Brent Rutemiller’s Cancer In Early Remission After 42 Weeks of Chemotherapy and Stem Cell Transplant

Rutemiller-Army
Brent Rutemiller During Cancer Treatment

Brent Rutemiller In Early Remission After Stem Cell Transplant

I’ve known Brent Rutemiller – CEO of Swimming World and the International Swimming Hall of Fame – for about 20 years, our relationship first developed through business. But when you work closely with someone, there is a great opportunity to develop a friendship – and I’m glad that I get to call Brent a good friend. So, when he reached out almost a year ago with the news that he was diagnosed with plasma-cell leukemia, it was a tough conversation to say the least.

Yet, something from our early chats stood out. Brent didn’t have this woe-is-me mentality. Truthfully, he didn’t have time for that attitude, nor did he care to mope. No, Brent was going to beat this thing. How? Those details would come later, and as you will see in his letter below, his fight was not without several pitfalls, moments of doubt and frustration. Through it all, though, Brent remained positive, refused to dwell on any setbacks and was steadfast in the fact that – one day – he was going to receive excellent news and could be used as motivation for others battling a cancer diagnosis.

Today, Swimming World is thrilled to announce that Brent is in early remission from the cancer which wracked his body. It’s an achievement to celebrate, and as I told Brent last week, this wonderful news is his moment atop the podium. He claimed victory. He beat the opposition. He captured gold.

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The following letter is Brent Rutemiller’s detailed announcement of the early-remission news delivered by his doctor regarding his fight against cancer.

I finally got my long-awaited blood test results to see if my stem cell transplant was successful.

It will soon be one year since I was diagnosed with cancer. 90% of my plasma was filled with cancer and my kidneys were failing over Memorial Day Weekend last year. Dr. Google said I had 5 months to live. The first 48 hours, I felt sorry for myself. Then I decided that feeling sorry was a useless emotion. I was going to either win or die, there was no second place. I made the decision that the only thing I can control was my attitude and exercise.

I began walking circles in my hospital room and then progressed to the hospital floor. They put a port in my chest and started giving me chemo three times a week. They flooded me with pills to the point that on some days I was taking over 20 within a 24-hour period. They pounded me with steroids once a week to where I now have cataracts in both eyes and will need surgery.

Rutemiller-Mayo

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With the help of Rob Butcher, I was able to get Dr. Fonseca, head of the Mayo Oncology Department to take me as his patient, but first Mayo had to accept me into their system. With the constant loving support of my wife, Ellen Rutemiller, she navigated the insurance paperwork and maze of hoops to get me admitted into Mayo. I can’t tell you the number of times they said, “no!” to her. She then had to navigate Medicare and our secondary insurance policies while being on hold for hours to get our expenses down considerably. She learned the system and got me the best care and insurance coverage possible. Ellen never gave up fighting for me and never took no for an answer.

For 42 straight weeks, they lit me up with chemo causing night sweats, dizzy spells, loss of appetite, reduced oxygen in my blood and days of no energy. All the time, I tried to walk, hike or swim to push those poisons out of my body and keep moving. I only missed about 20 days of working remotely while leading the International Swimming Hall of Fame through Covid, Induction cancellations, closures, and construction disruptions.

Every week Mayo would draw blood to measure my cells and cancer. There were days when my hemoglobin was so low that I needed transfusions.

Over the holidays, I had a reaction to one of my drugs after developing a full-body skin rash. They took me off that drug and my cancer increased.

Then I got Covid! They stopped Chemo for two weeks and gave me a monoclonal covid shot to help me through the virus. After I recovered, the blood tests showed that the cancer was increasing.

I was discouraged as they decided to get more aggressive in February.

They put me back in the hospital and inlaid a three-port line into my chest that tunneled directly into my heart. They wasted no time and infused me through my new ports with 4 different chemotherapies at one time. They let the medicines drip into my veins for 72 straight hours. Then they started giving me another chemo shot in the stomach.

Mayo

Chemo Blast

Somehow, I found the strength to get out of bed and walk in circles again. Somedays, I got up to 3 miles with Ivan beside me. (Ivan was the name of the IV pole that I pushed around.)

Rutemiller’s Army Pin

Every nurse along the way got a Rutemiller’s Army pin as I told them that I was going to be “The first person cured of this dreaded cancer”. Some of them said they believed me.

After they discharged me, I lost all my hair, but the “Chemo Blast” treatment was working. The cancer was receding quickly in my blood, but not fast enough.

We were quickly running out of time, so they decided to proceed with harvesting my stem cells to replace the cancer cells in my marrow. My body cooperated by delivering 11.5 million stem cells over two days of harvesting.

Stem-CellsThe time came on March 16th, to start the stem cell transplant. They hit me with the highest dose of Chemo to wipe out all my marrow producing cells.

Two days later, on March 18th, they infused me with 5.25 million of my own stem cells to take me back to my factory settings and froze the remaining cells. The treatment wiped out all my childhood vaccinations and any other ones in my life. I had no immune system and had to be isolated at home for 30 days as my marrow regenerated.

After 7 days, I unexpectedly vomited after lunch and then developed a fever. Mayo called in the Infectious Disease Team and identified five different bacteria in my blood. The wired me up to a broad-spectrum of antibiotics that wrecked my gut. I stayed in the hospital for five more days.

My red blood and plasma dropped to a critical point forcing two infusions of each. I went home in pain and finally succumbed to a pain killer for the first time, but for only two days.

10 days later the entire family caught norovirus. It took us all four days to recover from severe Gastrointestinal issues.

Since then, I have been getting stronger. Last week marked the 50th day since my transplant. I am back to pre-cancer exercise having swum 3000 yards this morning and hiking in the mountains on Tuesdays and Thursdays with Glenn Mills – my Olympic standard.

Brent-Swim-After-Stem-Cell-4-14-2022The Mayo Doctors usually wait 100 days before testing, but because my cancer is so aggressive, they tested me on day fifty.

I was not expecting good news when I got a text from the doctor saying that they COULD NOT FIND ANY CANCER in my blood – “It is in the normal range!!!” (Note he added three exclamation points.). So, after almost one year of positive prayers from everyone, and positive attitudes cheering me on, and regular exercise, I can say that my cancer is in EARLY REMISSION. We did it!!!

We now have the upper hand. Remission for my cancer can last 2-4 years, or longer. The way I see it, with the support of my lovely wife, and with the expertise of Mayo, guidance from my god (who surely got a few words from my mom who passed away 4 days ago), and the support of Rutemiller’s Army – we will reach the goal of FINDING a cure…

Brent Rutemiller – CEO, President of International Swimming Hall of Fame

Brent-New-Era-3-22

 

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PETER BICK
1 month ago

Amen! What a profound story and inspiration!

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T Hill
1 month ago

Great news ! Still taking on the challenge going forward. Happy for you!!

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1 month ago

John thanks for sharing. You are a great writer of a great story about a great man.
Brent’s letter brought me tears and gave me the strength to exercise, persist, dream and try to be a better person. Everyone has a destination. Brent taught us with the finest way that before we depart to the other side, we should not leave unfulfilled our mission. Bravo and thanks to this reminder. I cannot wait to visit ISHOF to join my family and work next to such a fine role model.

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Robert Strand
1 month ago

One tough journey!! I am sure it has been “tiny steps” but are you running at “full stride now!!!!

Last edited 1 month ago by swimboy1
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Nancy Hogshead-Makar
24 days ago

Go Brett! Delighted to hear this good news about your cancer-free blood! And you can keep up with Glenn? That’s saying something. Happy for you!

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