“You have 2 years to live.” Tommy Kim couldn’t believe what the doctor was telling him. What started as a little double-vision had now turned out to be highly-aggressive stage 4 brain cancer. He was only 33 years old. He’d just moved to a new town where he didn’t know anybody. But Tommy is not one to let bad news bring him down. After all, he remembered the last time doctors had delivered ill tidings. He proved them wrong then. He would prove them wrong again.
Tommy was born in Atlanta, GA to Korean immigrants. By the age of 22 he had earned a bachelors degree in biology. Instead of furthering his education or pursuing a cushy career, he chose to enlist in the U.S. Army after the 9/11 attacks. Tommy served 2 tours. Between the harsh terrain and a deadly enemy, he faced the relentless, untold horrors of war. In 2006, Tommy was on a mission that required his unit to scale a high mountain side. As he climbed higher, the rocks became more treacherous. He made a costly mistake of taking a wrong step as the terrain started to shift. The rocks crumbled beneath him. The weight of his pack pulled him back. He lost his balance and fell 30 feet, bouncing off rocks as he flew down the mountainside. Then, darkness.
The next thing Tommy remembers is waking up at a hospital in Germany. Doctors told him he was paralyzed. He would never walk again. But Tommy marches to the beat of his own drum. After 6 weeks of no feeling, Tommy felt a burning sensation in his legs. His nerve endings were starting to react. He refused to accept his diagnosis. He was determined to re-learn how to walk. It wasn’t easy. He went from a bed, to a wheelchair, to a walker, to crutches, to a cane. Then, 11 months later, Tommy was walking. It wouldn’t be the last time Tommy defied the odds.
After being medically discharged from the Army, Tommy got right back to work. He returned to school and got his Masters in Anesthesiology. In October 2013, he moved to Austin, TX to pursue an amazing job opportunity. “Austin is perfect for me. A great, beautiful city with a great variety of people… Great food… Great landscape… Great music… What’s not to love?” Tommy told us. (And we agree!)
Tommy had successfully flipped what was once a tragic prognosis into a positive, exciting new life. Until January 2014, when Tommy began having double vision. He went to the doctor, where an MRI revealed a 6 cm lesion in his left occipital lobe. A biopsy soon confirmed it was stage 4 glioblastoma, the most aggressive form of brain cancer. The doctors told Tommy he had just 2-3 years to live. That is what they have seen with typical patients once they are diagnosed. But Tommy is anything but typical.
This Army veteran survived hell. He fell from a 30-foot cliff and lived to tell the tale. He didn’t listen when he was told he’d never walk again. He now faces his greatest struggle yet, and he’s still not listening. Tommy is one of the most positive guys you’ll ever meet. He does things his own way and always with a grin on his face. He has that unquantifiable ability to walk into a room and immediately he is the life of the party. This is his Book, and he’s going to write it how he wants.
In February 2014, Tommy underwent brain surgery to have the tumor completely removed. The surgery was followed by intense radiation and chemotherapy. If you know anything about that kind of treatment, it basically makes you constantly nauseous. As your appetite vanishes, eating becomes a chore and a lot of what you eat comes back up. So, what was Tommy doing when his medication made him feel sicker than he’d ever been? He was hitting the gym, working on his mental and physical health. The guy is a machine. Tommy’s doctors have told him physical fitness is essential for his fight against cancer as well as his continued fight to strengthen his body from when he was paralyzed. At Chive Charities, part of our mission statement is to help disabled veterans with quality of life enhancements. We are proud to announce that, thanks to your donations to the Chive Fund, we purchased home gym equipment for Tommy and well as a year of chemo (more on that below)! Tommy says this will make sticking to his health goals a lot easier, because driving back and forth to a gym tends to make him feel especially sick.