One battle against cancer: so far, so goodArea News
-- It was Josh Wagner’s first year of college at St. Cloud State University.
By: Katrina Styx, Pierce County Herald
It was Josh Wagner’s first year of college at St. Cloud State University. He was playing intramural sports when he first noticed the pain in his right leg. Months later he would find out that at the age of 20, he had cancer.
When the pain started, Wagner figured it was just something sports related. He had played sports at Hastings High School and kept active in intramurals, so aches and pains were nothing new to him. He took some painkillers, and the pain went away for the summer.
The following fall, he switched schools and started attending at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. When the pain came back again, he started to wonder if it wasn’t a sports injury after all, and had it looked at by a doctor. Initially, the doctor thought it was bursitis, or a type of inflammation of the joint. Wagner was given medicine, and again, the pain went away.
But it came back last December, so the doctor ordered an X-ray. The results showed an abnormality in Wagner’s right femur. It could be a few things, including cancer. They laughed a little about the possibility of cancer at his age, Wagner said.
After a series of tests and visits with a specialist, he got the bad news. He had Ewing sarcoma, a form of bone cancer that affects adolescents and young adults into their early 20s.
From the moment cancer became a real possible diagnosis, Wagner had been preparing himself for bad news.
“I like to prepare myself for the worst,” he said.
So when he heard his diagnosis for the first time, he wasn’t too shocked, he said. It was a little later, when his doctor started questioning him about his symptoms and ordered a CAT scan of his lungs. Ewing sarcoma is very treatable, but if the cancer had spread, his chances of surviving it would drop significantly.
“That was when I sort of broke down,” Wagner said.
It didn’t last long, though. He wasn’t about to feel sorry for himself, not when others being treated in the same hospital had it much worse than he did.
“To be totally honest, I don’t really have it that bad,” he said.
He kept repeating one phrase to himself: “I will fight. I will never give up.”
When the scans of his lungs came back, it was good news. His cancer hadn’t spread, and localized Ewing sarcoma treatment has a 95 percent success rate, he was told.
“I got pretty lucky. I dodged a bullet,” he said.
The next step was to start his treatment. The standard for Ewing sarcoma is six cycles of chemotherapy over 12 weeks, surgery to remove the cancerous bone and 11 more rounds of chemotherapy over 22 weeks. Wagner just finished his first six weeks and is scheduled for surgery on April 24. Six to seven inches of his femur will be removed and replaced with either a new cadaver bone, metal rod or some combination of the two.
Once the chemotherapy is finished, Wagner will have to go back to the hospital periodically over a five-year period to make sure there’s no recurrence. If nothing shows up after five years, he’ll be considered cancer free. At this point, it looks like the treatment is working just as it should.
“By the end of it, this thing should be totally done,” Wagner said.
He’s a little disappointed that he’ll still be in treatment for his 21st birthday in September, but by late October he should be finished, just in time for a late birthday celebration and a cancer free Thanksgiving.
Managing the effects
As treatable as Ewing sarcoma is, the treatment schedule is intensive enough to have a major effect on Wagner’s life. He’s lost his hair due to the chemotherapy. He had to completely withdraw from the university. He has to be careful about how much stress he puts on his heart, since the chemotherapy makes him much more tired. Even just walking up a flight of stairs will leave him winded.
Through it all, Wagner’s family and friends have been a huge support. There’s a stack of well-wishing cards several inches tall. Friends bring over meals and have helped Wagner’s family with house and yard work, and even with getting Wagner to his appointments.
“It’s overwhelming,” said Apryl Wagner, Josh Wagner’s mother. “It’s helped us so much”
An expensive success
Wagner’s story is a successful one, at least so far, but the cost of his success is high. Treatment means several hospital stays, and each stay is $30,000 to $40,000, Apryl Wagner said. And then there’s the cost of all the tests, besides.
“They’re definitely expensive,” Josh Wagner said.
To help cover the bills, there will be a benefit event this Saturday, April 21, at the Hastings Country Club. The event will run from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. There will be hors d’oeuvres, a cash bar, meat raffle, music, a raffle and silent auction. Raffle prizes include a juke box, pinball machine and $200 and $100 cash prizes. The cost is $20 at the door. Of that, $10 goes directly to Wagner’s benefit fund and $10 goes to cover the cost of the event.
To donate an item for the silent auction, contact Holly Caroon at 651-319-0558. Monetary donations should be made payable to the Josh Wagner Benefit Fund at the Vermillion state Bank, 975 Lyn Way, or mailed to Caroon, 1630 Wyndham Place, Hastings, MN, 55033.
More about Wagner’s story is available online at www.caringbridge/visit/joshwagner.
Katrina Styx is a staff writer for the Hastings Star Gazette.