Welcoming a baby into the world for the first time is stressful under the best circumstances. And a global pandemic, plus cancer treatment, doesn’t make for ideal conditions. But that’s where Tom Budreau found himself in summer 2020, while he was being treated at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute for Ewing sarcoma weeks before his wife Kristin gave birth to their son, Ty.
An active 31-year-old, Tom first noticed pain in his hip while exercising in October 2019. He took a week off the weights, but the pain only got worse. He went to his primary care doctor looking for answers, then eventually the emergency room, after the excruciating pain spread to his back. The ER doctors weren’t sure what could be wrong and eventually admitted him overnight for an emergency MRI, during which they found a tumor pressed against Tom’s spinal cord. Six days later, it was confirmed: Tom had Ewing sarcoma.
“My whole family was there, since I was in the hospital for a few days. When the biopsy results came in, my family got not just that surprise, but the news that my wife Kristin was nine weeks pregnant,” Tom says. They hadn’t planned to share the happy news so soon, but with the future feeling uncertain, Tom felt everyone could use a little hope.
“For the first day, I felt down and couldn’t believe this was happening; it felt like I got punched in the gut. We had just gotten married and now this hit us and we didn’t know what was going to happen,” Tom remembers. “But the next day, we got to work on a plan.”
Because Tom’s tumor was so close to his spine—which was the cause of his significant pain, leading to an earlier diagnosis than most with sarcoma—surgery was out of the question. He quickly started a 12-round course of chemo, followed by 35 rounds of radiation. A focused person used to a busy life managing a team at work, Tom was laser focused on completing his treatment in the six-month schedule, and on working throughout.
“My grandmother, who passed this year after fighting cancer for about 20 years, was a big source of inspiration for me,” Tom says. “I saw her deal with it with style and grace, and that gave me the confidence I could get through this.”
While he had a few setbacks due to low blood cell counts, Tom weathered treatment well, focusing on the things in his control to help with both his physical and mental recovery. He chose to eat healthy, exercise when possible, stay busy, and keep working—remotely—to keep his mind sharp.
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2020, when he was in the homestretch of his treatments, added an additional level of stress for Tom and his wife. (While undergoing chemotherapy, cancer patients are at a higher risk of infections such as COVID-19.) “The pandemic during treatment was really challenging; being afraid to go outside and not being able to have visitors made things even more difficult,” he says.
After a tough spring, Tom successfully finished his last cycle of treatment on June 2, 2020, just in time to meet his son Ty on June 7. Today, the Budreaus are going well and looking forward to spending time with family and friends uninhibited by both cancer and the pandemic.
“Going back to live as truly normal, as it was in mid-2019, feels amazing, and I’m really looking forward to that, especially with the newest member of our family,” Tom says. “I’m excited to have cancer not be at the center of every conversation and every choice I make.”
When he’s not enjoying his young family, on the golf course or taking in a football game, Tom looks forward to sharing his story with others to advocate for cancer research and better treatments.
“Not only did Dana-Farber provide me with superior care and comfort during my treatment, they saved my life,” he reflects. “They saved my wife’s husband and my son’s dad; I owe them everything.”
Support patients like Tom by joining The Dana-Farber Campaign, our ambitious, multi-year fundraising effort to prevent, treat, and defy cancer. The Dana-Farber Campaign will accelerate the Institute’s strategic priorities by supporting revolutionary science, extraordinary care, and exceptional expertise. As a community, we have the power to create a more hopeful, cancer-free future—in Boston and around the world. Together, we can defy cancer at every turn. Learn more about The Dana-Farber Campaign at DefyCancer.org.