Chris, Wendy and Taylor Stoeckler, January, 2002
A 40 year-old United Airlines mechanic, Christopher Stoeckler made the
drive on Mondays from his home in rural Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin to corporate
headquarters in Chicago. From there, he flew wherever his mechanical skills
were needed to keep the fleet safely on time. On weekends he cocooned
with Wendy, his wife of close to 17 years, and their beautiful nine year-old daughter.
Fort Atkinson is a small farming community nestled in picturesque rolling
hills, and the Stoecklers love life there. Wendy works for one of the
village governments. Their best friends run a 900-head dairy operation
dedicated solely to the production of some very fine Wisconsin cheese.
Of course, winter in Wisconsin can be a little harsh, if the word "harsh"
can adequately describe 60 degrees below with the wind chill. But summer
and fall can be beautiful there, and the Stoecklers also got away for
vacations to places like Hawaii.
Chris kept fit and trim through grueling motocross competitions. For those
unfamiliar with this sport, motocross basically involves a pack of dirt
bikes going as fast as they can around a dirt track with limited space
and "jumps" which require the willingness to hurtle your machine
(and yourself) high into the air to a landing area on a berm some distance
away. You might think that a guy nicknamed "Gopher" would have
suffered at least a broken bone or two, but through the years Chris suffered
only some minor bumps and bruises while bringing home close to 40 trophies,
the most recent taken in 1998.
The Stoecklers had a quintessential American life, and it was very, very
good, until the nightmare began over two years ago, in the winter of 1999.
Catching air, 1980
Chris presented to his primary physician with severe pain in the area of
his rectum. He was diagnosed with an enlarged prostate and prostatitis.
His primary physician proceeded to examine him internally, felt an abnormality
in the area of the liver and ordered CT scans. A CT scan of the abdomen
detected the presence of fluid in the abdominal cavity. A CT scan of the
thorax detected fluids in the pleural space around the right lung.
Chris was referred to a hepatologist at Froedert Lutheran Hospital in Milwaukee
for further examination of the liver. Further CT scans and blood work
did not reveal the source of the effusions. Chris was referred to a pulmonologist,
who took more CT scans, chest films and blood tests. Again, the results
from the tests gave no clear indicator of the problem. Two weeks later,
Chris returned to the same pulmonologist, who took more chest films. The
pulmonologist stated that the new films failed to show any fluid and advised
Chris to return if he felt unwell. Over the next two years, Chris continued
to suffer occasional problems with his prostate.
In October 2001, Chris developed a "terrible-sounding" cough
but had no cold or flu. He decided to start with a new primary physician.
This physician took a chest film, which showed the presence of fluid around
the right lung. Chris returned to his pulmonologist, who ordered further
CT scans, chest films and blood work. Around December 7, his pulmonologist
performed a thoracentesis at Froedert Lutheran. The pain was so severe
that Chris passed out twice during the procedure. Cytological tests upon
fluid removed via the thoracentesis proved negative for malignancy. A
needle biopsy performed a week later removed tissue which also showed
Chris Stoeckler, 1998
THE AWFUL TRUTH
On December 17, with no results and no solution in sight, Chris underwent
video-assisted thoracoscopy with biopsy. The surgeon advised that he could
see a profusion of white, "blister-like" cells around the right
lung and harvested tissue samples for pathological testing. Chris remained
in the hospital for three days with a drainage tube attached. The biopsied
tissue was forwarded to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, for a
On December 31, 2001, at five in the afternoon, the Stoecklers learned
that the diagnosis was malignant mesothelioma. The pulmonologist said
that Chris had possibly less than one year to live. He further explained
that he could run another CT scan of the abdominal cavity to see if there
were fluids there, and if there were, a laparoscopy could be performed
for diagnostic purposes. He suggested that if these diagnostic tests revealed
the presence of tumor activity in the abdomen, there would be no treatment
options in Wisconsin and that the Stoecklers should take a vacation to
Europe to enjoy the time they had left. If, on the other hand, the tumor
had not metastasized to the abdominal cavity, he would recommend consultation
with Dr. David Sugarbaker at Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston,
HOPES DASHED, REBUILT
The Stoecklers anxiously awaited the results of the laparoscopy, which
were due January 11, 2002. The results of the laparoscopy with biopsy
arrived that day, confirming that the tumor had, indeed, spread to the
peritoneum. Christopher Stoeckler had a tumor in both his pleural and
abdominal cavities. His prognosis was poor.
Wendy and Chris were frantic. Months ago, her husband had been facing nagging
aches; now, he was facing a life-ending prognosis. Wendy spoke with Dr.
Harvey Pass, who, considering Chris' situation, recommended that they
speak with Dr. Hedy Kindler at the University of Chicago. Additionally,
the oncologist they already had recommended they speak with Dr. Nicholas
Vogelzang, also at the University of Chicago.
