Dr. Chet Wyman Fights, Overcomes Cancer


“You could be dead by Monday.”

(Courtesy of Chet Wyman)

Those are the words Dr. Chet Wyman has carried with him since his first cancer diagnosis in 2011, spoken by a hematologist at the hospital where he works.

Wyman, 62, is a physician, educator, nationally recognized speaker and a member of the department of anesthesiology and critical care medicine for Johns Hopkins Medicine. He is also a two-time cancer survivor and a member of the Jewish community, having attended events with Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, Baltimore Hebrew Congregation and other organizations. He lives in Pikesville with his partner, Robyn Schaffer, and said he is planning on getting more involved with The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore.

Like many in the medical field, Wyman had his own health on the back burner while he dedicated his time and energy to his patients. In 2011, people started telling Wyman that he looked pale. Personally, he felt fatigued, a little tired sometimes.

“I blew off fatigue and looking pale as just being a physician and working hard with little sleep and not eating well,” Wyman said.

One day at work a nurse pulled him aside, asking “Dr. Wyman, can I talk to you?”

“Nobody calls me Dr. Wyman unless I’m in trouble,” Wyman said.

The nurse encouraged him to look into getting his blood checked because he was alarmingly pale. Wyman contacted his doctor, and the doctor ordered him to have a complete blood count test.

After the test, Wyman was contacted swiftly with the results, which told him that he had a decrease in all three blood cell types, a condition known as pancytopenia. The hematologist looking at his slides believed he had leukemia and wanted him to get a bone marrow biopsy urgently. But Wyman was supervising four operating rooms and wanted to drive himself to the biopsy. Urgency sunk in when the hematologist told him an ambulance was coming and that he would have to be accompanied to get his things because his platelets were so low that if he were to fall and hit his head he would die.

Four years later, after an intense regimen of chemotherapy and biopsies, Wyman was reflecting on his diagnosis of leukemia and journey so far when he made the decision to get in shape.

He was sitting in the lounge with some of his friends and coworkers when the topic came up, and positive peer pressure took hold.

Two urologists and several nurses joined him in triathlete training.

“I got in incredible shape. I became an athlete,” Wyman said. “I didn’t even know how to swim properly. I had to learn how to run, but it became my life — working out and eating healthy.”

Soon Wyman found himself able to go longer distances, tackling 5Ks and 10Ks. The group continued to train together with hopes of taking on the Disney World half-marathon together.

Wyman’s strength in body, mind and spirit was tested again in 2018. He was preparing for the half-marathon and had just run the Charles Street 12, a 12-mile run down Charles Street. This time it started with missing keys while typing, the last two fingers on his right hand would drop and hit the wrong keys. He noticed occasional numbness in his right arm when he woke up some mornings.

After consulting a neurologist and a hand surgeon, he was scheduled for a cubital tunnel release. A cubital tunnel release surgery relieves pressure on the ulnar nerve, which passes behind the elbow. A week after the operation, Wyman suffered a seizure in his arm.

“It scared the hell out of me, but I thought it was just related to the block from the anesthesia,” Wyman said.

Wyman had a second seizure in his arm on December 24, 2018. This time, he called an ambulance. By the time he arrived at the hospital, he was having trouble speaking. A CT scan revealed a tumor on the left side of Wyman’s brain.

“After that, everything got really fuzzy,” Wyman said.

Surgery to remove the tumor came swiftly; the surgeon was not certain yet if it was a glioblastoma or a lymphoma. The difference, Wyman said, is life and death. Glioblastoma is considered the deadliest human cancer and one of the most treatment-resistant cancers, according to the National Brain Tumor Society.

After a tense night of waiting, Wyman received a call from the pathology department that his tumor had been a lymphoma. That night he started chemotherapy for the second time in his life.

But cancer couldn’t beat Wyman’s fighting spirit; he was determined to stay on track for his fitness goals. He continued running, working out and going to the gym even in the hospital.

“Cancer is a fight, and you don’t come to a fight sitting on the couch,” Wyman said. This advice he received from a friend has stuck with him.

However, Wyman struggled as he delved into the medical literature surrounding PCMS lymphoma, learning that the average survival was only two years. But Wyman responded well to chemotherapy, and his doctor offered friendly advice to stay away from the literature and statistics.

“I did everything I could to stay in shape, to stay alive,” Wyman said.

That was four years ago, and now Wyman is coming up on his fourth year post-stem cell transplant. Wyman is also once again training for the Disney World half-marathon, this time with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, as part of their Team-in-Training. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society has helped advance nearly half of FDA-approved blood cancer treatments in the past year, according to their website. Team-in-Training is LLS’s flagship fundraising program.

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