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Father Gets Double Dose Of Tragedy

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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.

EARLY WARNINGS

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 no abnormalities.

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 second opinion.

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, Massachusetts.

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' resilient tumor.

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 (6/13/03).

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 re-learning everything.

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.

Wendy

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 Atkinson, Wisconsin.

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.
www.nitardyfuneralhome.com

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.

Additional Information:

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)