"It felt HEAVY," he said. "Kind of like something was dropped on me."
Those were Mark Liederbach's words as he described the bombshell moment in early December none of us, or our family members, ever want to face, when he met with his doctor and first heard that dreaded word: "Cancer."
"It's been a roller-coaster ride and the holidays have been interesting, but it's nothing I'd like to repeat," said Liederbach with a soft chuckle. "The best advice I've gotten from other patients is, 'Don't let your life pause,' and it is so very true. I try to keep my mind and body as active as possible. I'm getting better with it, but some days it's very easy to just want to crawl in a hole and stay in bed."
Liederbach, 18, a 2010 Greendale High School graduate and UW-Whitewater freshman Physics major, was diagnosed with Stage 2 testicular cancer and underwent surgery four days before Christmas. Fortunately, according to the doctors, this type of tumor is very responsive to chemotherapy, and Liederbach is currently undergoing the second of three treatment cycles at Kenosha's Aurora Advanced Health Care Oncology Clinic. He's been given a 95% to 98% chance of being totally cured.
Meanwhile, Liederbach has decided to heed the advice of others, go on the offensive and "attack" his illness in a variety of ways. One significant first step was to create his own website and blog, "The Cancer Fight," which "keeps my mind active and is a way to unload, give updates, provide information and give back to cancer organizations that have helped me and others."
In his blog Liederbach speaks of his experience with chemotherapy, the loss of his hair, his good and not so good days. He is also using his blog to raise money for Susan G. Komen for the Cure and The Macc Fund. A calendar on the site share the Liederbach's treatment schedule.
Chemotherapy, of course, takes its physical toll, and Liederbach has reduced his course-load at Whitewater from 15 credits down to six. The professors there have been "incredibly supportive" in finding ways to help academically during his recovery. Some have offered suggestions for independent study projects in order to help the education process to move forward.
"There are some wholesome people working there," Liederbach said of the university. "It was a tough decision to keep six credits this semester knowing the demands of school and not knowing what effect the treatment will have on the thinking process."
During high school Liederbach was active athletically as a member of the swim and baseball teams and was also a drumline marcher in the championship band. But many locals may recognize that face through his longtime involvement as an actor with the school theatre department, most recently playing Daddy Warbucks in last year's musical, "Annie."
Current and past cast members, director and crew have all stepped forward and embraced Liederbach's cancer battle as one of their own. A portion of future ticket fees now goes toward offsetting the cost of treatment. "That was an emotional moment," he said, recalling the news.
You don't have to look far for yet another group eager to lift up a young brother in need. Right across from the high school on Clover Lane sits Greendale Community Church, its congregation steadfast and united in its support of the family. On a recent Sunday morning Liederbach received "the warmest welcome possible" during and after service.
"The entire choir came down and gave me hugs and comfort," he gushed. "It took 45 minutes to leave church that day." He wasn't complaining.
Liederbach's third and final cycle of chemotherapy treatment is scheduled to end on March 14, and according to medical professionals, chances are good that any cancer cells should have "melted away" by then. In the meantime, he invites you to accompany him on his recovery journey, to share his highs and lows and provide your own input and encouragement through his website, "The Cancer Fight."
Editor's note: A previous posted article wrongly stated that proceeds raised by the theater group would go to offset Liederbach's treatment. Proceeds will in fact go to a charity of Liederbach's choice.