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Osteosarcoma Survivor

Ty Wakefield

  • Diagnosed with osteosarcoma at age 29
  • Treated with several rounds of chemotherapy, surgery, and more chemotherapy to put his disease into remission
  • Participed in a clinical trial to keep his cancer in remission.

Ty Wakefield was 29 years old when he finally decided to have a lump in his leg checked out by his doctor.

“It had been there about a year,” Ty says, “and it was hard, but not painful.” That is until he fell on the ice that winter and his leg doubled in size.

His doctor thought his leg might be overcompensating for his arthritic back, but an X-ray revealed a 22 cm tumor wrapped up and around his femur. He went to Boise for a biopsy.

“That’s when I was told I had ‘the cancer,’” Ty says.

Referred to SCCA

Ty rushed to a hospital in Lewiston, Idaho and then to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. His tumor was aggressive and had progressed to a very large size. His doctors were worried it might have metastasized to his lungs.

He had his first chemotherapy treatment on his 30th birthday and moved into the Pete Gross House where he would live for the next six months. His mother and his grandmother stayed with him to help care for him so his wife could stay home with their children and continue to work.

After two heavy rounds of chemotherapy treatment, Ty had surgery to remove two-thirds of his diseased femur, which was replaced with a cadaver bone by Dr. Earnest (Chappie) Conrad, University of Washington professor of Orthopeadic and Sports Medicine.

“The doctors realized that my tumor wasn’t affected by the chemotherapy treatment I’d received. So they gave me even tougher drugs. I’m not a very big person, but I dropped down to 109 pounds then,” Ty says.

“We all have our breakdowns,” Ty says. “But after a year of chemotherapy, I got tired of sitting around waiting to die. That’s when I started my business.”

Birth of "Captain Cure"

His business is Alternate Reality Media and his first project was a comic book called “Captain Cure.” Volume number 1’s title is “Kicking Cancer’s Butt.” Ty’s comic book is all about his experience with cancer, but it’s filled with humor and heart to help others feel more comfortable as they begin their own cancer journeys. It has become a tool for raising money for cancer research, which Ty believes is his reason for being alive.

Ty had been an award-winning writer of radio commercials before he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. He had a young wife and three small children, too. He’d worked in the Idaho state legislature and probably knew more about politics at the young age of 20 than any of his peers. “I lived a lot,” he recalls, recollecting the days he worked on campaigns in California and Michigan. Cancer never comes at a good time, but for Ty, his life was on a roll and the timing was terrible.

Metastasis & Clinical Trials

Despite the repeated efforts to keep cancer at bay, Ty soon learned that he had a metastasis in his right lung. More chemotherapy was prescribed and three months later, his left lung had tumors. He went on a clinical trial back in Idaho, but returned to Seattle in August 2009 to have the tumors removed from his lung. He is participating in a new clinical trial with medications that will hopefully keep his cancer from growing.

“Ty is participating in a phase II clinical trial which offers a drug that directly targets tumors,” says Eve Rodler, MD, assistant professor of medicine at UW Medicine. She is treating Ty under this clinical trial. “The drug is an antibody to the insulin growth factor receptor that coats tumor cells.  This type of drug has promising anti-tumor activity in several types of cancers, including osteosarcoma.”

The trial will last one year and Ty receives the drug every two weeks. He returns to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance for treatment and now stays at SCCA House, a new patient and family housing facility located a few blocks from the clinic.

He’ll never be rid of the disease unfortunately, but with medications, the idea is that he his cancer will be treated like a chronic illness and they will live together for many years to come.

“Nothing stops me from doing what I can for the cause,” Ty says.

Ty celebrated Captain Cure’s one year anniversary in November 2009 and the second edition of the series is due out in 2010.

“My care at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance has been a great experience,” he says. “I am treated like I’m the only patient in the place! We can call our doctors anytime and everyone goes out of their way to make sure I’m taken care of.”

Ty says cancer made him a better person. “I’m a better dad – I spend as much time as I can with my kids. There are some good things about cancer.”

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