Featured MassKicker

Tim Rappazzo

... don’t consider the treatment as all lost time, and also don’t assume the absence of happiness.

Tim Rappazzo is another athletic mAss Kicker on the front line in the fight against all forms of tumors/cancer!  Tim is a former varsity baseball captain at John Hopkins University in Baltimore. Tim has spoken at MD Anderson in Houston and Relay For Life.  He currently works at a major consulting firm in the oil and gas industry and travels frequently.  He was also featured in an article in the Baltimore Sun.  Tim and his wife recently moved to San Diego where they currently reside.  We met him through the “Master Connector”, Jonny Imerman.  Tim is constantly on the road, so we were fortunate to catch up with him and ask him a few questions.

mK: Thank for doing this Tim.  How did you find out about your diagnosis?
TR: I was 20 years old and gearing up for my junior baseball season at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. During the off-season workouts I felt a swollen lymph node under my chin and immediately went to the athletic trainer hoping to be treated quickly, to avoid missing any of the upcoming practices. An on campus doctor tested me twice for mono, and noticed an elevated white blood cell count. She referred me to a hematologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital who would diagnose me with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. I was also diagnosed a week later with the “high risk” genetic marker known as the Philadelphia Chromosome mutation (or BCR-ABL). I was very fortunate to have ended up at such a great hospital in such a short amount of time. The diagnosis of the Philadelphia Chromosome mutation was coincidentally delivered by the father of a friend from high school, who is an oncologist at Hopkins.

mK: What were your symptoms?
TR: My symptoms were very light. The week of my diagnosis, I was not only completing all of my off-season workouts but even set personal records in the squat, bench and 60 yard dash. In retrospect I had a few days of fatigue, and several mornings waking up with night sweats. But it felt as if even the doctors were surprised to see me coming in with no complaints. The day I was diagnosed the swollen lymph node had vanished as mysteriously as it had appeared and I sheepishly told the doctors I had no symptoms to report.

mK: What are you doing to fight cancer?
TR: I currently try to build personal connections and support people who are going through cancer treatments, primarily other young adults. I feel that being a young-adult cancer survivor is a unique skillset that can make a dramatic impact on someone’s life. I recall in the dark days of preparation for my bone marrow transplant, receiving a phone call from a survivor who had the same diagnosis as me and had undergone a transplant 10 years earlier. He was living a normal life and just hearing that is was possible from someone who had actually experienced the treatments made my hope more tangible. He also gave me a piece of advice I frequently share with others going through tough times: Spend some your time dreaming of what you are going to do, once you have all this behind you.

Currently I am connected with three people actively going through leukemia treatments, and two of them are connections through Imerman Angels. I have also been connected with many other survivors through First Descents, Relay for Life, MD Anderson’s Cancer 180 Symposium and through my personal network and stay in close touch with several of them.

mK: Those are great organizations! What do you do for a living?
TR: I work for Deloitte Consulting as a Tech Consultant, and specialize in implementing a supply chain software called SAP. I travel frequently and am on a plane nearly every week flying to a client site. Most people really don’t understand what I do, and consequently I’ve been accused of being a secret agent multiple times. I usually just let people believe that since they would probably think its cooler than playing around with software all day. I really enjoy what I do though, I am nerd for technology. I like building processes, and love seeing it in action when we finish.

mK: HAHAHA!  What motivates you, “Agent Rappazzo”?
TR: I have two answers for this, one is the outdoors. I am relaxed and inspired by Mother Nature, and love spending time outside playing sports, biking, hiking, camping, etc. Something about the beautiful complexity of nature makes sense for me; it is really a spiritual experience. I feel connected more to reality and see the natural world as proof of a God.

My second answer is the mAss kickers profiles. WOW, I was reading through some of the bios and obstacles that have been overcome and it is very inspiring. It reminds me of the people I have met during my personal journey, and reminds me that hardships can reveal the best in people. It really makes me want to go out there and enthusiastically live life!

mK: Who is your personal hero or are your heroes?
TR: I was blessed to be born into a large, loving family and each generation within my family has personal heroes of mine. My family was a big support group for me during my treatments and they are a big support group in times of good health as well. As a whole they are a hardworking and humble group that does the right thing for others, even if it won’t benefit them.

