Eppstein Uhen Architects president Rich Tennessen made it clear up front that he is ready and willing to talk about his experiences after being diagnosed with a form of blood cancer in early December.
He wants to share and hopes that will help others learn a few lessons he has gleaned. One of those is don’t avoid seeking testing or medical support if something seems off. Another is: Don’t delay.
“Do I have two years, five years, 30 years? I don’t know, so you become more aware of how you spend your time,” Tennessen said in an interview with the Milwaukee Business Journal. “We all have a clock, and if you want to make changes in your life, it shouldn’t take a diagnosis like this to prioritize, or think about how you treat others, or whatever the case may be. None of us know how much time we truly have.”
Tennessen, a high-profile local executive, learned of his multiple myeloma cancer, which affects blood cells, after being tested on Nov. 30. He went in for blood tests after months of experiencing fatigue and shortness of breath. His doctor called him the evening of the test and told him to go to the hospital without delay.
“I should’ve went in probably six months earlier, certainly three months earlier, to get checked out,” Tennessen said. “The symptoms were there, but they get masked in different ways.”
Tennessen is now about halfway through 16 weeks of chemotherapy, and from there will move to a treatment option intended to put the cancer into remission.
He is being treated by Froedtert Health and the Medical College of Wisconsin. Eppstein Uhen coincidentally designed some of the Froedtert labs and other building spaces where Tennessen could receive the next step of his care.
“I’m not going anywhere,” he said. “Nobody knows for certain, but it has a positive outlook in terms of being able to get through it and extend my life, so that’s a good thing.”
Tennessen, 53, continues working remotely for the Milwaukee architecture firm, one of the city’s largest. Soon after his initial diagnosis, he opened up to employees during a video call meeting to let them know the subject isn’t taboo.
“I wanted to break down those barriers,” he said. “People share different stories, and it was really great to connect that way. Hopefully people have some takeaways as part of this as we go through it and talk about it.”
Tennessen also spoke about the experience on The GoGedders Podcast run by his friend Richie Burke, president of GoGeddit Marketing and Media in Milwaukee. Tennessen has been contacted by six people who scheduled appointments with doctors after hearing the podcast since it went live on Thursday.
“If I put myself out there as vulnerable and open, it really helps open up engagement,” Tennessen said. “We’re all human, and it’s having those personal discussions and sharing experiences and trying to help each other, instead of trying to put down each other, this in a way is the antithesis of what’s happening in social media these days.”
Tennessen said he’s using his time to continue working, but preparing to do things with his family now, rather than putting them off to post-retirement.
“I was having breakfast with my wife this morning, and I said we’ve got to really look over the next couple of years and look at our travel bucket list and some of the other things we want to do, and let’s do them,” Tennessen said. “You’re trying to live in the now a little bit more.”