The Story of my Wife, her Cancer, and The Healing NET Foundation Charity Event – Stuck in Customs

The Story of my Wife, her Cancer, and The Healing NET Foundation Charity Event

So, my wife, Tina, and I have something we have not yet shared with the world. I’m sort of a public person since I’m an artist with all that social media fun/nonsense, but I don’t put 100% of everything out there. I’m fairly measured and keep a healthy amount of private family time offline.

My wife Tina, post surgery… I’ll add in more pics throughout the story.

But this one is kind of a big one, and my wife and I decided to share it together to help raise money for her cancer doctor’s charity that is directly related to the whole situation.

The short version of the story is that Tina was recently diagnosed with an unusual form of cancer — the same kind Steve Jobs had. Bad news, to say the least. It struck us especially hard because of our three young kids. It was probably harder on me than I wanted to admit, but our focus was of course on figuring out how to get Tina better. The exact diagnosis was Neuroendocrine Cancer and they found malignant tumors on her pancreas and liver. Super bad news.

Big Charity Event! You’re invited! Grab this App to have a Chat with me and support the charity 🙂

To help out, you can join my special charity event! It’s actually a great way to contribute in a totally unique way. You grab this app called Chatter for iOS or Chatter for Android. Find me in the app and donate as little as a dollar or even more. Your call!

How does it work? First, download the app. Then, open the app and find me in the app… I’m the only one that’s not a hot Instagram girl or Leonardo DiCaprio. Then click on me and donate! 🙂 It’s like a raffle and the winner gets a 30-minute Facetime call with me and we can talk about whatever you wish! 🙂

The charity I’m supporting here is the one for my wife that was created by her cancer doctor, Dr. Eric Liu. It’s called The Healing NET Foundation.

Back to the story

This was much different on our first family trip to Dunedin where we took the kids to the chocolate factory and they absolutely loved it. I walked by the chocolate factory every day on the way to the hospital and thought of them.

Almost immediately, she was scheduled for major surgery in Dunedin, New Zealand, which is about a four-hour drive from our home in Queenstown. We made A LOT of drives back and forth for consultations, prep, and all that sort of thing. Any of you that have had major surgery knows all the logistics and worry that goes into it.

She needed to have a big portion of her pancreas and liver removed. Her spleen had to be removed as well. It was one of those all-day events and everyone was very nervous. But her surgeon, Dr. Audeau, did a masterful job. I remember in all the surgery prep I would mostly just watch his hands to see how smooth and elegant the movements were. They were steadier than mine, so that gave me a little confidence boost.

Even though the surgery went smooth, she spent almost two weeks in the hospital. There was quite a bit of ICU time. Dunedin hospital is not exactly the most hospitable place for being a hospital. It’s all socialized medicine here, so they have to cut a lot of corners. One of the worst parts of it for Tina was having to share a room with three other INSANE people. They had their fair share of older crazy people that just had surgery — they would moan and freak out all night, fight the nurses, try to rip out all their IVs and more crazy shit. It didn’t help Tina’s mind too much with all that nonsense.

This is the consultation before the actual surgery. I was watching his hands like a raven. They were steady and his penmanship was spectacular. This set me a bit more at ease.

The food was also rubbish and not the kind of organic, good food a healing body needs. Since I was there with her, I’d bring good veggie food to try to keep her spirits up. After about 10 days, we were able to walk downstairs to the little hospital cafe. That was a good day. We had some vegetable soup while her IV dripped away.

This is a very strange form of cancer because of the way it grows. It doesn’t respond to radiation or chemo. There’s still a lot of mystery around it. We were bound and determined to do something different than Steve Jobs. He used some kind of homeopathy and drank a bunch of apple juice or some shit. Homeopathy is total BS and if we had gone that path, Tina would be dead now too. I do agree it can have good effects mentally and you can do a lot of internal healing, but you can do that sort of positive mind work WHILE getting actual medical care. Then you’re attacking the problem from two angles. Anyway, I’ll stop with all my opinions on that… the point is that what we chose is working.

Tina started doing A LOT of research on this stuff. She’s very clever (has her Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering so she has one of those analytical minds). She found this wunderkind doctor in Denver who is an expert in Neuroendocrine Tumors named Dr. Eric Liu. We made a decision to go see him after Tina felt better to get another opinion about what to do next.

Yet another problem with this type of cancer is that it returns nearly 100% of the time.

We saw a lot of this.

So, what is her current status? I’ll repeat something I heard at the hospital that makes it pretty clear. Spouses staying at and around a hospital for several weeks is a strange thing. It’s such a weird place in so many ways. It’s kind of like the DMV for sick people… you get all sorts in there, I tell ya. But I ended up making friends with random people. Like there was this one Kiwi guy who was about 50. What a nice guy. He always had this five-o’clock shadow and a sly smile at the ready.

This gentleman was coming in every day, multiple times, to visit his ailing brother. That guy was in really bad shape, having to have his esophagus rebuilt from intestines or some crazy shit. I don’t know how they figure this stuff out. Anyway, we would have coffee and talk… and about a week into it, I asked how his brother was doing. And that’s the quote I’m going to steal for describing Tina’s situation. He raised his eyebrows and said, “Well,” before squinting his eyes and peering off into the distance. “I like to say that we’re out of the forest, but there’s still a few trees around us.”

The food was so bad at the hospital that family members kept cutting out newspaper articles and taping them up in all the waiting rooms. It just made everything more depressing.I took photos of every single menu in Dunedin then would bring them into Tina so she could have exactly what she wanted.

