Patrick Finley: Like Cats' rally in 1986, Wieser is an inspiration

2013-01-14T00:00:00Z 2013-01-22T15:18:57Z Patrick Finley: Like Cats' rally in 1986, Wieser is an inspirationPatrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
January 14, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Doctors told Tom Wieser he might not live through this year.

Tumors pockmark his lungs, where cancer spread from his colon after his diagnosis in 2004.

The Arizona Wildcats baseball team's student manager from 1982 to 1986 had surgery last month to remove tumors from the left frontal lobe of his brain. He'll start radiation in two weeks.

Doctors drained a half-liter of fluid from around the 49-year-old's heart, which had a rapid beat, two weeks ago. They found three blood clots in his right leg.

Tom tells me this, and then starts a story.

"That first game in Omaha, in the College World Series, against Maine (in 1986), we were down 7-0 in the seventh inning," Tom said, talking fast, enthusiasm rising in his voice. "And we won the game.

"It's only going to take one swing of the bat to knock this thing out of my body.

"I need to keep taking cuts until I can't anymore."

Tom should have been dead years ago.

When Stage 2 colorectal cancer spread to his lungs in 2005, he was told that, with treatment, he'd live maybe two years.

He survived, and lived well.

He never left his job, kept raising his kids with wife Heidi in Roseville, Calif., and cheered his beloved Wildcats with abandon.

Doctors were so stunned by his will to live that they named a clinical trial after him.

"Tom is one of the most heroic figures I've ever met," said former UA coach Jerry Kindall, who visits Tom when he goes to the Bay Area to see his grandkids. "I'm looking for adjectives and I'm running short. I love him.

"He's one of the great people in my life, Tommy."

UA assistant athletic director Phoebe Chalk, who has been close with Tom since the two worked for the baseball team as students, called him "a miracle, walking."

Tom credits his family - he has four kids from ages 15 to 21, with two at the UA -and his faith for strength. He chose aggressive medical treatment, based on he and Heidi's experience.

Tom works for Oro Valley-based Ventana Medical Systems, which creates cancer diagnosis tests.

In a cruel dose of irony, Heidi was driven to become an oncology nurse after, when she was 15, her father died from colorectal cancer.

Tom's high school sweetheart and wife of almost 25 years saw the same type of cancer attack her husband, at around the same age as her father.

It's enough to make you sob.

"I remember in the '86 season, sitting in the locker room," Tom said earnestly, as if he's trying to cheer me up. "We had four games left - three against ASU and one against Grand Canyon.

"Coach Kindall told us he'd spoken to the (NCAA tournament) selection committee, and the only way we'd get into a regional is if we win three out of four.

"The next words out of his mouth were, 'I look at this team and I see national champions.'"

He was right. The Wildcats reached, and won, the College World Series.

Tom's lesson: look past the hurdles.

"We're all intelligent folks - we all know the terminal nature of it," said friend Ken Fogel, who met Tom in 1982 at Graham Hall, a UA dorm.

"People who get this don't live. But people who get this don't live seven years with it, either."

The downside is the cost.

Fogel helped set up a web account - www.gofundme.com/CureTomWieser - where supporters can donate to Tom's family.

Even with insurance, Tom's family needs $200,000 to cover costs from nine years of fighting. So far, they've raised more than $44,000 in only one month.

Tom, though, would just as soon I focus on the charity he and Heidi started about five years ago, the Me-One Foundation (as in "Me 1, Cancer 0.")

The Wiesers took out a second mortgage on their home to start the foundation, which has provided a weekend getaway for, to date, about 150 families with a parent who has a cancer.

"He enjoys other people's joy," said Fogel, who keeps, folded in his wallet, a photo of he and Tom dancing in the street on Tom's wedding day. "He's a huge Pirates fan. I love the Giants.

"When the Giants have won the World Series two times recently, we've been on the phone together for the last half-inning. He's enjoying that his kids and I love the fact our favorite team is winning."

The most frustrating part of his disease, Tom said, is the sorrow it brings others. Tom wants to make people smile, all the time; Fogel called him "as close to Robin Williams as you can be, without being Robin Williams."

"If you're looking for the Ebenezer Scrooge example," Tom admitted to thinking, "why are you picking me?

"I love my life."

Tom is realistic about his future. He's requested medical leave from work for the first time. He compared his body to an old car - eventually, too many parts will break at the same time.

When Tom was diagnosed, he prayed for 20 more years.

He's almost halfway there.

Another rally is coming. He can feel it.

"I go back to when we were sitting in the dugout, down 7-0," he said, "And going, 'What in the world are we going to do?' "

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