Celebrates 10 Years of Cancer Survivorship
by Julie McKenna
Wayne Osmond has a lot to celebrate these days. He and his brothers, Merrill and Jay, continue to enjoy success as the Osmond Brothers, entertaining audiences around the world for over 40 years and counting. Wayne and his wife, Kathy, have five children and four grandchildren who are all sources of endless delight. And Wayne is celebrating his 10-year anniversary as a cancer survivor after having been told his brain tumor was fatal.
Even though Wayne knew he had cognitive problems from a brain tumor since he was a child, he noticed a dramatic change for the worse while he was on tour with his brothers in 1994. “One day when I was working in Branson, I noticed I couldn’t play my saxophone anymore because my head would start throbbing,” Wayne recalls. “And my knees would fall out from under me when I was on stage. This all began happening within a week.”
When he and his brothers had a break during the tour, Wayne flew home to Utah to see his doctor and have an MRI. Even after being referred to a specialist, no one knew exactly what was causing his symptoms. Wayne’s brother, Merrill, suggested he go see his friend, Dr. Henry Friedman at Duke Medical Center. So with his MRI in tote, Wayne flew out to Duke immediately.
At Duke, Wayne met with Dr. Henry Friedman and his colleague Dr. Alan Friedman (no relation). “The two of them got together and looked at my MRI and they immediately recognized that there was something wrong,” remembers Wayne.
“I’ve been enlightened. And now I look back at it and I think to myself, I’m glad that I got cancer. Isn’t that something?"
Wayne continues, “I was diagnosed with ependymoma – a childhood cancer that is very fatal for kids. It was located up behind my cerebellum. For where it was it was pretty big – it was an inch around and two inches long.”
Wayne was immediately scheduled for surgery where Dr. Alan Friedman spent 17 hours removing the cancer. “Alan took out the primary tumor, but my cerebellum was full of fingers where the cancer had spread,” says Wayne. “That’s why I was falling over – because the fingers were way up inside. There were hundreds of them. And Alan stood there for hours and hours just pulling out all those little fingers. He got 97 percent of it out. He’s a great surgeon.”
After surgery, Wayne underwent six weeks of radiation and then Dr. Henry Friedman took another MRI. Wayne recalls, “He was holding up the MRI and he looked at me and then back at the MRI, and I thought, Oh no, I’m a dead man. So I asked if everything was OK. He looked at me and said, ‘Oh yeah. When you first came here and we looked at your MRI, we started calling you Dead Man Walking. But now we are going to start calling you the Miracle Baby; your cancer is gone.’”
Wayne was quick to recover physically and mentally after treatment. “I went back to performing six months after I was diagnosed. I wore my cowboy hat on stage since all of my hair had fallen out from radiation. But after a while it grew back.”
Wayne drew strength from his family during his surgery and treatment and found that his relationships grew stronger and more meaningful. “The greatest part of all this is that I’ve become even closer with my sweetheart, Kathy,” Wayne says about his wife of 30 years. “She’s an absolute angel. I’m a very, very blessed man. That’s what I am.”
Reflecting on his cancer experience, Wayne says, “I’ve been enlightened. And now I look back at it and I think to myself, I’m glad that I got cancer. Isn’t that something? It really opened up my eyes. It made me realize that life really is important. And I’m only 52 years old – I hope I can go another 52!”
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This article was originally published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, July/August 2004.