‘Every day counts’
It wasn’t the kind of Super Bowl party the Scheidel family had in mind—14 people crowded into an ICU room.
But the Scheidels are the kind of family that sticks together, and if they can’t congregate at the family’s spacious farmhouse outside Casnovia, Michigan, they’ll come together at Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital.
Especially when the news is as sobering as it was last February.
Two days before Super Bowl Sunday, Tim Scheidel, 61, was having a quiet day at home when his wife, Roxanne, called him on her lunch break to ask him to get something out of the freezer for dinner. When he answered the phone, she knew something was wrong.
His words didn’t make sense.
Suspecting a stroke, she told Tim to stay put and called their son, J.C., who works about 5 miles away from his parents’ home.
“I told him to get over there and call the ambulance on the way,” she said. Roxanne, who works in catering at Butterworth Hospital, would meet them in the ER.
Daughter Jolynn met her brother at the house and rode in the back of the ambulance with her dad. On the way, she witnessed him having a major seizure.
At the hospital, an MRI revealed the source of Tim’s seizure and garbled speech—a nickel-sized tumor pressing on the left side of his brain.
The family spent the next day meeting with doctors and deliberating: Go straight to surgery or wait for tests to identify the type of tumor? Since the tumor’s growth caused additional seizures, they chose surgery.
At noon the next day—Sunday—Todd Vitaz, MD, performed a three-hour operation to remove the tumor. Dr. Vitaz, a neurosurgeon, is co-director of neurosurgical oncology for the Spectrum Health Medical Group Brain and Spine Tumor Center.
By kickoff time for the Patriots-versus-Falcons game, Tim was back in his room—surrounded by his wife, four children with their significant others, and four grandchildren—and ready for a party.
“He was alert and watching the game and talking to all of us,” Roxanne said.
“We don’t miss football,” Tim quipped.
Tim’s tumor was diagnosed as glioblastoma multiforme, an aggressive form of brain cancer that is considered treatable but not curable.
Under the care of Wendy Sherman, MD, a neuro-oncologist and co-director of the Brain and Spine Tumor Center, Tim immediately embarked on a six-week course of radiation treatments. He also began taking Temodar, an oral chemotherapy drug that targets brain tumors.
When his radiation treatments were done, it was time for the family to make some memories. In May, over Mother’s Day weekend, the 14 of them traveled to Hilton Head Island for a vacation they’d never forget.
“The kids surprised us with a wedding on the beach. We renewed our vows. And—oh my gosh—they just went all out,” Roxanne said.
“We have four wonderful kids, that’s all I know. They help us get through this.”
Photos from the trip show the family standing at the ocean’s edge at sunset, Tim in a white shirt and straw fedora, Roxanne in a sleeveless wedding gown holding a peach-and-yellow bouquet. Newlyweds again after 36 years of marriage.
A group of their friends helped fund the trip. After organizing a walkathon for the family on Easter Sunday, they surprised Tim and Roxanne with a gift of $1,000.
“They said, ‘Take it on your trip. Go make memories,’” Roxanne said.
“So we did,” Tim said.
Back home for the summer, Tim continued taking Temodar. When a new cancerous spot was detected behind his right ear, he underwent a second round of radiation treatments. Still, whenever he could, he helped out as J.C. took over his cement contracting business.
He also enjoyed an abundance of family time—sitting on the porch swing with his grandkids, smiling as they serenaded him with “You Are My Sunshine” and joining in conversations as daughters Jessica and Jolynn planned summer weddings.
August brought unsettling news. Another MRI showed inflammation in Tim’s brain—a sign of radiation necrosis, the death of healthy brain tissue caused by radiation therapy. To bring down the swelling, he began a course of steroid treatments. The steroids carried negative side effects, including weakness in his legs.
But they did their job.
The inflammation “really calmed down” between the August and September MRIs, Dr. Sherman said. Given these heartening results, she kept Tim on Temodar and anti-seizure medicine but put other treatment options on hold.
September was a good month in other ways, too. To celebrate Tim’s 61st birthday, Roxanne and Tim took a 10-day trip to Utah and Wyoming. Just the two of them.
When they returned, an old friend gave his coveted bear-hunting license to Tim, a lifelong hunter whose family room walls are punctuated with deer mounts.
On a hunting weekend set aside for people with disabilities, J.C. took Tim north to Big Rapids for the hunt. He came home with two trophies.
“Saturday he shot an eight-point (buck) and Sunday he shot a bear,” Roxanne said.
October brought more family time—meals, euchre games, football on TV and the annual Scheidel family hayride through their 37 acres of woods and fields.
Togetherness matters most for this close-knit bunch.
“When he has a good MRI, it gets us all excited. But we talk about that … it’s, you know—they have no cure for this,” Roxanne said. “You know that every day is a gift. Every day counts.”
Now the family is counting the days until Christmas.
Tim’s November MRI showed the return of swelling in his brain. Whether the cause is radiation necrosis or tumor growth, Dr. Sherman can’t say for sure. But the new IV drug she added to Tim’s regimen, Avastin, can treat both problems.
“At this point my primary concern is making sure you feel good and you’re doing things you want to do,” she told Tim.
What Tim wants to do next is celebrate the holidays in a big way.
“We’re focused on Christmas. It’s his favorite time of year,” Roxanne said. “The (Dickens) village, the tree, the manger, angels—the whole house gets completely decorated. He gets into it.”
“Yeah, we have a lot of fun with it,” he said.
The hope is that as the Avastin reduces the inflammation, Tim’s new symptoms—dizziness and some language difficulties—will recede, so he can relax and enjoy the gifts of the season.
Not knowing how many more Christmases they’ll have together, the Scheidels want to make sure this year is one for the books.