More than a year has passed since Brady Walz’s last cancer treatment, but every so often, he sees someone in his hometown of Fort Thomas, Ky., wearing a “WalzWillWin” T-shirt. It’s a reminder of all he went through to beat cancer, and the countless people who helped his family get through the toughest years of their lives.
Brady was only 14 when doctors at Cincinnati Children’s diagnosed him with pre-B acute lymphoblastic leukemia in May 2014. He remembers feeling shocked; just a week or two earlier, he had been feeling great. “Both of my parents were at the hospital with me, and I don’t think we slept at all that night. I don’t think I even blinked,” says Brady, now 18 and a senior at Highlands High School in Fort Thomas.
Brady was admitted to the hospital’s cancer unit that night, and began treatment the following day. His pediatric oncologist, Dr. Jen Mangino, MD, told the Walzs that Brady’s cancer was aggressive but treatable. He would need three years of treatment, beginning with a one-month inpatient stay. She gently explained that he was likely to miss his entire freshman year of high school due to frequent chemotherapy treatments and side effects that could include fatigue and nausea.
An Army of Support
Meanwhile, a small army of supporters was mobilizing back in Fort Thomas. Friends organized fundraisers, took care of Brady’s two younger sisters when needed, and gave the Walz family meals and restaurant gift cards. Brady’s classmates and teachers took part in a local American Cancer Society walk to honor Brady, and a Fort Thomas golf tournament donated proceeds to his family. And then there were the WalzWillWin shirts, which friends sold to raise money for Brady’s family.
“I had a lot of people supporting me and wanting me to get better,” says Brady. “Friends were great about visiting me and including me in stuff when I was sick. When football season started I would sometimes go straight from a chemo appointment to the high school stadium so I could see people. The first year was really tough because of the chemo and not feeling great and not being in school, but we tried to keep life as normal as possible.”
For Brady, keeping life normal meant thinking about the future. When the Make-A-Wish Foundation approached the Walz family, Brady knew just what he wanted to request − lawn care equipment to start his own business. Working with a local hardware store, the foundation presented him with a walk-behind mower, leaf blower and weed trimmer, along with a trailer to transport everything. Eventually, Brady began using some of his earnings to support cancer research organizations. Today, his business is going strong with 25 customers.
Early on in his journey with cancer, Brady realized that he wanted to know what was going on with his care. “The team at Cincinnati Children’s always kept me in the loop and answered my questions − I feel like they respected me,” he says. “Dr. Mangino and my mom got along really well. She always had a positive attitude, which helped. I didn’t love going to the hospital, but I really did like the nurses and everybody.”
After that first year of treatment, Brady began “chemo maintenance,” which meant fewer hospitalizations and doctor visits. He was able to return to school, go fishing with his dad and cousins and, eventually, play golf on the Highlands High School team. Now a senior at Highlands, he is looking forward to the next phase of life: college. He hopes to attend the University of Louisville and major in exercise science.
As those three years of cancer treatment fade in Brady’s memory, he hasn’t forgotten some of the lessons he learned. “Having cancer when I was a kid made me grow up faster, and I feel like it helped me understand what’s really important, like being able to spend time with my family and friends,” he says. “I don’t worry about the cancer coming back − I am just really glad to be a normal kid again and live my life.”