Sam Staatz was 33 years old when he had a ruptured aneurysm in August 1999.
He’d been driving in a car with his grandfather at the time. Staatz, now 45, said he “did some damage to it,” but fortunately, his grandfather was able to get control of the car right afterwards.
Staatz — a hydraulic engineer at AECOM, a company in Redmond that offers services in architecture, engineering, construction, operations and maintenance — said most people who get ruptured aneurysms don’t survive and said he shouldn’t have survived.
While treating him for the potentially fatal aneurysm, doctors found something even more worrying in Staatz’s brain: a tumor about the size of a tennis ball.
Staatz underwent an eight-hour surgery during which doctors removed a large portion of the tumor, but not the entire tumor. A biopsy was done and doctors determined that it was glioblastoma multiforme — the same type of tumor U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy had before he died in 2009.
Staatz said about 50 percent of patients diagnosed with this type of brain cancer survive the first six months; one and a half percent of this number survive the first year; one percent of that number survive the second year; this pattern repeats until about the fifth year, Staatz said.
Although most people would consider this type of diagnosis devastating news, Staatz was relieved. He had been experiencing migraines and severe memory loss for about six months before the car incident and didn’t know why. Additionally, the surgery relieved some of the pressure in his head caused by the tumor.
“I was actually really happy because I didn’t have a headache anymore and I knew what was wrong with me,” he said.
Staatz’s diagnosis led to radiation and other treatments for more than a year.
He took about five years off from work because the cancer affected a number of physical and mental functions. Severe blood clots landed him in a wheelchair for a while — quite the shift for a man living in the Queen Anne neighborhood of Seattle biking to and from his job in Redmond. Staatz said he used to have a very good memory but was having trouble remembering even the most basic things and still does to this day. He said he also lost his sense of direction, which affects him today as he sometimes gets lost in parking lots. The brain cancer also caused Staatz to lose his math capabilities, which are key to his job as an engineer. Staatz said at the time, he couldn’t even work out the answer to one plus one.
In addition to treatment, a lot of Staatz’s time off was spent in speech and occupational therapies and learning different technologies to work around what he had lost.
Staatz was also retrained to be an engineer, which meant relearning math.
“It was a déjà vu experience going through all of that,” he said.
It has been 12 years since Staatz was first diagnosed with brain cancer and he goes in every six months for an MRI. He said while the cancer is incurable, he is doing well.
“So far, things are okay,” Staatz.
As a brain cancer survivor, Staatz will be participating in the Seattle Brain Cancer Walk on Sept. 24 for the fourth time. And this year, he will be a spokesperson for the walk, meaning he is in charge of raising awareness for both the event and brain cancer in general, in his neighborhood.
“I like seeing the support and knowing the money is going to a good cause,” Staatz said.
Event manager Arden Hofler said Swedish has been involved in the walk since its second year, adding that the event was held at Mercer Island High School for the first two years and moved to Seattle Center last year.
The walk will be at Founders Court and will be two miles long around Seattle Center (above) with entertainment all along the way, Hofler said.
In addition to the walk, the event will have a tent of honor where people will post photos and memories of loved ones they’ve lost to brain cancer. Hofler said there will also be 15,000 origami cranes hanging in the tent representing 15 wishes.
There will be another tent for brain cancer patients and survivors where people have donated gifts of experiences. Hofler said this means the gifts are actual activities and experiences rather than items, so the patients can create memories with their family and friends.
The walk begins at 9 a.m., with walk-in registration beginning at 7:30 a.m. Hofler said registration is $25 until Sept. 22 and day-of registration is $30.
The money from the walk, which comes from participant fundraising in addition to registration fees, will go to brain cancer research and patient care in the Pacific Northwest.
“I like seeing the support and knowing the money is going to a good cause,” Staatz said. “For me (brain cancer is) the forgotten cancer.”