Tate Landin was 23 and training for his first deployment with the U.S. Army when he began to notice his brain tumor symptoms.
“About once a month I would smell this sharp, metallic scent and my arms would tingle,” Tate says. He would later learn the brief episodes were symptoms of a left temporal lobe brain tumor, but at the time, he was diagnosed with anxiety attacks and cleared for duty.
Tate deployed to Afghanistan as a first lieutenant in October 2012. He and his wife, Jessica, had welcomed their daughter, Abigail, into the world just a few months earlier. Soon after arriving on base, Tate noticed his symptoms were getting worse. He was told that further evaluation would require a trip to Germany, where the Army had more sophisticated diagnostic equipment. But before he had a chance to make the trip, his convoy was hit by an IED. One of Tate’s friends, a staff sergeant who was driving the truck in front of him, was killed in the blast. Tate decided that staying with his unit was more important than traveling to Germany for testing.
“I volunteered to drive the lead truck after that,” Tate says. “I knew something was wrong with my health, but I didn’t want to leave.” He completed his nine-month tour of duty and returned home to Texas, safe, but not quite sound.
A new battle: glioblastoma
“He came home from one battle to fight another,” Jessica says. A few months after Tate returned home, she received a frightening phone call from him.
“He called me as he was driving, and he was speaking gibberish. He could understand me, but the only words he could say clearly were ‘yes’ and ‘no,’” Jessica says. She found Tate on the side of the highway and took him to the ER. When the doctors said Tate was just dehydrated, Jessica asked for a CT scan. It revealed a mass in Tate’s brain, which was initially diagnosed as arteriovenous malformation. A biopsy later revealed Tate actually had stage IV glioblastoma, an aggressive brain tumor.
Local doctors said the glioblastoma was too deep in Tate’s brain to safely operate, but Tate and Jessica wanted a second opinion. A friend referred them to MD Anderson Brain and Spine Center, where they met neurosurgeon Sherise Ferguson, M.D., in February 2014. Tate’s tumor was located in the eloquent cortex, a region of the brain that controls speech, motor functions and the senses. Ferguson was experienced with operating in this region, and she scheduled a craniotomy for the following week.
The Landins went home to pack up and prepare for Tate’s surgery, but his mental status abruptly declined before they were scheduled to return to Houston.
“He suddenly couldn’t tell what was real and what wasn’t real,” Jessica says. She called Ferguson and drove Tate straight back to MD Anderson.
Healing from glioblastoma surgery
After the 20-hour surgery, Tate continued to struggle with a sense of unreality, along with weakness in his arms and legs. He couldn’t sit up without help and could barely keep his eyes open.
“It still felt like a dream,” Tate says. “I thought it wasn’t real.” At first, the only thing that could hold his attention was a video of his daughter. Through physical and occupational therapy, he gradually built strength and eventually transferred to San Antonio for outpatient rehabilitation with the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Sam Houston.
“When we drove into San Antonio, I knew it was all real,” Tate says. “I’d never been to Houston before we came to MD Anderson, but I grew up outside of San Antonio and recognized the city.”
Have faith and work hard
Tate successfully completed 23 months of rehabilitation in April 2016. Jessica says her attitude is the same now as it was when Tate was deployed: “I can’t give in to fear or worry. I have to cast my cares on God and not worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will take care of itself.”
Over the past two-and-a-half years, Tate has re-learned to sit, stand and walk on his own, while taking chemotherapy to control the growth of his tumor. He continues to gain strength and enjoys walking, biking and swimming every day at home.
“I’ve already surpassed what a lot of doctors and therapists thought I’d be able to do,” Tate says. “Every time someone says, ‘I don’t think you can do that,’ I think, ‘Really?’ It makes me work even harder to reach my goals.”
Tate’s current goal is to be able to run by the end of year, and he already has his sights set on entering a sprint triathlon when he achieves it.
“Don’t worry about if you’re going to die or not,” says Tate, whose tumor remains stable under the continued care of Shiao-Pei Weathers, M.D. “You don’t know when you’re going to die. Just work hard every day – whether you’re sick or not.”