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Cancer diagnosis taught him: Broken crayons still color & he has a lot to share

IU Health Simon Cancer Center

Cancer diagnosis taught him: Broken crayons still color & he has a lot to share

When he was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 46, this Brownsburg resident decided it would not define him. So he wrote a book.

By IU Health Senior Journalist, TJ Banes,

He was sitting in the exam room of IU Health Dr. Paul Helft when Brad Fischer saw the poster. It read: “Broken Crayons Still Color.”

Fischer had just been diagnosed with gastric cancer and he was in Dr. Helft’s office to come up with a treatment plan. “I remember the words on the poster struck me because I felt broken,” said Fischer. His symptoms started with stomach aches. After visits to a primary care physician and prescriptions to help with the symptoms, the aches persisted.

A family history of colon cancer had Fischer on guard. He began getting colonoscopies in his early 20s. At about the same time he underwent genetic testing and put an actual name to his family diagnosis: Lynch syndrome. The condition is associated with a high risk of colon cancer and is named after the late Henry Lynch, the doctor who researched the disorder.

On June 14, 2018 an endoscopy and colonoscopy revealed a tumor in Fischer’s stomach.

“Right out of the gate, Dr. Helft talked about immunotherapy. At the time, it seemed to have spread through my lymph nodes,” said Fischer. He underwent several rounds of chemotherapy before crossing over to immunotherapy. Another diagnosis of a brain tumor with concurrent lymphomas led to more chemotherapy and radiation. In addition to Dr. Helft, he was in the care of Dr. Ally-Khan Somani, Dr. Douglas Rex, Dr. Aaron Cohen-Gadol, and Dr. Michael Robertson.

Throughout multiple treatments and hospital visits, Fischer began writing a blog. Married to Tonya Schaffter, Fischer is the father to two daughters, ages 17 and 15.

“Cancer was my motivation. You get a sense of urgency with a diagnosis and I wanted to give a voice to my daughters’ futures. I wanted to give them lessons and let them know what’s in my head and heart,” said Fischer. The blog started with the title “Living with Cat Sores.” He didn’t like the word “cancer” so he asked his friends and family to call it “cat sores.”

His writing focused on humorous stories with a moral to the story. From there it blossomed.

The book: “The Sand Bucket List: Lessons for Living and Facing Death” was published in December 2022 (available on Amazon). Fischer describes the title like this: “Like a simple plastic bucket that can be used to create beautiful sandcastles on the shore by packing fine sand with the right amount of water and imagination, I wanted to create beauty in - and from - my life by packing it with laughter, learning and love.”

Although the book explores his family’s struggles and feelings during his fight with cancer, it’s ultimately, not a book about dying nor a story about fighting cancer. It’s a book about living and taking back life.

In one chapter he tells about a childhood prank of throwing a purse full of manure onto a road. When someone picks up the purse they want to throw it back, he explained. “That’s how I see cancer. I choose to throw out some of what comes with it. There is no denying some of it staying with me but there’s more than the health side,” said Fischer. “One of the things I hated is how the diagnosis changed the way everyone viewed me.”

Another chapter tells about how he went scuba diving with his wife and was distracted and floated away from her. “The lesson was that everyone deals with a diagnosis differently and we needed to be open with each and recognize that coping. I want my daughters to know that it’s easy to fall in love but you have to be deliberate about staying in love,” said Fischer.

When asked about his hobbies and interests, Fischer said: “Cancer has taught me that I’m much bigger than my job and my interests. I want to be someone who is a learner, who helps people laugh and find joy. I’m someone who brings love to other people’s lives.”



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