It’s never easy to lose a friend to cancer. What’s it like as young adults in your 20s when your friend, also in his 20s, dies from testicular cancer? Two close friends of Max Mallory share their memories of Max during college and after his testicular cancer diagnosis in this episode of Don’t Give Up on Testicular Cancer from the Max Mallory Foundation.Support the show
Young Adults Discuss Losing a Friend to Testicular Cancer – Episode #15
testicular cancer, friendship, young adults, young adult cancer survivors, friendship, treating, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, Max Mallory, Max Mallory Foundation
00:12 Joyce Lofstrom
Welcome to Don't Give Up on Testicular Cancer where cancer survivors, caregivers, and others touched by cancer share their stories. The Max Mallory Foundation presents this podcast in honor and memory of Max Mallory, who died at age 22 from testicular cancer.
I'm your host, Joyce Lofstrom, a young adult, and adult cancer survivor and Max's mom.
Hi, this is Joyce, and I have two guests with me today. And they were very good friends of my son Max. And we want to talk about today what it's like, as a young adult, to lose a good friend to cancer. And the two people with me today are Freja Hagemann and Eric Brundidge. They knew Max through college. And so, I just want to say, Welcome, glad you could both join me.
01:07 Freja Hagemann
Thank you for having us.
Yeah. Thank you for having us.
01:08 Joyce Lofstrom
So, as we go through this conversation, we want to talk just different things about both of you and Max.
So, Erik, I want to start with you. And I know you met Max during college at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Just tell me a little bit how you met and some of the things that you remember about your time at Whitewater?
Yeah. So, I met Max sophomore year of high school in college at Whitewater in the MAGD (media arts and game development) program. I remember it quite well.
We were in the Game Zombie TV production class. So that was a news broadcast course that the school was having our department produce for them. And I was working specifically in the motion graphics team. And Max was a student producer on the program. So, he oversaw all the work that we did.
And one day he just asked me out of the blue if I would like to work on a podcast with him. So, we kind of just hit it off there. And yeah, after that, we just became roommates.
02:14 Joyce Lofstrom
Wow, I didn't know that you did that podcast. That's cool. I like knowing that.
So, you know, Freja, I know you were back here in Chicago doing your work at culinary school. And I know you and Erik have been together for a long time, too. Tell me about how you got to know Max.
02:31 Freja Hagemann
I was down here going to school. And I would go up, you know, not every weekend, but you know, some weekends, breaks, things like that. To go visit Erik.
So, it was, I think, I met Max before they were roommates, and they were roommates. But was it just senior year, Erik, or was it junior and senior?
Junior and senior.
Okay. Yeah. So, I met him. I think you guys had been friends for a bit. I remember I think at one point I visited you were actually doing the podcast I would just kind of hanging out outside while you guys were doing that.
And we. you know, we get dinner. Those late-night snack runs across campus. You know, watching movies, games, things, especially once you guys became roommates.
I mean, just really, just, it was nice too because you know, some of your, not like friends, but like people you knew in college like I would meet them and we'd be like, “Oh, yeah, hi,” you know, whatever.
But you know, Max was just very genuinely like, “Hey, nice to meet you. You know, what, what do you like to do?”
Like, very, first of all, and just really hit it off? pretty quickly. I think too.
03:45 Joyce Lofstrom
I think it's nice to, and a couple like you and Erik, and Max, who, you know, I don't know all of his girlfriend situations in college. I don't need to know. But I'm saying you know, the three of you could hang out. Not all couples would welcome another person hanging around with them. And so, I think that that's a nice thing to have, a nice memory.
So, what about now? You know each other, and then, Max. You were out of school, and you're out of school and you find out he has cancer? And I'm interested in what you both think about this only because you were, everybody was so young. You're 22. Max had started his first job, and then he's diagnosed with this testicular cancer.
And just, I'm interested in knowing what you thought, but maybe had affected or did it affect any of your friendship? Erik, why don't you start?
04:49 Erik Brundidge
Well, Max's diagnosis really didn't affect our friendship. Just because my friend had cancer doesn't mean that it changes him in any way. And it really doesn't, shouldn't impact someone's friendship. Obviously, I wanted to be there for him and support him throughout his treatment and do anything I could because that's just who I am as a friend.
05:15 Joyce Lofstrom
How about you, Freja? Anything you remember about that time? You know, like what you said, Erik, it shouldn't, didn't affect your friendship just because he was sick. But any thoughts on this Freja?
05:31 Freja Hagemann
I mean, it was definitely kind of a punch in the gut, you know, I remember. I'm sure Erik probably heard about it differently. But I had just kind of, I think he had made a post about it on Facebook. And I was just like, Oh, my God.