Stoeckler family vacation in Hawaii, 2001
Shortly thereafter, Chris and Wendy consulted with Dr. Kindler, and Chris
entered a clinical trial utilizing chemotherapy on February 14. The clinical
trial is a double blind, placebo-controlled, randomized Phase II Trial
of Gemcitabine and Cisplatin with or without the VEGF InhibitorBevacizumab
(NSC#704865) in patients with malignant mesothelioma. He underwent a full
round of treatment and proceeded directly into a second round of his chemotherapy
regimen. He was hospitalized at the end of February for two days due to
severe constipation, probably caused by his medicaion and chemotherapy.
By the middle of March, he could not function, and he was enduring a migraine
headache that had persisted since his initial treatment. Additionally,
he was coughing up blood. After a CT scan and a consultation with Dr.
Kindler, Chris and Wendy decided to cease chemotherapy. The Stoecklers
had mixed emotions: while the CT scan revealed that the chemotherapy had
not shrunk the tumor, the tumor had not grown, either. Dr. Kindler and
Chris decided it was best to refrain from treatment for a month to allow
his body to recuperate from the taxing therapy. She suggested a gentler
treatment for the tumor when his body was once again able to handle stress
of that kind.
The Stoecklers returned to Dr. Kindler in late April. She suggested that
Chris take another five weeks off from the therapy and scheduled him for
a CT scan for June 6. She also scheduled a follow-up visit for June 13,
stating that at that time, they should decide how best to combat Chris'
Taylor helping Chris with the dishes
Wendy worries about the future. She and Chris have received support from
friends and even from people with whom they are merely acquainted. Gestures
of kindness are a double-edged sword as they show support, but at the
same time serve as a searing reminder of something Chris and Wendy have
struggled to accept. Wendy remains apprehensive, and she worries about
the original prognosis of less than a year of life left for Chris. With
four months already passed since that prognosis, her anxiety grows.
Additionally, Wendy evinces concern about what kind of life Taylor will
have. The three of them are a tight family, used to relying on one another,
for they are an unusually small family to begin with. Chris' parents
are deceased, Wendy is an only child, and Chris' brother has no children.
Taylor is the last of the Stoecklers, and now Chris and Wendy dare not
try to have another child.
Because Chris' job took him away from them four days out of the week,
time in Wisconsin would find him with his family -- eating meals, playing
board games, but most importantly, just being home with his family and
friends. Now, they are faced with losing all of that. They have turned
to their faith to cope, but even Wendy admits that does not always soften
the blow of what has happened. Their family is young, they had much to
look forward to, and Wendy wonders why this has happened to them. She
states that it never leaves her mind. We will keep you posted on the progress
of this close-knit family as they hold out hope and look for a brighter day.
*** POSTED MAY 6, 2002 ***
An Update -- 6/16/03
From Wendy Stoeckler:
This is an update on Chris, this is what we had to go through on Friday
Arrived at Froedtert Hospital for weekly chemo, mind you he is still in
extreme pain. Palliative Care nurse came to see us in waiting room to
check on him. We explained the pain in the lower pelvic area and that
he has been having trouble urinating. She stated that she'd be right
back. We went back in chemo room to start chemo and Palliative nurse came
back and asked us to move to a private room. There the Pain Dr., the Palliative
nurse, and our oncologists' nurse practitioner were in the room, but
our oncologist was not. We talked about the pain etc... the Pain Dr. found
out an MRI was done on June 7th of that area and called for the films, stat.
When he returned he asked that our daughter vacate the room and told us
the bad news, the mesothelioma has spread and was thickening, that is
the bulge that is in that area. It is between the rectum and bladder and
that might be compressing on the urinary tract system or worse, attached
around the bladder, although they never stated about the bladder, that
I am assuming. Now I already knew some of this from my conversation with
the Radiation Dr. that called for the MRI, but at the time of our conversation
he had not yet reviewed the actual films, just read the report. Chemo
has been stopped, chest x-ray was ordered and urine sample ordered. He
now takes Dilaudid, Vicadin and was just put on a 12 hr morphine pill
called MS Cotin. Now I did ask in front of all these professionals, why
is it that we kept complaining to our oncologist for months about the
pain in that area. Every visit to his office, our conversation with him
always revolved around that area. He never showed any concern. They stated
they will talk with him. My husband is furious as you can imagine. I remember
at our last visit in March with the doctor he stated there were some fluids
still down in that area and did nothing to find out more. The bulge was
there at that time also.
Now if I would not have called the nurse practitioner a couple of weeks
ago and basically demand that he receive some pain management, which I
found out through another mesothelioma patient, taken Chris to see his
Family Doctor, and then to see his Surgeon regarding his pain and this
bulge we thought was a hernia, we'd still be unknowledgeable about
all this. Our next appointment isn't until June 26th. This is what
we have been dealing with since the onset of problems in 1999. Sad isn't
it. Doctors at this point do not know what to do, they will be reviewing
with all doctors involved with Chris and touch base with us next week.
So again we wait.
Take Care - Wendy
An Update -- 12/20/04
From Wendy Stoeckler:
Well, it will be 3 years this December 31st since Chris was diagnosed with
Meso. We first want to thank all who have helped and stood by us through
these turbulent times.
Currently Chris is receiving no treatment. But not for the lack of trying.
