Sarcoma Story – Brett Dale

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Type of Sarcoma: Ewing Sarcoma
Date of Diagnosis: 2010
Location: Abdomen

Brett’s Caring Bridge journal starts, “Welcome to the last place you’d ever expect to be.”

Brett went to the doctor November 15, 2010, to see about a pain in his upper abdomen. We were expecting a muscle tear or strain, or maybe a high hernia from overdoing it with the yard work two weeks prior. Overdoing it was part of Brett’s personality – he overdid everything. Instead of a muscle strain, they found a softball-size tumor growing in his upper abdomen. Ten days later the diagnosis was devastating – metastatic Ewing Sarcoma. We needed to start aggressive treatment right away. Do we have time for a second opinion, we asked. Yes, if you can get in right away, was the answer, but don’t wait more than a week. We got our second opinion and started aggressive chemotherapy immediately after.

Brett was scared but he was ready for a fight. He never backed down from challenges, in fact, he thrived on them. None of us who were there that day remember hearing the words “Stage IV.” We read it later in the medical records when we were filling out Social Security forms. Brett and I both hoped that we could get five more years together. He endured brutal chemotherapy, escalating pain, and increasingly debilitating weakness. He was getting so sick, so fast that it didn’t seem real. I watched my best friend and love of my life fade away a little bit each day, until finally, 85 days later, he was gone. On Feb. 9, 2011, surrounded by family, filled with peace and love, and with no regrets, Brett died.

During those 85 days, we often spoke of how lucky we were and how deeply grateful we were. I know that sounds strange, but I still feel that way. We were lucky to have the best Sarcoma doctors in the world at our doorstep and grateful to have such high quality nursing care at the University of Minnesota Hospital that gave us such comfort. We were so lucky and grateful to have family and friends just a phone call or a text away. There were people who helped us clean, brought us food, and made pharmacy runs. There were people who came over to “babysit” when Brett was too sick to be alone, but I needed to go to work. There were people who came to the hospital just to keep Brett company during his many days of inpatient chemotherapy. For those 85 days he was never alone. Most of all we were lucky, so lucky, that our hearts had found a home in each other.

This illness taught a fiercely independent man to ask for help and to graciously accept it. He would often say, “I don’t know how anybody could go through this without the help we’ve had.” He worried over people who found themselves in similar circumstances but for whatever reason were without family or close friends to call on for help. Perhaps they were living in an unfamiliar city due to an employment change or had families that were scattered around the country. He would say “Babe, when we get to the other side of this thing, that’s what we are going to do.” He wanted to find a way to help people in this situation who didn’t have the luxury of the support system we did. He didn’t want anyone to have to go through this experience alone.

Brett loved a challenge, loved to problem solve, and had an insatiable curiosity that he used to his advantage. He never quit anything in his life. Sarcoma was the only thing he ever encountered that was bigger than he was.

Brett inadvertently told me what his legacy should be, so that’s what I’m going to do, finish what he couldn’t. I don’t know what it looks like yet, but Brett showed me how to live and he showed me how to die.

If I listen closely enough, I know he will once again show me the way.

….Michelle Kolling (Brett’s wife)

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