Van Wieren thankful for good health after cancer battle
"The turkey is going to taste a little better this year," the 68-year-old Van Wieren said.
Van Wieren's life changed on Nov. 4, 2009, when he was diagnosed with cutaneous B-cell lymphoma. It was certainly a cruel twist of fate for the beloved broadcaster, who had retired just one year earlier with the desire to spend more time with his wife, Elaine, and the rest of his family.
It's safe to say there was a sense of fear and uncertainty when the Van Wierens celebrated Thanksgiving three years ago, just a few weeks after receiving the diagnosis.
"That was not my best [Thanksgiving]," Van Wieren said. "When you get that kind of news, you're shocked, fearful and apprehensive of what could happen."
Unfortunately, Van Wieren was in the early stages of what would essentially become a three-year battle. Radiation and medication appeared to kill the cancer in the months following the diagnosis, but when the cancer returned in a more aggressive form the following October, he experienced the rigors of chemotherapy. That stood as the most agonizing and painful portion of his battle.
When the cancer returned yet again around this time last year, Van Wieren continued his fight. Fortunately, he was spared the need to undergo more chemotherapy. Medical advancements allowed his last round of treatment to once again come in the form of radiation and medication.
Now, one year later, Van Wieren has regained a sense of normalcy. He served as the emcee in front of the standing-room-only crowd that gathered for Chipper Jones Tribute Night at Turner Field on Sept. 28. The next day he joined Dale Murphy, Phil Niekro, Bob Horner, Bruce Benedict and Gene Garber to reminisce with some fans about the Braves' memorable 1982 season.
And most important, he was able to do this with the confidence that he is cancer-free.
"When you go through something like this, you appreciate good health," Van Wieren said. "It's come and gone three times. I know I'm not completely out of the woods, but it feels good to know that I am cancer-free."
Van Wieren's battle did not rob him of the strong, recognizable voice that entertained and informed Braves fans for 33 years. Nor did it strip him of the will to live -- a trait he might have gained from his 94-year-old mother, who begrudgingly stopped driving only last year.
Though there certainly have been some bumps in the road, Van Wieren has made every attempt to stick to the plan he had when he announced his retirement on Oct. 21, 2008.
While winning multiple bouts with cancer, Van Wieren has found time to continue enjoying life's pleasures. With stops in Belgium and the Netherlands, he and his wife made the first of what he says will be multiple trips to Europe.
Last year he attended his 50th high school reunion, and this past summer he visited his alma mater, Cornell University, for the first time in nearly 45 years. He is looking forward to the chance to proudly celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary in two years.
"We try to plan our life like normal," he said. "If things get in the way, we adjust and reschedule. We have not allowed cancer to dictate our lives."
Van Wieren's experience has motivated him to begin telling his story while serving as a spokesman for the American Cancer Society.
"I've learned how quickly things are changing just with treatments," he said. "They keep coming up with new ways to battle various forms of cancer. I don't mind talking to people as a survivor and telling them that their dollars do make a difference. There are people who are doing some great things in the advancement of treatments."