So just, you know, some shock there, especially because I think, and Max always talked about this, too, like, you don't hear as much about young adults with cancer. You hear about, you know, all the time, kids with cancer, which I'm, you know, I'm not discounting that at all. But you know, there's a lot more talk about that, or maybe like, Oh, my grandma has cancer or something.
But it's not really something that you think about happening as much I think, to people in their 20s.
06:08 Joyce Lofstrom
I agree. I think that's very true. And I can't remember this actual number in terms of how many young adults in the US actually have cancer, but it's more than you would think. I think it's close to 100,000. But that'd be something I need to just confirm.
But you're right, people don't talk about it, or you just don't hear about it as much when you're in your 20s. And there are people I know who have some pretty tough battles going with cancer.
I was also impressed with both of you. Max was going through chemo, and I remember you stayed with him one weekend in the hospital. You brought him dinner, I think during rehab, and I think, can you just maybe talk about, I guess, just that experience?
And you both have different skills in gifts that you gave him. I know Freja, as a chef and a culinary person, I know Max enjoyed a lot of your cooking. But just tell us more about that. Just what you brought him, staying with him and all those different things.
07:20 Freja Hagemann
I was trying to think about this, because I, you know, you kind of sent us the questions that I was like, Oh, yeah, some of that stuff I hadn't really thought about in a while.
But I remember in particular, I think we brought brownies were a big hit. It kind of seemed like, you know, there was like the never-ending train of things kind of being delivered, though. I know, when I brought those someone else had brought like lemon bars. So, it was just really nice to see, you know, the outpouring of, of support.
Because I, you know, at least in my family, food is a way that people show love.
You know, my mom's always, the first thing she'll ask me when I walk through the door is like, you know, “Are you hungry?” Like, “Do you need anything?” like, type things?
So, I think that is kind of translated to me as well. But I remember Yeah, we stayed with him. And one weekend, I think we got like Mediterranean food or something, or someplace in Evanston. I don’t remember what it was called. But it was really good.
But also, I was going to talk about, I remember, obviously, we kind of thought things were, you know, a little bit more on the upswing after he had been recovering, I think after brain surgery, about a month before he passed, and we had him over. And I remember we made fajitas. And I backed cake that said, Max Mallory Dragon Slayer on it, which was a reference to a game called that, that dragon cancer.
08:41 Erik Brundidge
Yeah, that dragon cancer.
08:42 Freja Hagemann
Which Erik can probably go into a little bit more. It's, I don't know if game is the right word for it. Really, because it's kind of more of an experience. But, you know, it was kind of saying that, you know, cancer was the dragon. And we, you know, at that point, we thought that things were, you know, going a bit better, but I was just, I mean, it's a really nice memory to have, even if things didn't go the way we were expecting them to and hoping them to. I know that was a really good day for all of us.
09:13 Joyce Lofstrom
So, Erik, why don't you tell us about the dragon slayer experience?
09:18 Erik Brundidge
Yeah, so that dragon cancer was a game that came out a little bit around that time that Max was going through his treatment. And it's an indie developer. It's an independent developer.
So basically, a handful of people developed a game about their experience with childhood cancer. It was with their son who is about four, the one who passed. The game is a fairly low-poly game. So, it's a very stylized art style. And it follows this family's journey through their son's cancer treatment and playing that game. Going through his treatment, Max asked me to play that game specifically; it was pretty hard because you know how the game ends. But every single new level, new challenge. Every scene in the game, just adds to the emotions and really puts you into that perspective of being a parent. And being so helpless with a child that young with cancer.
10:27 Joyce Lofstrom
Well, I know one of the things that Max had talked about, and I think he talked about it with you, but he had some ideas for creating his own game around cancer. Do you remember that? Or it never happened, as I remember, but anything you could share about that?
10:43 Erik Brundidge
Yeah, so the game Max was working on. before he passed, it was a Twine game. So that was just like a text adventure type game about his experience with cancer. And it was just his experiences cataloged in a text adventure game in this engine called Twine. It was one of the first engines that we learned how to use at MAGD; it's such a simple program to get a handle on. And you don't need to be an artist; you don't need to be a programmer. You just need to have the idea for a story. And that's where Max really excelled.
11:21 Joyce Lofstrom
So, text adventure means that if I wanted to call that up, if it was still around, it's all words, it's just, you know, you go through the game or the experience. Okay. All right. I'm not familiar with that. So, in terms of a text adventure game, so that's interesting to know that that kind of gaming exists, I'll call it so.
