My name is Jill Garrett. I am the proud wife of Tag Garrett. Here is our story:
November 1998... Tag and I are in the mountains of North Carolina enjoying the Thanksgiving season. While hiking Tag notices he is a little short of breath. He also has been feeling tired lately. We both shrugged it off. Tag was a full time college student and working on top of that. Who wouldn't be tired! Two weeks later Tag starts to feel pain in his chest when he inhales deeply. We took him to the doctor. He was diagnosed with pleurisy (inflammation of the lung lining). He was put on anti- inflammatory medicine. It took away the pain. A few days later Tag starts to feel like he has a bad case of the flu. He is running fevers and coughing a lot. Back to the doctor we go. This time they say pneumonia. He is put on oral antibiotics and sent home. He gets progressively worse and very short of breath. I take him to the ER (at the hospital where I am a RN) and a chest XRAY shows the worst possible thing! I remember the look on the doctor's face completely mortified. Tag has a huge tumor in his upper chest area along with big tumors in both lungs! BAMMM... Tag has cancer. We are both 24 years old and can't believe this is happening to us.
Tag was shipped to a bigger hospital where we will stay the next 22 days. December 16th, 1998 is the day we were told the results. Tag was diagnosed with a nonseminomatous anterior mediastinal mass with metastases to his lungs and liver. His pathology consists of malignant teratoma with mature teratoma, choriocarcinoma, and focal yolk sac elements. We know from the start that this is not good. He is considered in the "poor risk" category of germ cell tumors. Nevertheless, we remain positive that Tag can beat the odds. We believe that anything is possible and miracles can happen!
Tag had 4 rounds of BEP chemo. His original HCG was 75,000. After the 4 rounds it was still only 400. Not good enough! Tag then underwent 2 rounds of VIP. Unfortunately, still no remission. The doctors were not offering much hope of a cure. We stayed strong and positive. Anything is possible! The oncologist decided that we should try high dose chemo w/ stem cell transplant. Tag had a pheresis catheter placed in his chest. He had enough stem cells collected for 2 transplants. I was starting to get worried. I contacted Dr. Einhorn and told him Tag's story. He advised us NOT to go through with the transplant. He recommended we try a new clinical trial: Taxol / Gemzar. We found a list of the hospitals that could participate in this clinical trial. Within 1 week Tag and I decided to move to Florida to try the clinical trial. We choose Florida b/c Tag's family lived there. We thought it would be great to be near them! It was a great decision!
Tag started the Taxol / Gemzar protocol. After the first week he developed a high fever and had rigors. He was admitted to the hospital with a gram-negative infection. It was very serious! Tag had gone into shock, but thank goodness made a full recovery. They removed the pheresis catheter line b/c it was the source of the infection. Tag was started on the Taxol/Gemzar again. A few weeks later Tag said he "felt funny". He had trouble talking and was distraught. I immediately took him to get a MRI. Another blow... the cancer had spread to his brain. It had bled a little which caused his speech to be affected. Tag immediately started brain radiation. The radiation oncologist felt confidant the brain met would resolve. Tag's speech returned to normal and the brain met was gone! We were excited for once! Sure enough we were hit with bad news again. Tag was not responding at all to the Taxol/Gemzar protocol. His HCG and AFP were rising very fast!
We decided we wanted to continue to be aggressive w/ treatment. Dr. Einhorn recommended the oral etopside to prolong life... We didn't want to prolong life. We wanted a cure! Our FL doctor gave us a few more options. We decided to go with some more chemo regimes. Our doctor warned us that the chemo itself could kill Tag. Tag wanted to fight with everything he had! So he did! Tag had 3 chemo's: Actinomycin, Adriamycin, Topatecan. His HCG was 78,000. After a round of this chemo it dropped to 25,000. We were SO HAPPY! We prayed that this would be our miracle. We were cautiously optimistic... We had so many blows in the past.
Next blow... Tag had a grand mal seizure. He dislocated his shoulder and bit his tongue. It was so scary! Tag had new brain mets! We couldn't believe this is happening to us! The radiation oncologist decided to do stereotactic gamma knife brain radiation. This involved placing small gold pellets into Tag's skull. Small lasers like beams of radiation were directed at the tumors.
Next the chemo started not to work. Tag's HCG rose to 58,000. I would cry, but Tag would reassure me that it is just a number. It is in God's hands. Miracles can and do happen! We continued to pray for Tag's healing. We depended only on our faith. Tag's HCG continued to rise. Tag still wanted chemo. His doctor was giving him 3 different chemo's every week. In hopes to slow the cancer down and give us time together. Even if the chemo did nothing to stop Tag's cancer, it gave Tag hope! It gave us a ray of hope, when there was none! I believe that is very important! I love Tag's doctor for doing what he knew Tag wanted! By this time Tag was tired a lot. He would often get terrible mouth sores. However, we were still loving and enjoying each other. Watching TV with our dog at our side was heaven! I couldn't ask for anything more!
One more blow: On November 12th, 1999 Tag called me at work. (I'm a nurse) He said, "Jill, I can't move my left arm and leg". I told him I loved him and to immediately call 911. I met Tag at the ER. Tag's cancer had spread to his brain again. It had bled and caused him to have a stroke. He was paralyzed on his left side. This was the first time I saw Tag lose hope and cry. My heart and soul were ripped to shreds by seeing my beloved go through this. I would do anything to have it be me instead of him. The bleeding was controlled. The CT scan revealed various abnormalities to Tag's brain. He had the one large tumor that bled, but a lot of other "fishy" areas that were probably more cancer.
We were informed there was nothing else that can be done. We were hearing the words that we had dreaded for so long! We still continued to believe in God's power of miracles. Tag's oncologist gave him more IV chemo while in the hospital... Tag's request! Tag was sent home with hospice care. I took care of Tag non-stop. (With the help of family) Tag was such a "man"; it hurt me to see him depend on me for everything. From bathing, bedpans, eating, and moving, Tag needed my help for everything. Tag's spirit shined through. He continued to stay positive and hopeful that a miracle could happen.
We turned to our faith to get us day by day. It was such an honor to be able to take care of my baby! I love him so much! Words can't express the love we had for each other! It was immeasurable! Tag was still pretty oriented most of the time. We told each other how much we loved each other all the time. I held him, kissed him and stroked his head.
One evening Tag got very mad. He shouted, "THAT'S IT! IT'S OVER, RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW" His anger about everything was coming out. I told him it was ok. I loved him and always will! I told him not to fight for me. If he wanted to go home... it's ok. I know he will always love me and I will always love him. I hated to say these words to my baby. It ripped my heart in two. Tag was struggling so much. I knew he needed me to say it!
That night we went to sleep. Tag was in his hospital bed in the living room. I was by his side on the floor. His 2 sisters were also sleeping on the floor. We woke up the next morning (which was abnormal b/c normally Tag woke us up every half-hour or so) We looked at Tag and my heart fell through the floor. Tag had gone home to GOD. Tag passed on December 7th, 1999. He was 25 years old. Tag is a hero and a legend in my eyes. He is an inspiration to all! I will love and honor him forever. We will be together again! I know his spirit is alive! Our love will never die! He is with me and guiding me always!
ETERNAL LIFE AND LOVE!
Loving you always babe, Jill Garrett
I would love to help others with advanced cases. I know what it is like to feel no one else has a case like yours. Unfortunately, there are always a few out there. Just remember... There is ALWAYS HOPE!!!!!!