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Baltimore resident Waleed Stewart, the father of five boys, knew there was only one place to go when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He came to Indianapolis and IU Health Simon Cancer Center.
Nurses say he might be one of the happiest patients they have met. Entering the hospital room of Waleed Stewart is like walking through the front door of his Baltimore, Md. home. Even from his hospital bed he is quick to arrange for additional chairs. He wants his guests to feel comfortable.
And Stewart is always smiling.
“I’m happy to be here,” said Stewart as he picks out cords on a ukulele and joins CompleteLife music therapist Adam Perry for a jam session. At the age of 34, Stewart was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He came to IU Health Simon Cancer Center where he is under the care of Dr. Lawrence Einhorn, known for successful treatment of testicular cancer - germ cell tumors - using a mix of high does chemotherapies and peripheral stem cell transplant.
“He’s the man. God sent me here. My oncologist got in touch with Dr. Einhorn and he said ‘bring him here.’ It’s the best news I’ve heard – him accepting me and treating me. I was busy feeding my children and ignoring the signs of my disease,” said Stewart. It’s been hard being away from his wife Chira Stewart and his boys, ages 11, 9, 6, 3 and one but his mother Kathy Randall accompanied him to Indiana.
“He is the oldest of my three boys and he was a sweet little boy with a lot of energy,” said Randall. “He smiles all the time and he’s always so helpful everyone falls in love with him. The man you see now is the little boy that he was.”
In high school Stewart loved business. He played lacrosse but was always conscience about helping his mom, raising the three boys as a single parent. As early as age 13 Stewart got a job and started helping with the bills.
“I got involved with the Futures Program, a drop-out prevention program and they paid me to go to school. It was a summer thing and from that point on I got a job every summer,” said Stewart. “At the age of 15 I was working at the census bureau and I was the youngest guy getting $250 a week. I thought I was the man.”
What he didn’t know was that his mom was putting the money into a savings account that helped Stewart pay for school incidentals – his junior prom, yearbooks and graduation.
“She taught me a valuable lesson through that – the importance of being responsible. It’s a lesson I want to pass along to my own boys. No matter how bad it gets, always be a role model,” said Stewart. He graduated from high school on a Sunday and on Monday started working for UPS. He’s been there ever since.
Work and family are his life. His first date with his wife was over ice cream and he said he fell in love with her energy right then and there. They’ve been married for 12 years. A perfect family weekend is throwing a football in the park or fishing with his boys, and enjoying a big family meal of fried chicken or rib-eye steak. He hopes to teach his boys to swim and pass on a few things he said he missed growing up.
It was about a year ago when he noticed one of his testicles was enlarged. He ignored it for a few months but by Christmas things started going down hill. He became sick but his insurance was changing so he held off going to the doctor. On March 9 he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He was preparing for surgery but his blood pressure skyrocketed to what was considered stroke level He ended up in ICU and discovered his cancer was at Stage 3. It was traveling up his body toward his organs and his chest cavity. He started chemotherapy and surgery followed. He received a bone marrow transplant August 28 and 29.
“I’ve focused on everything here – chemotherapy, music therapy, yoga therapy . . . I want to get healthy,” said Stewart. “I’m blessed to be in a place that is so caring and to be surrounded by such caring people. All I need to do is chill and maintain and focus on getting better.”
-- By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health. Reach Banes via email at T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.