Where are they now? Greenwood dad of 3 continues to fight for his life

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Adam Hayden talks about his grim brain cancer diagnosis and how he lives day by day with it. Kelly Wilkinson/IndyStar

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Adam Hayden reads with his son Noah at their Greenwood home, Tuesday, June 6, 2017. He was diagnosed a year ago with brain cancer, glioblastoma multiforme.(Photo: Kelly Wilkinson/IndyStar)Buy Photo

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I get the chance to meet a lot of wonderful people in my job, but some stories stay with me longer than others. On this Thanksgiving, I am revisiting a few of those stories and the people at the center of them.

Corned beef and pastrami sandwiches from Shapiro‘s for Thanksgiving? That‘s what Adam Hayden wants, and that‘s what he‘ll get this year.

For a man who is locked in a battle with an ugly brain tumor, Hayden is remarkably upbeat. Talk to him and you‘ll hear no hint of self-pity, no trace of defeatism.

Hayden, 35, was diagnosed 18 months ago with , a particularly aggressive tumor that typically claims its victims within 15 months. U.S. Sen. John McCain was diagnosed with the same disease in July.

When I first met Hayden and his wife, Whitney, last spring, I was struck by his inquisitive mind and his good humor. We talked at the couple‘s kitchen table about philosophy and faith, kids and careers, life and love.

Stories that pulled at your heartstrings:

The Greenwood father of three young boys, who uses a cane to steady himself, worked for years as a bartender at Libertine and Bar Rev, good training for his eventual move to a graduate degree in philosophy. 

He has approached his cancer as a scientist. Research, writing and public speaking are forms of therapy, as important as the radiation and chemotherapy the doctors ordered. And he‘s using his experiences to help others. 

“I really encourage people to think about what experiences they‘ve gone through and how they can use that to help other people who may be going through something similar,” he said. “That‘s been so rewarding to me.” 

Now, while he feels strong enough, he feels the need to act with urgency, doing the  that help him cope with the disease that has left him unable to work, drive or rough-house with his rambunctious boys, Isaac, 6; Noah, 4; and Gideon, 2.

“I want to do my very best work now, today while I‘m able to.”

It would seem that the past six months have been relatively good to him. His oncologist recently congratulated him on being a “long-term survivor” (a statement that left him slightly bemused). A recent scan showed no growth in the tumor. His seizures are under control. 

But the cancer is still there. The fear is still there.

“I want to celebrate the good news,” Hayden told me over the phone last week. “No growth of the tumor is a good thing. It‘s good news for anyone dealing with advanced cancer.”

But it‘s not going away.

So neither is his drive to get research funded and to advocate for better patient care. In the past year, Hayden has given no fewer than a dozen public talks about living with cancer and end-of-life planning. And he just presented the first philosophy scholarship in his name to a student at IUPUI after supporters raised $25,000 to endow the scholarship.

“If you look at the statistics, it‘s a little surprising that I‘m in generally good health now at this stage of the disease,” he said. “I am thankful for that; it‘s a pleasant surprise.”

Since his diagnosis, relatives and a wide circle of friends have wrapped their arms around the young family — providing meals, raising money, caring for the boys, praying.

To all of them and to his IU Health medical team, he is profoundly grateful on this day of Thanksgiving. “They‘ve been by our side whenever we‘ve needed them.”

He is grateful for the time he has been given, and he‘s determined to make the most of it, by strengthening the relationships that mean the most to him.

“When it all comes down to it, when you‘re on your deathbed, what‘s going to matter most are the relationships you‘ve built and the community you‘re a part of,” he told me last spring. “What God cares about is not that you worship him, but that you are good to the rest of creation.”

Call IndyStar reporter Maureen Gilmer at . maureen.gilmer. Follow her on and .

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