Fast-forward several months. Tina is back at home recovering and getting better. She couldn’t drive or do anything really for three months. For her, it took a bit longer. We had her parents come in to help while I went into super-dad mode. Not that I (ME -TREY) is a character in this story you need to feel sorry for or anything, but it did wreak havoc on my personal and professional life. It is very challenging because of course, I make money from my art and photography, most of which came to a near standstill. I do appearances around the world, public speaking, sponsorships, and the like. I had to cancel events in Scotland, speaking events with Apple, a huge European tour to ten cities, countless business meetings, and more. And all of this is causing a lot of stress because I have to be husband, dad, and breadwinner, and the last one is completely off the map. We have a little company here at Stuck In Customs and The Arcanum that has about a dozen employees. I have to pay all these people and a big chunk of the responsibility of creating wealth to bring into the company is my job. So, while all this stuff is going on, I’m having to re-arrange the entire financial flow of the company. Okay, enough about that… I figured it out by the hair of my chinny chin chin and all is good now.

Parking in Dunedin with all the idiotic parking meters, I hate it. I was constantly moving the car and getting these things to put in the window. I almost went Cool Hand Luke one day and cut them all down.On the plus side, Dunedin has lots of interesting street art. It’s one of my favorite things about it. Honestly, often times I would get quite nihilistic in my thoughts… sometimes art was the thing that kept me going.

How did I deal with it all creatively? Well, I’ll put that at the end of this story.

So, fast-forward a few more months. Tina is up and moving around and doing quite well! She’s doing a bit of exercise, she’s dropped a ton of KGs (apparently the cancer was making her body do all kinds of bad stuff… she was suffering from all kinds of strange side-effects from weight gain to double vision to other unspeakable things). So she’s getting better now — great! We got a few CT scans and she looks to be in the clear. We decided we’re going to make the pilgrimage to Denver to see the legendary and venerable Dr. Liu! Thank you again to my friend Dr. Javier Bustamante for making the connection.

He’s very active on Facebook and social media too, which I like. He shares a lot of knowledge and gives a lot of people hope. I also find out that he has a HUGE CRUSH on Taylor Swift. When we’re setting up our appointment, I mention that at my agency at CAA in Hollywood, that Taylor and I have the same agent. I’m still working on hooking you up Dr. Liu. She’s really busy, you know. Don’t give up hope yet. Hey TAYLOR if you’re reading this, contact me yo! You stayed in my friend Sir Michael Hill’s home when you were here in Queenstown and saw my art on his wall. I imagine you were in some silken robe while drinking a martini and admiring it. I don’t really know if you do this or not, but I pictured it.

When we went out to Denver to see the GODKING HIMSELF Dr. Eric Liu. He walked in wearing a cape. Or well, he should have.And oh yeah, Denver has a lot of legalized pot stores. And lots of amorphous hippies wearing tube tops. There were 10 within walking distance of our hotel — the pot stores not the tube top hippies. There were lots more of those.

So we fly out to Denver to see Dr. Liu at the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center. He’s a heck of a great guy with an amazing bedside manner. He’s among the first in the USA to get this special scanner called a Gallium-68. It’s some crazy Star Trek scanner that is very good at seeing these Neuroendocrine Tumors. But the FDA hasn’t approved it yet, so we got to stand NEAR the machine. Oh, what would we do without the FDA to protect us? How about market forces? Oh well. They’re in use in many other countries. There’s even one in New Zealand. We couldn’t use that one though for some reason. It’s hard to figure all this stuff out.

But now it is finally approved. In the next two weeks, the whole family is going back to Denver to see Dr. Liu to get the actual scan. We also are going to San Francisco to try to see Dr. Emily Bergsland at UCSF. We’re making the rounds to make sure she has the best treatment!

I’ll be happy to give updates in the new year as we figure out more. Again, we ask for your support for our upcoming charity event. Grab Chatter for iOS or Chatter for Android. Find me, and have a donation or two! Thank you in advance.

Also, I know cancer has touched many of your lives. It’s good to know there’s a common warriorhood of Bodhisattva out there with us. Thanks! And a special thanks to all our friends and family that are helping us through everything.

Here is Tina is looking at her latest scan while Dr. Liu is reading some poor sop on the phone the riot act and letting his eternal fury unleash like the screams of a thousand gods.

To end, I thought I would share this. Since this is all a very unusual event for me, there are of course many options. I’m already a very zen dude. Oh, book recommendation btw: The Untethered Soul. So, it has helped me get even better with that sort of practice. Cancer is not new to my family. My dad has it. My sister has it. And, like most people, I have to deal with lots of crazy stuff the universe throws at you. Over the years, I’ve gotten pretty good at re-shifting and focusing my energy in creative ways. I’m not perfect by any means, but I’m learning. I have a massive amount of energy (read the book above to see why) — and I have to do something with it! And so then, I wanted to create something to help me (and others) understand more about life and death and what the fuck does it all mean. I had no idea what to do for a project.

Then it came to me. I have been traveling to over 100 countries around the world and capturing a ton of interesting quadcopter footage. I’ve never known what to do with it all. Then I thought I’d make a mashup. I’d mash that up with two of my other favorite things: The music of Hans Zimmer and the words of one of my favorite philosophers, Alan Watts.

This took about three months to put together, and it was during that three months before the surgery when everything was quite unsure and on edge. Maybe it some insights about our paths as we all snuggle between birth and death.

I made this video below as a gift for Tina and for you. I love her very much and I love you very much too.