The AGLOA Board and Tournament Council would like to pass along this update on the health of Steve Wright. Initially, we did not want to inundate Steve or his wife Sandy with questions about Steve’s condition, but he is at a point of getting back to some state of normalcy and has asked to share this information with our Academic Games family. Please continue to keep Steve and his family in your thoughts and prayers.
I have been keeping Rod [Beard] updated on what has been going on with me and my family, but I wanted to take some time and let all of my Academic Games friends know what has been going on and what is to come.
I initially want to let you know that Sandy, Mary, Lynn and I could not be more blessed. As you will read below, everything has gone wonderfully and the support and prayers from our family and friends have been truly amazing.
As we knew our daughter Mary was getting ready to start her senior year and go to college, we made a special effort to vacation most of last summer. We went on lots of trips, went to plays and musicals and traveled most of the summer. As school started in September, I started feeling run down. By the time of our early October Michigan League Academic Games tournament, I could barely register the team before spending the entire rest of the time in the scoring room. Something was wrong and I was getting tremendous headaches.
I went to a new doctor the next Monday and he was going to schedule some tests. That never happened. Four days later while sitting at my desk, I looked up at my computer screen and could not read the words. I made out the word “going” and did not know what it meant. I typed in a Google search and did not understand the definition that came back. For 7 ½ minutes, no one in my office could seemingly communicate with me. I understood where I was and what was happening, but couldn’t convey it to anyone. Then, as quickly as it came, it stopped. I was completely back. I was rushed to the doctor who spent ½ an hour with me and could find absolutely nothing wrong. It is like the episode that I had did not happen. In hindsight, many of my doctors and surgeons believe that this was a reprieve that most people don’t get. It would not have been surprising if I had simply passed away at my desk. Instead, God gave me my first miracle.
Over the next few days, I was given multiple heart scans and other tests, none of which could figure anything out. The next Tuesday, I had a lower and upper GI to try and widen the area of interest. By 10:00 a.m., the moment that I came out of anesthesia, my doctor told Sandy and me that I had stage 4 esophageal cancer.
The next week, I had a CT scan of my organs and head. It confirmed that cancer had spread to my brain and that there was a large plum-sized tumor that had to be removed quickly. After an MRI on Tuesday and a Pet Scan on Wednesday, I met with my surgeons on Thursday. In what I consider my second miracle, my lead surgeon has just moved from New York to Michigan in August. I truly believe he saved my life. He was very concerned that my tumor was very close to impacting my speech, so he undertook a somewhat novel procedure for mapping my brain by doing a functional MRI. He put me in an MRI for almost 2 hours, gave me directions to follow and literally mapped my brain functions so that he could get to the tumor without impacting the brain. He did that on Tuesday and scheduled the brain surgery for Wednesday, November 14. Other surgeons and doctors said this procedure had not been done much and all agreed that I was greatly benefitted by it being done. My surgeon said that he got the information that he needed and was confident he could remove the entire tumor without much, if any, degradation in my brain function.
Let me step back and say that by the time of my surgery, Sandy thinks that my mental function because of the tumor was perhaps 80%. Indeed, on tests that my surgeon performed as part of the functional MRI, I was missing questions and information that I should have missed.
By noon on Wednesday, I was in surgery. It finished 6 hours later. While I don’t remember this, in recovery, my surgeon said that I got every question right and he told Sandy that he believed that I would be 100% with no degradation in my mental capacity. (Everyone has subsequently agreed with that.) By 8 p.m., I was joking with my surgeons. From there, things flew. Sandy and I have such faith and so many family and friends praying for us that our initial recovery amazed everyone in the hospital. By Friday morning, I went off all pain medicines and I left the hospital Sunday by noon – less than 4 days after the surgery. This was several days before normal.
So, I have spent several weeks recovering and being truly amazed at how blessed Sandy, Mary, Lynn and I are. We have amazing family and friends, more people who pray for us than can possibly be known and we truly feel very lucky and truly blessed.
Last Friday, December 7, in a 15 ½ hour procedure, my surgeons used targeted gamma knife radiation technology and removed the remaining tumors in my brain. It went well.
This week, we started the next step in our process, which is chemotherapy. But as with everything else, we are continually blessed. While I will be doing chemo, I will also be doing something else—the cancer that I have is HER2 positive, which means that I can use a drug called Herceptin to fight it. Only 5% of people with esophageal cancer are HER2 positive and have this option.
Going forward, Sandy and I anticipate that we will be at the Michigan State tournament in March and the National tournament in April. We set up an office at our law firm and the parents and AG alumni have been copying materials and working with the team since October. They have also attended all of our Michigan tournaments. The spirit of the students is amazing and Sandy has been making sure that they have all the study materials they need. I have even chipped in a little. The week after my surgery we stopped by during a 4-hour after school practice. Sandy and I were uplifted as much as the students.
I also wanted to thank all of the Academic Games community for your well wishes and prayers. They really have helped. I had heard from many of you about your own cancer stories and I am uplifted by both your positive attitudes and that you shared your stories with me. Thank you for that.
During the week of Thanksgiving, I contacted Rod and started working on some of the Nationals preparations. As I start my 40th year in AG, I will help in any way that I can.
Finally, I hope this email finds you well. Sandy, Mary, Lynn and I have been truly blessed and we are so confident and inspired daily. Your prayers and well wishes have meant more to us than you could possibly know. For that, we will be eternally grateful.
One more thing that Sandy and I couldn’t stop talking about. I received a card from Chris Holstein that explains his greatness. “Steve, I’ve always held you in high regard for working with children and you don’t have to.” To me, it is all the AG coaches and teachers that work with the students every day who are the true heroes. God Bless All of You!
Steve and Sandy Wright