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Local exec battling cancer makes progress, talks making the most of each day

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Rich Tennessen is a father, he’s the president of one of the largest architecture firms in the state (EUA), he’s very involved in the community, and as of about seven months ago, he is living with an incurable form of cancer. 

Like clockwork every Wednesday morning, as he went through chemo and a three-week hospital stay where he underwent CAR T Cell therapy, Rich would fire off group texts that I was fortunate enough to be a part of. They featured a message from Rich as well as a song of the day. On April 14, at 6:37 a.m., on his thirteenth day in the hospital, he sent off the following message: 

“I look out my window and see Children’s Hospital and two flight for life helipads. I wonder about everyone’s stories and the randomness of it all. We all have a clock, but it’s not until you experience a life changing event that you become more acutely aware of how you spend your time. My hope for everyone is that we all take time to appreciate that each day is a gift and we make the most of life, because none of us truly know how much time is left on our clock.” 

On the podcast, I asked him to elaborate on this message and how he has chosen to remain positive through his journey with cancer while the rest of us continue to get stressed out and anxious about minute details and events of day-to-day life that really have no meaningful impact. He responded to my question by saying:

“I’m thankful. Not that I got the disease, but that I’ve got time. It changes the way you react to certain things. Something changes where you appreciate everything, and you appreciate the little things more. I feel fortunate; I don’t know how much time I have, but I do have time. Some people get (life) taken away from them in an instant or in a few months. None of us know when it’s going to be over, so we should really all have that attitude. Sometimes you look at life, and you’re like ‘where did that time go’ most of the time; we just go through the day and don’t appreciate the day."

Luckily for Rich, along with his positive attitude, he is in great hands with Dr. Parmeswarn Hari at the Medical College of Wisconsin. Dr. Hari is rated one of the top doctors in America and started the Celgene bb2121 Car T Cell Clinical Trial right here in Milwaukee. Rich is only the sixth person in the world to get it.

Essentially the treatment takes a patient’s T cells that are ineffective to treat myeloma and reprograms them genetically to convert the cells into supercharged, highly efficient T cells that can target and destroy every last myeloma cell. Approximately 450 million cells were pumped into Rich’s body. It’s living cell therapy, and Dr. Hari is optimistic that many cancers will be cured this way in the next 20-25 years; right now, only three cancers can get treated like this. 

Dr. Hari and Rich both advise that, if you think something is wrong with you, see a doctor as soon as possible as many of us procrastinate and wait until later stages to get looked at – and our health is the most important thing we have. 

Make sure to listen to the full episode. And for Rich’s past episode when he talked about his diagnosis in January.

Richie Burke

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