In the summer of 2016, Sean Wachter stood at the lectern in front of friends and family to deliver the eulogy at his Aunt Robin’s funeral. She had recently passed away from bone cancer, a tragic shock to his family. Standing there, the only words that came to mind were from a rousing speech by Stuart Scott just two years before.
“When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live.”
His Aunt Robin lived, and he thought about how if he was in her shoes, he would do the same. It was a cruelly ironic foreshadow.
After a few months of sporadic fainting, Sean was rushed to the emergency room by his parents when he had a stroke. Days later, on September 26, 2016, he was diagnosed with cancer – a tumor the size of a golf ball on his cerebellum.
Within days, Sean had a procedure to remove the tumor and began radiation. He credits the radiation as a turning point. He walked into the room and his perspective immediately changed.
“I saw people my age with children as little as 3 who were in the same fight,” Sean said. “It was right then and there I said I will not feel sorry for myself. So, I calloused myself and I realized that if feeling sorry wasn’t an option, then the only other option was to fight, and do what Stuart said, ‘LIVE!’”
It wasn’t easy. About a month later, after starting chemotherapy, Sean began having intense seizures. His treatment was stopped. Next, he was told his liver was failing and he had stage 4 leptomeningeal melanoma, meaning the cancer was in his spinal fluid. He was deemed terminal and given 12 weeks to live.
But recent research had provided new options and Sean entered clinical trials. With an innovative mix of chemotherapies, the disease progression stopped. And when the disease progression stopped, Sean took Jim Valvano’s enduring spirit to heart and had ’Never Give Up’ tattooed on his arm as a constant reminder. He started coaching high school football, a game that he always loved and played in college.
Sean continued to fight and live. He reconnected with a childhood friend, fell in love and became a stepfather. He opened a coffee shop that transformed into a large business. He witnessed what he had thought was impossible, his scans showing regressions in the tumors in his brain, lungs, throat, bowels and kidneys.
Then, COVID hit.
Being in active treatment, Sean had to go under lockdown. It was for his own health, but even the treatment centers shut down for a period of time. He did not receive treatment for three months.
“When it was time to go back on the infusions once safety protocols had been established, another strange occurrence took place,” Sean said. “The latest scans showed that despite not receiving the infusions the tumors were still shrinking. Somehow, we were winning the war.”
He continued to improve his health, working out and eating healthily. His goal was to be around as long as possible, now a stepfather and partner.
On February 28, 2021, Sean got to do something no one expected. After 120 infusions, and roughly 230 weeks after he was given 12 weeks to live, he rang the bell signifying the end of his treatment.
The following year, he reached another milestone: he became one-of-one. He had a DNA test to see what the detectable level of cancer cells in his blood was – zero. He was deemed ‘no evidence of disease’, something unheard of based off his early prognosis.
A new chapter was ahead, and he was determined to continue to live, fight and inspire. His response? Let’s get back in the ring. Sean began pursuing professional wrestling, rekindling a passion from his youth. He also began giving back, doing charity events and raising money for cancer foundations. He also found out his family is growing – another blessing.
In September 2023, exactly seven years and two days after he was originally diagnosed, Sean and his wife Cindy welcomed a baby girl into their family. It’s been a long, tiring and tough journey, but what he has now he wouldn’t trade for anything.
“Cancer gave me such a beautiful outlook on life and the world around me,” Sean said. “On my second go I promised to make the most of it and LIVE and LIVE FULLY, because to do any less would be spitting in the face of anyone who ever believed in me. If by me getting cancer and how I handled it inspires at least one person to rise up and fight, then it was all worth it.”
Recently, Sean participated in a wrestling fundraiser while donning the V Foundation’s logo on his left kneepad. Through this event, he raised over $5,000 for the V Foundation, knowing 100% of his fundraising would go to cancer research.
In December 2023, he attended the V Foundation’s Boo-Yah!, a unique event that makes a significant impact on racial disparities in cancer outcomes by funding grants through the Stuart Scott Memorial Cancer Research Fund. It was fitting for him to attend an event, and raise a paddle in support, honoring the legacy of Stuart Scott.