Feb. 16, 2017 —
Robert Brandt’s stomach pain could have been the death of him.
He woke up one sunny morning in early March 2016 to discover the recent pain in his stomach was still there. A healthy, physically strong man, he thought he had pulled a muscle working out at the gym. He was not planning to go to the doctor, he recalls, but at his wife’s urging, he made the trip to get checked out. That decision may have saved his life.
At the doctor’s office, Brandt answered some basic questions, got blood taken and underwent a CT scan. When the doctor returned, the news was not good. Brandt had stage 2-3 seminoma, a treatable but aggressive cancer of the male reproductive system.
“My first thoughts were on my family,” Brandt said. “What will they do if I die? What can I do to make sure they have a good life if I should die? And if I die, what legacy would I leave behind for them? It was almost as if my whole life literally flashed before my eyes.”
Brandt has been a DLA employee for the past four-and-a-half years. As an asset management team lead in Information Operations in New Cumberland, Pennsylvania, the Army veteran from Harrisburg works in a fast-paced environment overseeing the distribution of IT equipment for 40 sites all over the world.
Before coming to DLA, he lived the life of an Army M1 crewman for 15 years. But all those hot, smelly, tired, overworked days as a tanker would be no match for the grueling physical and mental challenge he was about to endure.
He needed chemotherapy to kill the cancer cells. It was time to buckle down and start fighting, he thought. Ask those who have been through chemotherapy, and many will say you get over the loss of hair, appetite and weight, but the debilitating sense of fatigue is inescapable. Brandt said dealing with the roller coaster ride inside his body — the sense that it is dying then coming back to life — made him feel useless.
“When you’re used to being strong and you turn into this weak person, it does a number on your psyche.”
While he forgot how it felt to be strong and healthy, he didn’t forget the advice he received to never give up. That no matter how hard life hits, to hit back harder. He didn’t forget to hold on to his loved ones such as his wife Shahe — “my rock” — and his 10-year-old daughter Jasmina.
“Jasmina is always in my thoughts during treatments,” Brandt said. “I thought to myself ‘Have I given her the tools to set her up for success? And if I beat this disease, what can I do to make her life better?’” Brandt said. “She often draws me pictures of how much she loves me and wants me to get better. Jasmina is intuitive and a caring person. I tell her that Daddy is strong and that nothing can keep him down.”
Through this ordeal, if there is one thing Brandt has learned, it’s how strong and resilient he is. Every 20 days, he makes the trip to the hospital and begins seven straight days of treatment. Five days of chemotherapy, one day of receiving fluids to counteract the toxicity of the chemo on his kidneys and then the trip home. There were times he said he wanted to just give up and give in, but the workout warrior found his inner strength and pushed through.
“No matter how much you were bent, compressed or stretched to your limits, only you have the power to bounce back from adversity,” Brandt said. “Only you have that power to become stronger, wiser and more personally powerful. This is important to me because this is what we all need to do when faced with life’s inevitable difficulties.”
The fight goes on in Brandt’s new world. He is still actively living with the diagnosis every day. He has a scan later this month to determine the next steps. He goes back to work as much as he can but gets tired very easily. He said his determination and good spirits keep him going, and the support of his wife is the foundation of his recovery.
“She is always positive, motivating me and telling me things are going to be okay,” Brandt said.
And if it wasn’t for her, he acknowledges that he might not be here today. She was the one who insisted he go visit the doctor back in March.
“I owe my life to her, because if I’d let this go, it could have been worse.”
The outpouring of support from his colleagues at DLA is not lost on Brandt as he reflected on the past year. He said no matter the obstacle, the organization sets him up for success and helps his family. On the days he can barely walk to the bathroom, he is able to telework. Whatever he is facing, the agency supports his good and bad days alike.
“DLA has been a huge help on this journey. They have supported my family 110 percent, and I am very proud to be employed with such a great organization. My supervisor, Randy Yontz, has always set me up for success when I have returned [to work].
“I am happy to be serving the warfighter with such an outstanding and caring organization,” Brandt said. “I love my job, and I love working for DLA."