Brad Weller diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma cancer

Contributed photo
A benefit will be held for the Brad Weller family as they navigate a recent diagnosis of Multiple Myeloma cancer. Pictured: Brad and Bridget and daughters Audrey, Maggy, Kylie, and Gracie.

By Tucker Henderson


Nothing can prepare you for the tougher trials of life, those times of loss, accidents, tragedies and even cancer. It was that unofficial diagnosis that turned the lives of the Brad and Bridget Weller family upside down early this spring.

Brad had been volunteering at the state wrestling tournament helping with the clock when his back pain, which had been consistent, became more intense. When he arrived home he told Bridget that he needed to go to the emergency room.

“Sunday is when he told me we needed to go to the emergency room and I knew that if he wanted to go to there, he was in a lot of pain,” said Bridget. “So we went in. It was more in the front of his body, the chest area, so they checked his lungs and heart. They sent him home with medication for the pain. They told us to follow up with our primary within a week if the pain was not better.”

After a week of intense back pain, Brad didn’t feel any better. Bridget called their primary care doctor’s office, not expecting to secure an appointment until later in the week. Fortunately, there had been a cancellation for that afternoon.

“She never has cancellations,” exclaimed Bridget, “Ever! So we went in and she was very concerned about what was going on. She said the next step would be an MRI. We know God’s blessings are there, God works in mysterious ways and we have to look at the little things that happened that helped us. Everything has moved so quickly through this whole process which has been absolutely wonderful because there’s not time to worry as much.

“There’s still time to worry,” she added, “but we’re very thankful and blessed that things have moved quickly and we know that Somebody has had a hand in that.”

Dr. Shaneen Schmidt, the Weller’s primary physician, had told them that insurance had two business days to approve or deny an MRI. Since the order had been made on a Friday, they had the whole weekend to wait and up to Wednesday to hear back from the insurance company. To their surprise, Brad heard back on Monday morning that the MRI was approved. He went in on Tuesday to complete the imaging.

“March 12 is when we got the unofficial diagnosis. That morning I woke up with pink eye and couldn’t see out of that eye or talk,” said Bridget. “We went to Wadena that morning and he did his MRI. I went to my appointment. I left the hospital being told it’s probably not a good idea to go back to work today. I had a sinus infection, strep throat, and pink eye. But that turned out to be a blessing.

“Within an hour of being home, we had a phone call from our primary doctor,” she continued. “She called us because she wanted to talk to us and give us the news directly. It was a blessing that Brad and I were both there to get that phone call together. I’m glad he wasn’t alone when she called. It was meant to be that we were both there.”

Brad and Bridget’s train of thought was still along the lines of a back injury. Brad had been gone from work since early March and was in desperate need of answers for his uncontrollable pain.

“We had Dr. Schmidt on speaker phone and I remember I said, ‘so if this is cancer..’” said Bridget, “She said, ‘Bridget, I’m going to stop you right there. This isn’t if…’ We were in shock, absolute shock. We had no clue that it would be a cancer diagnosis. I cried and worried.”

Knowing that they needed some initial support, Brad and Bridget told only their parents the details of the diagnosis and waited to break the news to their four daughters until they had more answers. Their pastor, Kirk Douglas, was also one of the first to hear the news.

“On Thursday night, the 14th, we needed some more pain medication, so our Dr. Schmidt called to make sure the pharmacy in Wadena would stay open,” said Bridget. “I got there and the medication wasn’t quite ready, so I was waiting and while I was waiting, our pastor happened to come up and tap me on the shoulder and said, ‘hey, what’s going on?’ How are you?’ I looked at him and smiled and said, ‘I’m good.’ I lied to our pastor! My smile turned to a very concerned face and he looked at me and said, ‘what’s going on?’

“So him and I sat down right there and dI filled him in,” she continued. “That was another one of God’s blessings. He happened to be there when I was getting pain medication, he had no clue anything was going on. He has kept a close eye on us during all of this and he’s been very supportive. He came multiple times to the hospital and has reached out multiple times and we appreciate that.”

As Brad and Bridget’s two oldest daughters were getting ready for their school band trip, they maintained the story of Brad’s back pain, which was officially, still all the couple knew about Brad’s problems. They wanted their daughters to enjoy their band trip and wanted to spare their daughters of the bad news until they knew for sure all of the details.

“We wanted them to have a great time on their trip,” said Bridget. “It didn’t make sense for them not to go on their trip. We wanted them to go and to have a great time and not to worry. We didn’t have answers yet. All of our girls knew that their dad was having a lot of back pain, that he wasn’t working, and that he was on pain medication, but they thought too that it was a back injury like we had previously assumed.”

Bridget, a kindergarten teacher at the NY Mills school, returned to work on Wednesday, March 13, getting things ready that week so that she was able to take a day or two off the next week for Brad’s appointments, the next of which was the following Monday in St. Cloud, Minn. She expected to return to her students on Tuesday, the day after the appointment.

