Get inspired

Get an inside look at a few of the people who have benefitted from cutting-edge cancer treatments at the UW and learn more about what motivates our doctors and staff.

Driven by UW Cancer Research Progress

Cathy Wingert didn’t expect to live this long. Six months after treatment for colon cancer, the disease had metastasized, and her doctor told her there really weren’t many options beyond palliative care.

“It was very grim news, and it seemed like the end of the road,” Wingert says.

But then her family reminded her of the promise she’d made to get a second opinion if she received a terminal prognosis.

Wingert contacted the UW Carbone Cancer Center and met with Dr. Dusty Deming, a medical oncologist, cancer researcher and colorectal cancer survivor.

She was impressed with his empathy, focus on quality of life and his laboratory research aimed at improving treatment of colorectal cancer.

Wingert transferred her care to Deming, who used DNA testing to help determine the best course of treatment to help her gain some time and a satisfactory quality of life.

She’s now starting her 5th year of chemotherapy. She receives chemotherapy every other week and plans to continue until “I tell Dr. Deming I’m done or he tells me the drugs aren’t working anymore. Fortunately, we haven’t had that conversation yet.”

Wingert has learned a lot about colon cancer since meeting Deming and is grateful for all that he has been able to do for her and for the work he does in the laboratory to advance treatment. “I know I’ve benefited from his previous research, and I’m really excited about his research on using immunotherapy for colon and pancreatic cancers,” Wingert says.

She has become a patient advocate and has donated generously to the Deming Lab with living benefits from her life insurance policy. She has also volunteered for several fundraisers.

Last year, she volunteered for The Ride, a bicycle fundraiser for cancer research at the University of Wisconsin.

“When I read about The Ride I thought it’s not just about my cancer, it’s about cancer more broadly. I wanted to help make this a successful event, and as a patient I just needed to be among the Carbone Cancer Center staff to thank them for what they’re doing,” Wingert says.

Wingert plans to volunteer for The Ride again this year on Sept. 17. In the meantime, she will continue her treatments.

“Chemo takes its toll physically and emotionally,” Wingert says. “There are days when I think I can’t do this another year, but I’m driven by the progress that UW researchers like Dusty are making. Helping to raise money for this work gives my life meaning. And it gives me such a warm feeling when I see all the people from the Carbone Center working hard to raise money for cancer research. Even outside the clinic, these people are fighting this disease, so why shouldn’t I?”

Positive Energy

The Louisville Ironman Triathlon wasn’t going very well for Christina Mitchell. Although she was an experienced triathlete and had trained harder than ever, she lagged behind her target pace. She was in pain by the time she got off her bike to begin the marathon. During this final leg of the race, she alternated between walking and running—something she had never had to do before.

Lost in thought as she struggled, Mitchell didn’t notice the fellow competitor beside her throughout the run. He struck up a conversation at mile 18. He told her that he had testicular cancer and that training and competing in the triathlon was helping him cope with his disease and treatment.

Buoyed by his positive attitude, Mitchell was able to run the rest of the way, and they crossed the finish line together.

Mitchell didn’t know it at the time, but she had more in common with her running companion than just the same race time. She too had cancer.

Mitchell, who is 46 and lives in Tacoma, Wash., began experiencing constipation in December, two months after the Ironman. She became increasingly concerned when the constipation persisted even after increasing her fiber intake. After an X-ray and CT scan didn’t reveal anything out of the ordinary, she was referred to a digestive health specialist for a colonoscopy. Before she could get in for that appointment, she was in so much pain that she couldn’t sleep or eat.

Her primary care physician referred her to a rectal surgeon, who thought that an anal tear was the likely cause her intense pain. Surgery revealed something far more serious: a large tumor that took up most of the anal canal, which was subsequently diagnosed as stage 3b anal cancer.

“It was a shock to everyone, including myself, because I lead a very healthy lifestyle,” Mitchell says. “I’m really regimented about how I eat and see a nutritionist. I also train twice a day, six days a week. But cancer can strike healthy people at a relatively young age.”

Mitchell met with an oncologist just a few days after surgery and began a combination of radiation treatments and chemotherapy two weeks later.

“I’m hoping it’s curable, but I just take my treatments day by day,” Mitchell says. “It helps to be surrounded by people who do these triathlons and have this positive energy. You set a goal, figure out how to implement it and go for it.”

Mitchell’s cancer has put her triathlon plans on hold for now, but she plans to complete the 31-mile route of The Ride, a bicycle fundraiser for cancer research at the University of Wisconsin.

“I’d like to see more money go to research,” Mitchell says. “I think we’re on the cusp of some really good things happening in cancer research. That costs money. I just want to help raise money in any way I can, raise awareness that cancer affects people from all walks of life and add some positive energy to the event—just as my running companion in Louisville did for me.”

Positive and Determined

In 2016, 9-year-old Maddie Schieve ran a one-mile cross-country race nearly three minutes faster than she had previously. It was an impressive feat that would make any parent proud under ordinary circumstances. Given her medical condition, it was nothing short of amazing.

