A Dad's Fight for Life

Hi, my name is Travis Branch. I am a 43 year old dad and husband. I need to share my story of how the lives of myself and my family dramatically changed in just a few short months.

I’ve been married to my wonderful wife, Tina, for almost 9 years. We have three amazing boys; Christian (17 / step-son), Hagan (10 / adopted), and Zackery (5). We live in Daphne, Alabama, which is a small city on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay. I’m a licensed aviation mechanic, employed at the same facility since 1999. I enjoy playing (attempting to play) guitar, fishing, kayaking, and camping. I spend many weekends with Hagan doing Cub Scout activities and can’t wait until Zackery is old enough to join us!

In July 2015, during a routine annual checkup with my primary care physician for high blood pressure, I mentioned I was noticing changes in urination. I had played it off as being side effects of getting older. My doctor assumed it would just be a bladder infection due to my age and had blood work performed to check my PSA. A week later, I got the call that my PSA was over 21 (healthy should be less than 4. I immediately had a follow-up appointment with my urologist. I took an antibiotic to clear out any possible infection, only to lower my PSA to >18. He then performed a biopsy of my prostate in September, resulting in 7 of 12 core samples positive for Gleason 6 prostate cancer. This was followed by a MRI and bone scan; both showed up clear. My urologist recommended radical prostatectomy as my best choice in curing my disease.

Now being diagnosed with prostate cancer, my wife and I discussed our options and we both quickly opted to go for a second opinion at MD Anderson, the top rated cancer facility in the U.S. MD Anderson is located in Houston, Texas, which is almost a 500 mile drive from Daphne, Alabama. There is no way we can afford to fly there as often as I need to go so we must drive there. To drive there, we must show up the night before and often stay the night of my appointments. The added cost of wear on the car, motel rooms, and eating out many of the meals on each trip is far more expensive than I would have ever imagined!

MD Anderson received my biopsy and scans to perform their own diagnoses. They agreed with the previous findings. In October 2015, I met an urologist and radiation oncologist at MD Anderson for my second opinion as to what to do next. They both agreed that a radical prostatectomy was my best choice in curing my disease.

November 10, 2015, my urologist at MD Anderson performed a radical prostatectomy on me to remove my prostate, tumor, and 2 lymph nodes.

Unfortunately, during surgery, they found the tumor had grown into my bladder neck and spread to the fatty tissue of my abdomen. Due to this, they removed 16 lymph nodes instead of 2. Pathology upgraded my cancer from an intermittent level Gleason 6 to an aggressive advanced level Gleason 9 (10 being the highest). 5 out of the 16 lymph nodes were positive for cancer. I am no longer in the “cure” category. I’m now fighting for every single day I can live!

Tina and I got the call from my urologist 2 weeks before Christmas to give us the bad news from the pathology. Tina asked him what my prognosis was, which we really weren’t ready to hear. He said, in a very positive tone, “I feel confident he can live another 7, maybe even 8 years.” Now, I know this isn’t weeks or even months like far too many people hear but, it is still very devastating to hear your life span got shortened tremendously in the time of one short phone call. Tina busted into tears and I had to ask the doctor to let us go so I could comfort my wife. I spent the rest of the day comforting her and ignoring my own emotions. My emotions showed their ugly truth the following morning when I had to call my brother, mother, father, and then my grandparents. The most emotionally draining phone calls of my life!

December 31, 2015, I met with my urologist at MD Anderson for a follow-up to my surgery. Everything looked to be on track with healing, although I will have bladder control issues and ED the remainder of my life. My doctor recommended me to join a trial study with a new drug at MD Anderson, which I quickly signed up for. The study is a traditional hormone deprivation drug for 8 months versus a traditional hormone deprivation drug along with a new drug for another 8 months. A random pull is performed to see which route you take the first round and then you receive the other the second round.

I met with my new oncologist and the team for the trail study at MD Anderson on January 15, 2016, for consultation. We all agreed that the study is the route I should take. I returned to MD Anderson on January 26, 2016, for a Rectal MRI, CT, and Bone Scan, along with lab work. My oncologist and trial study team informed me, my CT and Bone Scan both showed up clean but, my Rectal MRI showed a small residual amount of tumor remained in my bladder and my PSA was at 0.5 (not great after having your prostate removed). Even with the residual tumor, my best choice was to proceed with the trial study. By luck of the random draw, I will undergo traditional hormone deprivation therapy my first round and traditional plus the new drug for my second round.

I received my first hormone deprivation shot January 27, 2016. Once a month for the next 7 months, I must have lab work to watch my body’s reactions to the therapy. I have to be checked out by my local primary care physician twice during this time, 1 trip to MD Anderson for another follow-up to my surgery, 1 trip to MD Anderson for my second shot, and then a trip to MD Anderson in September for another full set of scans and lab work to get the final results of my first round of therapy. The second round will begin whenever my PSA levels start to rise again and the process starts all over again.

During much research by Tina and I, we have found diet can have a huge impact on survival rates with cancer. I have gone almost 100% organic with no dairy, read meat, and very little sugar. Cutting out sodas, donuts, ice cream, and various other foods is difficult but, cutting out red meat is a nightmare of a challenge for me! Due to how expensive it is, our grocery bills have increased significantly! In an attempt to cut some of the cost of buying totally organic, we have decided to try our luck at having a green thumb. Maybe between the 2 of us, we can have1 green thumb! Ha!

My trial study team and oncologist both insist I must increase my level of exercise to counteract the side effects of my therapy. With my busy schedule of work and being a dad, going to a gym just isn’t a great option for me. Plus, having incontinence (loss of bladder control) issues, a public place to work-out might be embarrassing. We have decided to convert our garage into a home gym so I can get up extra early to work out in the mornings without disturbing the rest of the family. This is yet another expense we hadn’t budgeted for. I am in hopes this could be a good trend for my entire family and hopefully a room we can all enjoy while getting healthier.

My goal is to raise $70,000. Yes, this is a huge number that totally shocked me once I added cost up to now and for the next 8 years, which are my estimated years of survival.  This money will be used to assist in covering the following:

·         Most of my medical expenses

·         Travel to and from MD Anderson appointments

·         Motel rooms while at MD Anderson (cheapest    

·         Increase in cost of eating 100% organic

·         Starting up an organic garden

·         Converting my garage into a home gym

·         Gym equipment

I was raised to not ask for help, especially financially. This is incredibly difficult for me to ask for your assistance but, there is no way I can financially provide for my family plus receive the best of care needed to prolong my life expectancy. The bottom line is my kids need their dad! I love my kids so incredibly much and have far more to teach them and learn from them. A dad’s job is never complete and unfortunately, I won’t be here for them nearly as long as I desire. I must live life with them to our fullest capability and instill in them the values of being a good decent person and American citizen.  Every penny counts so please don’t hold back if you only have a few dollars to give. And if you have nothing more than prayers, please give those! I only ask of you what you can truly offer. As for my personal friends, family and acquaintances, please don’t feel obligated to give anything as I certainly won’t judge anyone that doesn’t. I do promise to share with others every possible detail of my journey in hopes of educating others and showing them life goes on even once receiving such devastating news.

I, along with my entire family can’t thank you enough!

Travis Branch
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Travis Branch 
Daphne, AL
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