“I was gone for an entire month,” she said. “The plan was to go down to St. Cloud for oncology on Monday, March 18. We did not make it there because on March 17, Brad had dealt with a lot of pain in that time frame and we were doing some pain medication to keep things at bay and on March 17, the pain got so bad that we needed to call 911. We are so thankful for the NY Mills responders that came and helped Brad out of the chair and onto the stretcher to go into the ambulance and the Astera Ambulance crew came out and they took him in.

“When we went into the emergency room that night, Sunday night, they admitted him to the hospital at that point,” she continued. “He spent from that Sunday until the following Sunday in the hospital trying to get that pain under control and it took almost that whole time. He was able to get released on that following Sunday because there was a pain regimen in place.”

Fortunately for Brad, Dr. Donald Jurgens, MD, the oncology doctor that he was scheduled to meet with on March 18, happened to have his bimonthly visit to the Wadena hospital, where Brad was admitted. He and Bridget were able to begin the conversation about cancer treatment with Dr. Jurgens that Tuesday.

“He comes once every two weeks and he happened to be coming to Wadena on Tuesday that 19th,” said Bridget. “It was a blessing that that was his day and he made accommodations in his schedule and came straight to the hospital to meet with us. That’s when we received the official diagnosis”

  Brad’s official diagnosis is Multiple Myeloma IgG Lambda. A cancer without a cure. The pain radiating from his back was actually a vertebra that had fractured due to the cancer’s effects.

“Dr. Jurgens told us the number one goal at that time was pain control,” said Bridget. “So he updated the pain regimen. Number two was to figure out the plan moving forward to take care of the cancer. That fractured vertabra was also a concern. Because of how the fractured vertebra was broken open, they were going to do a procedure where they could cement or glue that fracture together, but because the fracture is wide open, he’s not a candidate for that procedure because there’s not enough normal bone left.

“There’s no way to repair it besides wait for it to heal on its own, which it really can’t heal on its own until the cancer’s gone,” she continued. “There has been changes to that fracture since, it has compressed more, so there’s nothing really we can do about that fracture at this point. We have to wait for the cancer to be gone and the bone to heal on its own.”

The Wellers had shining reviews for the staff at the Astera Hospital in Wadena. Through their emergency, they felt that they were very well cared for during their time at the hospital. Brad was even transported to St. Cloud for a bone marrow biopsy to complete his necessary testing while a patient in Wadena on Wednesday, March 20.”

That ambulance ride to St. Cloud was a necessary final test result that Dr. Jurgens needed to complete Brad’s cancer treatment plan. The Weller’s daughters had come home from their band trip the day before and it was that Wednesday that Brad and Bridget decided to keep them home from school and bring them all in to the hospital to tell them the news.

“Our primary care physician came in on her day off to help us tell our girls what was going on, so we were very thankful for that,” said Bridget. “There was a lot of tears, we got some family time together. That night before we had all our siblings and their spouses come Tuesday night to the hospital and had a family meeting in Brad’s room so we could tell them because we knew we needed our family to know.

“Once we told our girls, we were ready to share with our community,” she continued. “We know we need our community, we need people, we know we need our faith, it’s one day at a time. Our community supported us, our friends, our church throughout the whole process. I can’t imagine living anywhere else besides here in NY Mills, in rural Minnesota with our supporting communities around us. People we don’t even know reached out and continue to reach out and we just appreciate that.”

As the reality of Brad’s diagnosis and the change in each member of the Weller’s lives was more fully realized in their minds, they were able to return home and take their next step.

“That following Sunday we went home with a very detailed and in-depth pain plan for what we needed to do at home,” said Bridget. “It was very overwhelming and very scary to come home, but I knew that the team in Wadena had come up with a good plan and it was good to be home.

“I did go back to work the middle of April and I worked part time. I took approximately one to two days off a week for appointments. I went back to work for some normalcy for our kids, for myself, for all of us–for my four girls–to be there for them in the building.”

Already by Monday, the Wellers received a call asking that they be in St. Cloud the following day for an appointment with Dr. Jurgens at the Centra Care Coborn Cancer Center. So, in the midst of an e-learning day for the NY Mills school and fighting the snowy weather the whole way, Brad and Bridget made their way down to St. Cloud on Tuesday morning.

“Dr. Jurgens explained his plan to us, what was going to happen and that we needed to come back again the next day. On Wednesday, we met with a whole team of people–we met with doctors, social workers, financial people, pharmacy people, all kids of people to help support this process—it was in a consult room, we had different people coming in, it was all scheduled out by the Cancer Center. They are amazing, they are so organized, so detailed, they are so kind and courteous and helpful. We never had to wait, everything was just done.”

They drove back down to St. Cloud for a third day in a row on Thursday to start cycle one of Brad’s cancer treatment. Bridget explained that currently, Brad will undergo 11 three-week long cycles of treatment, all of which are subcutaneous shots along with a chemo pill that he’s able to take at home.