Well, now, it's a similar question, but the whole question again, around friendship, and what you both did, to support Max.
But I'll just step back a few decades, for my own cancer, I was 25, when I had cancer, the first time I had thyroid cancer, and you know, my friends, I was in Chicago by myself, I'd moved here for a job, a newspaper job. And so, I had no family here, and my girlfriends got me through it. I mean, they were with me, they, you know, went to the hospital with me, took care of me afterward, and so forth.
And so, I think, for me, my friends have always been, like my family. And I think that's how you both were with Max. And so, I just want you to talk some more about that kind of friendship and the closeness. But also, I think the role that close friends can play in helping someone navigate any kind of cancer.
But you know, Max's journey was seven months. So, which we didn't know at the time we, you know, as you know, how long it was going to be. But any thoughts either of you can share on that, just that, that close friendship, and you know, maybe what you learned from it.
13:04 Erik Brundidge
So, being one of Max's closest friends just geographically, since we were just down in Rogers Park, and he was up in Evanston, Illinois, and we weren't doing a whole lot so we could easily go up and visit him or to drive him around. Since he knew, he wasn't really comfortable driving himself. More, I think some of the other medications that he was on restricted his driving access. So, we would
just take him places, get him out of the house, and just treat him like a normal person.
I remember taking him to see the premiere roadshow for Hateful Eight, the Quentin Tarantino film. So that was a special showing. I remember taking him to the theater, paying for everything, obviously, since it was kind of a surprise. And halfway through the film, I think that there's someone, they're just reading their phone. And it's really just Max's bald head, just reflecting the light into my eyes. I'm like, oh my god.
14:07 Joyce Lofstrom
14:08 Erik Brundidge
And then, he's like, “Hey, I need to go to the bathroom.”
I'm like, “Okay.”
This is during the half-hour intermission that was a part of that, that premiere showing.
And I'm like, okay, and he's like, “Can you come with me in case I have a seizure?”
And I'm like, “Sure, like, whatever you want.”
So, I just remember standing in the bathroom corner awkwardly, just kind of like chilling’ there, waiting for him to be done. And then, we went back to the see the rest of the film.
14:36 Joyce Lofstrom
14:38 Erik Brundidge
Yeah, I really think that just treating Max with, you know, respect, giving him the privacy that he wanted or letting him tell you what help he needed. And not just trying to do everything for him as if he's a broken toy or something like that, really, really made him feel better about his whole situation.
15:01 Joyce Lofstrom
I think those are very good points. And I think they're the two things that I really keyed in on what you just said, Erik, was that he asked for help, like, go to the bathroom with me, and you were willing to go with him. And maybe that's a strong way to say it, because a good friend, it's just yeah, you want to go with him.
But I'm not sure anybody who's very sick is comfortable asking for help. And I think that's one thing that is important for patients to know, but also for friends to know, too, because I think sometimes you don't know what to do, you know, how can I help him? And it sounds like you had a good perspective on that and just got him out and did things that you would normally do, you know, movies, and so forth.
So, Freja, you probably were busy with your school, but then, do you have any thoughts about this?
15:55 Freja Hagemann
So, he actually, when he got diagnosed, I think, or no, I was still in school. I was, I finished in the fall. Sorry. I was trying to remember the exact timeline. But yeah, I was still, you know, going to classes.
But, you know, I would still hop on the train, like, you know, when we would go up and see him when he was at the hospital. But I remember one in particular, I think it was after he had the abdominal surgery to get the main tumor out.
But I remember he had told us that he went to go vote, when he's like, “If I can go vote, you know, after all this, like everybody, anybody can get out and vote, no excuses.”
And I think we ended up going to Culver’s or something after that. And you know, just kind of like a normal thing. But it's kind of like every bump in the road. I know, he could definitely feel it. Because he was, you know, still kind of healing, still the stitches and everything. But do you remember that Erik? Was it called Culver’s run?
16:53 Erik Brundidge
Yeah, it was definitely called Culver’s run because I remember that we did that all quite a bit since he had gotten used to doing that when we were up in Whitewater.
17:01 Joyce Lofstrom
Oh, true. Yeah. So Wisconsin company up there. So yeah. That was RPLND surgery that he had in March. Yeah. So yeah, that's it. That's pretty serious surgery. So that's, that's a nice escape, I guess, for him to be able to go out and do that.
So, I wanted to ask you next about what you're both doing. But I'm just thinking about the friendship topic. Because I know, Max had other friends too, from you know, middle school and college too, but I just remember you both the most. And so, it's just, I think, important.