Less than a year earlier, Maddie felt a pain in her side while playing with friends. Thinking it was a pulled muscle, her father Matt applied ice. The pain eventually subsided, but she got so winded during a basketball game that she had trouble making it up and down the court. Her doctor prescribed an inhaler, but her symptoms didn’t improve. She was lethargic and losing weight.

Maddie’s pediatrician determined one of Maddie’s lungs was not functioning. After seeing a chest X-ray, the doctor said, “Pack a bag. You need to go to UW Hospital immediately.”

Maddie had a softball-size tumor in her chest that collapsed one lung and pushed her trachea to one side. A biopsy indicated that it was Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare and aggressive cancer that grows in bones or in the soft tissue around bones. The diagnosis hit Matt and his wife Jenny hard.

“The first couple of weeks after diagnosis were pretty much a blur,” Matt says. “I remember a lot of crying and sleepless nights.”

The good news was that the cancer had not spread, and Maddie could be treated with a combination of chemotherapy and radiation.

Maddie tolerated treatment exceptionally well and was steadfastly positive the whole time. Photos taken during her numerous hospital stays show her smiling, giving a thumbs-up and enjoying many fun activities offered at American Family Children’s Hospital.

“At first, it was kind of scary, but it got better once I went through a couple of treatments,” Maddie says. “You just have to have a positive attitude all the time and not think that something bad is going to happen.”

Throughout the nine months of chemotherapy and 32 radiation treatments at the UW Carbone Cancer Center, the Schieves maintained as normal a routine as possible. Matt, a Janesville police officer, and Jenny, a teacher, took turns taking Maddie from their Janesville home to treatment in Madison, while also making time for Maddie’s two younger brothers.

“We did a lot more things as a family, and we still do,” Matt says. “Friends and family have made it a lot easier, financially and emotionally. They made it so we didn’t have to worry about a lot everyday responsibilities.”

With the approval of her doctors, Maddie continued to participate in sports throughout treatment and ran her fastest mile just two days after chemotherapy.

Maddie completed treatment in October 2016 and is in remission. She continues to participate fully in all the activities she enjoyed before her diagnosis—softball, volleyball, cross country, track and basketball.

Matt says this experience has made him more optimistic. “From the beginning, I thought things were the worst of the worst,” he says. “Then I saw the doctors and staff taking care of Maddie and other kids. When I saw that they were getting better, my whole outlook on everything changed for the better. Now that we’re done with all this, I try to maintain that optimism about everything I come across.”

Matt is grateful to all those who supported his family through Maddie’s treatment and looks forward to helping others going through similar challenges. “I want to be there to make it easier for the next person,” he says.

The Schieves are also expressing their gratitude and support by participating in The Ride, a bicycle fundraiser for cancer research and treatment at the University of Wisconsin.

“People know how tragic cancer is. It affects everybody. But it isn’t a death sentence thanks to the research and treatment at the UW,” Matt says. “They saved my daughter’s life. By participating in The Ride we can help the UW find new ways to treat all types of cancer and save more lives.”

Cancer-free and Enjoying The Ride

In 2003, Marshall Flax went to an ENT specialist to discuss options to reduce his snoring. The doctor said a tonsillectomy might help.

The plan was to remove the tonsils. After removing one tonsil, the doctor interrupted the procedure, terminated the anesthesia and told Flax he had cancer.

Flax was taken to a recovery room as the anesthesia wore off. When he fully regained consciousness, he looked at his wife Lisa and said, “This is really bad, isn’t it? We’re not going on that canoe trip, are we?” referring to the “bucket-list” canoe trip in northern Ontario they had planned.

Flax was diagnosed with Stage 4 squamous cell carcinoma of the tonsil. This was a surprising diagnosis given that Flax, then 50, was a longtime vegetarian, who rarely drank alcohol and hadn’t smoked since college.

He underwent seven weeks of radiation at the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center. When the inside of his mouth became inflamed from treatment, he had to use a nasogastric tube for feeding.

During radiation treatment Flax also received two rounds of chemotherapy. He was too sick from the side effects to receive a prescribed third round.

Fourteen years later Flax, a retired therapist/specialist for the Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired, is cancer free. He has seen two children become successful adults and eventually got to take that canoe trip. He continues to enjoy a healthy life with relatively few long-term side effects, mainly loss of some taste sensation and dry mouth from reduced salivary gland function.

Flax has supported UWCCC over the years. He serves as a patient advocate for the Wisconsin Head and Neck Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPORE) grant and regularly participates in UWCCC fundraisers.

Last year, Flax and his wife participated in The Ride, a bicycle fundraiser for cancer research at the University of Wisconsin.

“It was a pleasure to ride,” Flax says. “I had these moments when I thought, ‘Isn’t this really great that I’m healthy enough to be able to do this?’”

They will participate in The Ride again this year on Sept. 17.

“The great thing about The Ride is that it provides funding so that researchers can get traction on their innovative ideas, which will make them more likely to get additional grant funding,” Flax says. “My hope is that the money from The Ride will eventually lead to improved prevention and more targeted treatments that minimize the severity of side effects and increase the number of people cured.”