“He takes an oral chemo pill which gets delivered to our house. His treatment consists of four different medications that are taken on almost every Friday and Monday and he’s still on pain medications on top of that. He is on the maximum amount of chemo they will prescribe.”

Brad started his fourth cycle of treatment this past Friday as he continues to fight against the Multiple Myeloma. Though his dosing may change and the number of cycles continues is not set in stone, he holds his head up as an example for his daughters of what strength in great tribulation can look like. 

“One of the things Brad needed during all this was radiation and we did that for two weeks in the beginning of April. We went to Dr. Hodges in Alexandria, so it wasn’t super far away. It’s a very intense treatment. It doesn’t kill the cancer, it’s to help take away some of the pain.”

Bridget said that Dr. Jurgens mentioned that oftentimes chemo and radiation are administered at separate times, but in this case, it was beneficial to undergo both simultaneously. At this time, Brad’s radiation treatments are over, but if the need arises in the future, it is still an option.

“Brad continues to get treatments on Mondays and Fridays. He does not have a port, so we’re blessed that we don’t have to worry about infections. He doesn’t have to sit for six hours getting a drip. Instead, he gets subcutaneous shots, it’s an injection,” said Bridget.  “The goal with Brad’s extensive treatment plan is to get his Multiple Myeloma into remission, or at least as close as possible to remission.  There is no cure for Multiple Myeloma, but the hope is for Brad to get back to some of his normal life activities.  How that step will look, we don’t know.  But we believe it would involve close monitoring and a maintenance chemotherapy regimen.”

A bone strengthening shot is also administered to Brad every six weeks when his calcium levels are within the right range. He took the first shot in March but had to take a hiatus from it due to low calcium levels. Now that his levels have came back up, he is expected to have his second shot before long.

The future of Brad’s treatment is a possible stem cell transplant at the M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Medical Center. Brad’s bone marrow would be cleansed and would provide the stem cells for the treatment. Brad and Bridget will be meeting with doctors to learn about the specifics and what stage of the process of remission Brad needs to be in before he might be eligible for the treatment.

“Once we have more answers, we’ll have to start trying to make those tough decisions on what that will look like,” said Bridget. “We will go down to meet with a team of doctors for an appointment to talk about what it is, how it works, when it could happen, and what it will look like. We will do what our medical team recommends.”

The Wellers emphasized their appreciation for the community outpouring of support over the past few months as well as recognizing the little blessings from God.

“Those little things were really big things,” said Bridget. “They seem like little details, but they played a really big role: the fact that our primary care had a cancellation—never does, the fact that insurance approved that MRI right away, the fact that I had pink eye. So were were together for that phone call, the fact that our pastor happened to be where I was picking up medication, the fact that we were able to stay in Wadena close to family, the fact that there’s going to be a  cancer center coming up in Wadena, all those little things.”

I don’t wish this upon anybody, but I also wish it wasn’t us,” she continued. “We have to have faith, we will take this one day at a time. We know we’re in God’s grip. As our pastor said, ‘God will only give us what we can handle today.’ All we can look at right now is today. We’ve seen the blessings along the way and we have to believe they’re going to continue.”

One of the prime examples of the community’s recent support was the high school baseball game of the NY Mills Eagles and the Wadena Wolverines on May 17. The Wellers were told to make sure they made it to the warm up for the game. To their surprise, each team members and coach on both teams were wearing t-shirts that read “Striking out cancer, one swing at a time.” The t-shirts were in support of Brad and his family.

“To be there that night was very humbling,” said Bridget. “There were a lot of wet eyes in the stands that night. That was really cool, We’re very humbled about all the outpouring and we appreciate all the support we’ve received so far and all the support in the future. This is a curveball we weren’t expecting.”

A benefit for Brad will be held on Sunday, June 9 from 3-6 p.m. at the Bluffton Community Center. A hot dog supper will be held along with a gun raffle, silent auction, split the pot and live auction. Volunteers and donations are appreciated and can be arranged by contacting Katie Uselman (218) 639-0759, Stephanie VonRuden (218) 298-1050, or Sarah Wilhelmi (218) 371-8258. A benefit account has also been set up at Magnifi Financial in NY Mills for those who can’t attend. 

Brad is not able to return to work at Arvig at this time and Bridget has taken time off of work to be able to care for Brad. The benefit will help the Weller family through this financial strain and help pay for medical costs incurred.

“We’re very thankful for all of the people who have reached out between cards, prayer, phone calls, texts, gifts, gift cards, the meal train and all of that,” said Bridget. “We’re very thankful and blessed and humbled for this benefit that’s being put on. We realize that we are definitely not the first family in our community to be affected by cancer, and unfortunately will not be the last. Our hearts hurt for everyone who has battled cancer in their family and those that it will affect someday.  And we are truly humbled and grateful for all of the love, support, and prayers along our cancer journey.”