Battling cancer with true grit
Feeling good isn't something Lt. Col. Mark Weber has done a lot of lately. Battling stage four neuroendocrine cancer has taken a lot out him.
But sitting in his favorite chair, he bought with money from doing a tour in Iraq a few years ago, a smile crept up on his face as he quoted Rooster Cogburn from the movie True Grit.
"Fill your hands you son of a bitch," Weber said with a laugh.
Moments later he talked about sitting his three sons down at the kitchen table to talk about his possible death.
"Death is something our family has acknowledged," said Weber.
Even though the topic has come up, Weber has hope and a fighting spirit that to this point has brought him great success in the Army.
"Anyone who knows me knows I'm a stubborn pain in the ass. I don't take no for an answer," said Weber. "This fight is no different."
Weber's story is filled with ups and downs. The current chapter started when Gen. Stanley McChrystal was relieved of his command earlier this summer and Gen. David Petraeus took over in Afghanistan. Petraeus, who had worked with Weber before, wanted him on his team in Afghanistan and asked Weber to do a year deployment. It was an incredible honor and Weber was excited to take part in the mission.
"They wanted me to be the Military Assistant to Minister Bismillah Mohammadi, the newly appointed Minister of Interior in President (Hamid) Karzai's cabinet," Weber wrote on his CaringBridge account.
However, Weber had been battling persistent fatigue and had lost a few pounds. A visit to the doctor gave him no answers other than his hemoglobin levels were low.
Nearing his departure date Weber wanted answers and got stern. Because of Weber's history of ulcers doctors decided to do an endoscopy. During the test the doctor found a fist-sized ulcer. Alarmed, the doctor ordered more blood work and an immediate CT scan.
Weber describes the results of the CT scan as a bolt of lightning. With his wife, Kristin, beside him, the doctor showed the couple Mark's liver, which was filled with tumors.
While more tests were needed the doctor told the couple he believed it was either duodenal cancer or pancreatic cancer. With tears in the doctor's eyes, Weber said the doctor told him that he thought that this was going to be the thing that took his life.
"Going from the top of the world to you're gonna die was a shock," said Weber.
In the days and weeks that followed, Weber, a father of three boys, learned that he had one of the rarest forms of cancer.
With his own true grit put to the test, Weber decided to aggressively battle his new enemy.
"I decided I needed to handle this like a deployment," said Weber.
A buddy recommended he give the operation a name so Weber named his new endeavor "Operation True Grit." In true Army style Weber's family members created a combat patch.
To go full bore at the cancer Weber underwent the Whipple Procedure, which included taking out more than 60 percent of his liver. He said his insides have been "rewired."
"It's been a rough road and I'm lucky to have made it through it," said Weber.
An old Marine colleague recommended Weber name his enemies, so he has. Weber has a long scar from the incision for his Whipple across his upper abdomen that until recently would reopen and ooze. He named it Buford. Because his pancreas is secreting a lot of fluid he also has another opening, through which he has a drain connected to his pancreas. He's named that hole Bullah.
Surgery was only the beginning. Weber said he's had just about every complication imaginable. And he has a long road to recovery ahead.
After a summer of, hell though, Weber is starting to feel better. His weight is holding steady at 130 after losing more than 30 pounds. He even felt good enough to plan a surprise party for Kristin's birthday.
Throughout his illness Weber said his wife has been a rock.
"She's one of the strongest people I know," said Weber.
When asked about the ordeal, Kristin put it in simple terms.
"It pretty much sucks."
The couple have an amazing love story. They met in the mid-90s while they were both in college. Weber was already destined to be in the military, so Kristin committed to the lifestyle. They have lived all over the country, including Washington D.C., and Alabama.
They have three sons - 14-year-old Matthew and twin 10-year-olds Noah and Joshua.
After Kristin's dad had some health issues, Weber moved his family back to Minnesota. After extensive research the family chose to make their home in Rosemount.
"We researched the crap out of the Twin Cities ... and Rosemount was where we landed," said Weber.
While Weber's cancer has been hard on everyone he said they have weathered the storm.
"Being an Army family has made us tougher than the average bear," said Weber.
The future for Weber is uncertain. Every day holds its surprises. There are still several slow growing tumors on his liver but he will have to let his body heal before doctors can go in after them.
"I don't like the thought of waiting up to a year to get back in there, but this is my reality," said Weber.
Through it all Weber maintains a fighting spirit, faith and a sense of humor.
"This is life, it just happens. God is the inspiration," said Weber.
Weber has a distinguished military career, which he started after graduating from Minnesota State University-Mankato. He has led soldiers on deployments all over the world including Iraq, Honduras, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
In 2005 Gen. David Petraeus personally selected Weber to serve as the military assistant to the Iraqi chief of defense.
Even after his cancer diagnosis he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. Weber, who works for the Minnesota National Guard, said the organization has been remarkable.
"They've been so supportive. They're like family," said Weber.
There will be a benefit to help the Weber family with Mark's medical expense from noon to 4 p.m. Oct. 23 at Rudy's Redeye Grill. The event will include food, entertainment, a silent auction and more.
For more information visit Mark Weber's CaringBridge site at http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/markmweber/.