was home recovering from an ileostomy (a surgery involving the intestines) when he received the devastating cancer news.
After nine rounds of a 12-round regimen of chemotherapy, Weichbrodt was so sick he could not eat or get out of bed for two weeks. “The doctor said it was fine to stop and start maintenance chemotherapy,” he said. “But when I asked him what that meant, he said I would do IV chemo every two weeks for the rest of my life, until my life was over.”
Stunned that this meant he was terminal, the couple did not ask how long that might be — and not because they are in denial, but because they both believe they can challenge the status quo. As Heather wrote in a post on the blog: “He is still terminal, but his days aren’t numbered by anyone but God.”
Just as alternative medicine helped them with their infertility issues, the couple said they believe naturopathic therapies could allow Michael to live with cancer instead of dying from it.
“Other countries attack cancer much differently,” he wrote in the blog. “We need a healthy immune system to fight cancer, plain and simple. Chemo murders your immune system.”
Encouraged by survivor stories in blogs and in a nine-part documentary series: “The Truth About Cancer: A Global Quest,” Weichbrodt is now under the care of a naturopathic oncologist in Bloomfield Hills. He’s also scheduled to be evaluated by the Cancer Treatment Centers of America near Chicago later in December. The CTCA provides conventional and alternative treatment plans.
“I’m not closing the door on anything,” Weichbrodt said. “Right now, I’m just focusing on doing everything I can do to make my body healthy and whole again. The big thing is I’m not afraid anymore, and I have hope.”
For Thanksgiving Day, extended family plans to prepare an all-organic, gluten- and dairy-free feast in honor of Michael and Heather’s fight.
“I’m not thankful I have the disease,” he said, “but I’m thankful for how the disease has changed me. It’s still a battle for me to be positive, but now I see so much promise.”