None of the following treatments have been effective for Chris. He first
tried Alimta. The 1st round went well but after the 2nd round he became
very ill. He was bedridden 28 days out of 30. His CT scan, after 2 months,
showed growth. Chris then participated in a clinical study. Again, 1st
round went well and after the 2nd round, due to unknown circumstances
to date, he ended up having emergency abdomen surgery, enduring a long
7 days stay at the hospital and receiving a 10" scar on his belly.
Chris recovered slowly and then started another chemo in pill form. After
a couple of rounds of this pill the CT scan still showed more growth.
Also during this past year in half, Chris has developed a orange size
tumor coming out of his back on the lower right side where the biopsies
were performed over 3 years ago. We now know the cancer has made its way
out. So Chris has made the decision to take a break. He is still on a
lot of pain meds, he tires more easily, and shortness of breath is becoming
an issue. Just today Chris received a blood transfusion. We are hoping
this will help with the fatigue, that run down feeling he has had for
the last month.
At this point and time, Chris is spending a lot of time with our daughter
Taylor, who is now 11 years old. He is enjoying all the homework, at age
42, of a 6th grader. We both seem to have forgotten a lot, but are enjoying
Chris, Taylor and I want to wish everyone the best and thanks to all who
have been concerned about us. Your support is very much appreciated.
Christopher " Gopher" John STOECKLER, age 44, of Fort Atkinson
passed peacefully into Heaven on Thursday, December 21, 2006, surrounded
by family and friends after a courageous battle with cancer.
Chris was born in Waukesha, Wisconsin on April 11, 1962, the son of Fred
and Jean (Sundalius) Stoeckler. Chris graduated from Brookfield Central
High School in 1980. On May 18, 1985, Chris married his soul mate, Wendy
Marks in Brookfield, WI. Chris' love of engines pursued him to attend
WCTC and earn a degree in auto mechanics. Chris was employed as a Field
Service Mechanic with United Airlines since 1987.
Chris had a heart of gold. Chris was always there to help whenever someone
was in need. His caring and passionate heart always seemed to make us
feel better and make our worries go away. He cherished every moment he
shared with his "pride and joy" his daughter Taylor, with his
wifeWendy and his many, many friends.
Surviving are his wife of 21 years, Wendy, his beloved daughter, Taylor
both of, Fort Atkinson; his brother John Stoeckler, of Helenville; dear
uncle and aunt, Richard (June) Stoeckler of Florida; his "adoptvie
family" Betty Kutz, Dean (Linda) Kutz and family; Ronald (Pam) Kutz;
Andrew (Robin) Kutz and family; Aaron (Melanie) Kutz; Allan Kutz; David
(Donette) Kutz; Dennis (Sally) Kutz; Sonya, John and Michael Kutz; Roger
(Chris) Kutz and family; Nancy (Robert) Benish and family; and many other
relatives and friends.
Chris was preceded in death by his parents; his in-laws Mathew and Patricia
Marks; and his very special friend Wesly Kutz..
Funeral Services will be held Friday, December 29, 2006, at 11:00AM at
St. Paul's Ev. Lutheran Church, Fort Atkinson with Rev. Michael Duncan
officiating. Burial will be in the Evergreen Cemetery, located in Fort
Friends may call from 4-8PM on Thursday, December 28, 2006 at Nitardy Funeral
Home, Fort Atkinson and after 10:00AM on Friday at the church until the services.
Those planning an expression of sympathy may wish to consider memorials
to the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation (MARF Organization), P.O.
Box 91840, Santa Barbara, CA 93190-1840, which helps eradicate the cancer
Chris had or to the St. Paul's Church Teen Center.
A special thank you to all who gave Chris their friendship, love and support.
From his many friends he made throughout the United States while working
for United Airlines and to all his co-workers he treasured so much. To
all at Froedtert Memorial Hospital that have cared and supported Chris
these past five years since his diagnosis and a very special thank you
to his "adoptive family" the Kutz's. You gave Chris so much
to live for. He loved you all very much.
Weep not for me, for I am at peace. My struggle is over for I am with the
Lord; When you miss me look to the heavens and I shall smile at you through
the twinkle of the stars. The gentle rain drops, as it brushes against
your cheek, shall carry my kiss. The winds shall be my arms around you.
Live for me on earth as I shall live in heaven. No, weep not for me, for
I am with the Lord.
Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin responds to a letter from Wendy Stoeckler
regarding HR 3339. (3/31/08)
Family Member of Asbestos Victims Lobby Against Settlement Fund (3/25/04)
"I got cancer from a habit I started at 14. My habit was going to work." (10/8/03)
This advertisement sponsored by USAction. (NOTE: you will need to view
the ad [.pdf] using Adobe Acrobat)
Asbestos a Problem? Not For Honeywell's CEO. He Took Home $56 Million
Dollars Last Year (Roll Call Mag. Ad, 6/27/03)
Asbestos Cancer Survivors Taking Action Against Inhumane Asbestos Trust/Bail
Out Bill (SB 1125) (6/6/03)
Wendy Stoeckler to Sen. Russell Feingold (D. Wisconsin)
- "I have been writing and writing to you, now I am pleading, begging
you to please listen to our story." (6/3/03)