And we were able to even after that you were there for all of us when we had the 30th birthday party for my other son, John-Mark, or John. So, I think that's, I think that's special to maintain friendships, you know, even after all of this happened with Max. So, I'm just complimenting you, because I really appreciate that we've been able to do that.
Tell me now about what you're both doing. I know you are newlyweds. So, that's wonderful news. What what's going on with your career?
18:13 Freja Hagemann
Well, I've been about a year-and-a-half now. I took a job working for European imports. They're owned by Sysco, the food distributor.
Yeah, so I work in inside sales, which is kind of, it's not so much like, you know, sometimes you have inside sales positions, and it's like, oh, you're going to be cold calling all day. It's not that sort of thing.
It's much more like a kind of a customer service type role. But you know, all kinds of stuff, everything from, you know, making sure that our customers get their orders and on time, and you know, everything runs smoothly, you know, the trucks are running and, you know, even to things like maybe they get the wrong item or something, then, you know, we work on, you know, credit for that.
So, it's really just the whole process of making sure that the customers are happy, and they get quality products.
So, I've been working from home pretty much through the entire pandemic. I think it was like maybe the third or fourth week in March. But yeah, so still, you know, not so much in the kitchen as I used to do. But I really enjoy, you know, the stability and the ability to kind of learn, you know, new aspects of the food industry as well.
19:29 Joyce Lofstrom
I was going to say, you're using your culinary skills as well as business.
So yeah, yeah.
Erik, how about you?
19:38 Erik Brundidge
So, I'm working at a 3D printing reseller called Dynamism, which is in downtown Chicago, as the head of the customer support and applications team. So, I help people with their 3D printers, either if it's not working, or if they're trying to push the limits of what they can do with that technology.
It's definitely not what I saw myself. doing, you know, five years after college. But it's definitely something that I've enjoyed doing, especially with how the pandemic kind of played out. I was helping frontline, people trying to help frontline workers get PPE during the shortages that were happening it at the very beginning, where 3D printing really stepped up and became an alternative manufacturing method for a lot of people.
20:28 Joyce Lofstrom
I think you, and as an industry, that's, as we all know, it's a cliche to even say it, but it's what's going to inform the future in so many things. So, I think that's wonderful. And your technology skills, I'm sure, add to that, that job and what you can do with it. Are you still doing any game development or any of that on the side?
20:50 Erik Brundidge
I've kind of stepped away from game development, I just haven't had time to really put down that kind of focus. And I just haven't really thought about making games very recently.
21:04 Joyce Lofstrom
No, that makes sense. You're kind of off into a new industry. So, that's good.
And my last question is about, again, what advice both of you would have for any young adult who might encounter a friend with cancer that needs help? or want support? What advice would you give to them? To support that friend.
Freja, do you want to start?
21:35 Freja Hagemann
I mean, I think the biggest thing too, and you know, you're talking about, you know, Max, asking for help. I think is important to listen to them. And, you know, maybe ask them what they need, versus just assuming, you know, or, you know, maybe not knowing and then being afraid to ask, you know. I think just really, you know, really listen, and find out exactly the best way that you can help them.
And, you know, if especially something like Erik was talking about, you know, treating them like a normal person. I know, a lot of people have said, you know, people might be, they're sick, or they have some sort of, you know, disability or something. I think a lot of people want to be treated, you know, just normally. They don't want to, have, for example, cancer be the first thing that people always think about.
I think you should remember that you know, they're your friend, and a person first, and they, they have cancer, but they, it's not, it's not, you know, all they are.
22:36 Joyce Lofstrom
That's good advice, I know. Erik, how about you?
I have to echo that. Really just being a friend to someone with cancer is just being there. And understanding that they may need help. But don't try to like wedge yourself in there to kind of provide help when they're not asking for it.
Otherwise, they might just get upset with you or just get frustrated with you just treating them differently. Treat them like you did before their diagnosis. It's not difficult to support someone with cancer as long as you're there listening to them, and just offering yourself as someone to help them.
23:18 Joyce Lofstrom
I like that from both of you. That's a good way to end our conversation.
I appreciate that you could join me to talk about just your experience supporting Max with cancer and advice for other young adults who might be listening too. So, maybe we can do another program down the road. And I just wish you both the best. So, thank you.
23:41 Erik Brundidge
23:43 Joyce Lofstrom
Thanks so much for joining me today on Don't Give Up on Testicular Cancer from the Max Mallory Foundation.
We have a website. It's at maxmalloryfoundation.com, where you can learn more about testicular cancer, donate, and also, send your ideas for guests on the podcast. And for spelling, Mallory is m-a-l-l-o-r-y.
Please join me next time for Don't Give Up on Testicular Cancer