Within my family, my mom and dad have been an overwhelming positive influence. They have invested their lives into me, my older brother, and my three younger sisters teaching us the right way live. My mom spent nearly all of the 70+ nights in the hospital with me, and my dad visited me nearly every day as well. My wife KC (who was “just a friend” back when I was diagnosed) was a diligent visitor through that period who had a way of coming into my room and talking to me as if everything was normal. It has been a true blessing to have a partner in life as awesome as she is, and who also shared part of the experience and the emotional scarring of the leukemia treatments.

mK: What makes you laugh, cry, angry?
TR: Makes me laugh: Jim Gaffigan, The Office and Seinfeld.
Makes me cry: The news
Makes me angry: Also, the news

mK: OK, here’s another question… If you could invite 5 people to dinner at your place with your family, who would invite? 
TR: Assuming the 5 people have to be alive I’m going to go with the 5 living US presidents. We would have Italian food (because it’s the best) and I would love to hear about historical events, and also just to listen in on their conversations and insights.

I’m not particularly into politics, but I love history, and love to read books on history. Not everyone’s favorite hobby I’m sure, but I have no problem knocking out 500+ page books on history if I like the author and the subject.

mK: What is the toughest challenge a survivor faces?
TR: In general from what I have seen, the mental strain from the longevity of treatments is one of the toughest parts of cancer treatments. There is normally a wave of support pushing you through the whirlwind of initial treatments, but inevitably that slows down and you face the grind of chemo schedules, and potential isolation. It wears on you. Coming out of long treatments and being deemed “healthy” can also be a stressful and difficult time for survivors since a lot of the support disappears and it is hard to reconcile what you’ve gone through enough to function normally again. I believe support groups fulfill a critical role to help survivors not only resume life, but live life better than ever before.

mK: What is your guilty pleasure?
TR: In-N-Out Burger!

mK: Hee hee hee… We hear Shake Shack is pretty good too… If you could go back to any age you want for a month, what would you choose? 
TR: I would go back to the age of 21 and specifically to the 2010 Hopkins baseball season. I was able to return to the baseball field in 2010, and play a full season with my senior class. Going from the cancer floor back to the classroom and baseball field was such a surreal experience. I have never been as appreciative of normalcy as I was that year. Our team had an exceptional season, my grades were better than ever, and I also started dating my wife.

mK: Sounds like it was a great time! What are you up to now?
TR: After living in Maryland my entire life, I got married in 2013 and moved to San Diego where my wife is in medical school at UCSD. We spend our free time playing tennis and beach volleyball, as well as hiking and biking in beautiful San Diego. I also continue to play baseball in a 25+ men’s league.

mK: San Diego is not a bad place to be! Any advice for people or loved ones that get daunting diagnoses?
TR: I remember being devastated and intimidated by the length of treatments. I distinctly remember being told I wouldn’t feel better for at least a year. I was faced with falling behind on my life’s goals and “losing” at least a year of my life.

I learned however that it wasn’t all lost time. It was a hard period of my life by all standards, but there were times of happiness, joy and appreciation mixed in there. I have some fond memories of that year, where I was able to spend a lot of time with my parents, family and friends. I appreciated their care as I also appreciated the high quality care of the nurses, PAs and doctors. I have fond memories of recovery as well. It was true that I would not be back to “normal” for quite some time, but the slow gains of recovery, being able to eat again, drive again and regain independence were all actually very happy moments in my life. So don’t consider the treatment as all lost time, and also don’t assume the absence of happiness.

mK: Tell us something about yourself that people probably didn’t know… anything.
TR: When I was in middle school I got into the sport/hobby of airsoft (electric, gas and spring powered pellet guns) and I built a website for discussing airsoft and reviewing products. My site became popular and I was receiving airsoft guns to review and post on my website. As a result my parent’s basement is filled with airsoft guns. The hobby faded out for me once I became busy with college but that collection of airsoft guns still exists and I’ll pull them out to use occasionally.

mK: Any parting words for all the mAss Kickers?
TR: Keep kicking mAss, you are an inspiring group!

Tim Rappazzo: Airsoft mercenary, San Diego newby, In-N-Out burger fanatic, history buff, outdoorsman, “Secret Government Agent”,  and driven post treatment thriver.  Thanks for the interview Tim.  Good luck in all your endeavors!  Welcome again to sunny San Diego!  We are definitely glad to connect with you out here!

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