Tuesday, March 25, 2014


"Family First." I tell that to all my writers. When we have deadlines at BYB and something goes down in a writer's immediate family... they are told to deal with it... BYB can wait.  I've always said that and I'll never stop saying it.  I do it because our readers will understand. When things settle down in our real families... we come back to the BYB family... we always do.  That's love.

In one's life, there are many challenges.  Sometimes these challenges come without warning.  Cancer has affected millions of people around the globe.  No one knows when it's coming and it's one of the hardest diseases to find a cure for.

My friend Lisa Varga told me the story of her brother Shane recently.  Shane was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma.  Now, when many hear that, a sadness comes over them.  I was touched to find out that not only was it shocking to get the news that Shane had cancer, but something else happened;  Shane fought back...hard!  He didn't want to let it devastate his family. He simply wanted to beat it. Courageous.

The fight for Shane was not easy.  At one point, his back was against the wall.  As Lisa told me in my conversation with her recently, Shane was told finally, "We have one last resort and it's the only one left."  That last resort was a Stem Cell Transplant and knowing what I know about Shane Varga... he wasn't about to go quietly.  He battled with his family by his side and a lot of faith and a lot courage came with it.  I am happy to say, that right now, Shane's in remission... but who knows what would have happened if he sat back and let cancer take it's course.

I watched this video of Shane the other day and was blown away. The full video is HERE, courtesy of TJ Jorgensen and TJ21 Media Group.  TJ and Shane are close friends. When I asked about how we could show this video to the BYB audience, there was no hesitation. There was eagerness to get the word out by TJ.  Many surrounded by Shane love the man and are willing to help out any way they can.  Needless to say, Lisa, TJ, Shane and I have become fast friends over the past few weeks.  It's crazy how things work out, but here we are, talking about a huge Yankee fan named Shane Varga and his determination to beat cancer.   Because of it, I knew I had to interview Shane for our Bleeding Yankee Blue audience, because be it the baseball field or life, there's a valuable lesson here.  Never give up.

It's my absolute pleasure to introduce you to 2 people I consider friends.  Shane and Lisa Varga, brother and sister and terrific individuals with a lot of hopes and dreams... Oh yeah, and they're HUGE Yankee fans... that's helps too.

Enjoy this interview, I certainly did:

BYB: Shane, tell us when you realized that something was wrong?

Shane Varga: It was 2009.  I was at my friend TJ's house and I felt a big lump as I was scratching my neck.  I checked the other side of my neck and there was nothing there.  I thought 'God usually puts things in pairs', so I knew something was wrong.  I remember leaving abruptly and getting home to my wife and said, 'Hey, would you mind checking this out? Something doesn't seem right.'  I had no idea how serious it was, I just knew there was something there that wasn't supposed to be there.  Later, my doctor said he wanted me to take more tests. He was worried about it.  I went home and did an Internet search and found that the diagnosis was Hodgkin's lymphoma.  My heart sank.

BYB: What was your immediate reaction?

Shane VargaI took my 10 seconds to think about things and get mad but my immediate reaction was, 'This is what it is, and this is what we're going to do about it.' 

(In Photo: Lisa & Shane Varga)
BYB: Shane, I watching your interview with TJ Jorgensen, I saw that you didn't tell Lisa right away about what was going on? Why?

Shane Varga: So many times I wanted to tell her, but Lisa was working on a film. She’s an actress and everyday she’d tell me about how exciting her day was on a movie set and I just didn't want to ruin it for her because I knew if I told her,  she’d quit the film right then and come home.

Lisa Varga: I was on my Facebook and received a message from someone saying ‘I'm so sorry to hear about your brother. Let me know what I can do.’  It was then that my Mom told me to call Shane. Shane broke the news to me and I cried so hard.  I pulled myself together and said I'm coming home.  Shane said to finish the movie first.  I did. Then I came home and 5 years later I'm still here!  My thinking was ‘This was my buddy that I grew up with and my best friend.'  I just knew I needed to be there for him.

BYB: Tell me about the treatment and how your family came together through the Yankees?

Shane Varga: I had 6 rounds of Chemo. Each round consisted of 2 treatments.  It took me about 3 weeks before I started getting sick.  There was vomiting and nausea as you can imagine.  After I finished Chemo, I then had 22 consecutive days of Radiation therapy. The treatment is far worse than the disease.  The support of my family and friends was so great. It's so important to me.  The main thing was to fight to stay alive. 

(In Photo: Amy & Shane Varga)
Lisa Varga: We stuck together. My Mom was an angel and she’d cook, pray and just be a mom!  There is no other comfort better than a mother. Shane’s wife Amy is amazing.  She’s the rock of the family.  Amy was always there, rubbing Shane’s back as we all cried together.  His wife Amy and I teamed up to make sure we got him back on his feet. 

I went with Shane to every chemo and radiation treatment after he was first diagnosed.  We’d talk and play funny games. One day we made these crazy hand puppets and laughed so hard we got some strange looks from the other patients, like ‘Why are they having so much fun, this is cancer!’  Some days when Shane had no energy, we’d hang out and watch the Yankees together.  We love the Yankees. It was therapy.

Shane Varga: And here’s the thing; In a dark season of my life, the Yankees were having an amazing year, winning the World Series the year I had my first round of treatments.  Watching my favorite guys gave me strength.  Watching Jorge Posada battle day after day was great!  In a way, he inspired me. I get choked up telling you that because it brings back the memories of those times. We are a sports family and the Yankees success made me happy which helped me fight.

  And here is the horrible end to this question;  I actually had tickets to Game 6 in which Andy Pettitte was pitching to, of course, Posada.  It was the "possible", clinching World Series game.  I had also never been to a Yankees game.  So, I missed my two favorite players in Pettitte and Posada, I missed the Yankees clinching the World Series, and I missed making my Yankee Stadium debut, and the kicker... Hideki Matsui homers a few seats from where my tickets would have been! 

 I don't know that I ever complained about getting cancer.  However, that is the one thing I feel I got cheated on!  That, my friend, still pisses me off to this very day!  With loving the Yankees, Pettitte and Posada, that was a once and a lifetime lottery moment I missed.  Then again, I am still alive, but still!

BYB: Wait, so you were not able to go because of the treatments?

Shane Varga: My white blood cell count was too low.  I wasn't supposed to be around illness or large crowds of people.  I would have had to ride the subway to the game,  so I'm pretty positive it would have killed me for sure. Ha ha.

BYB: So, who are some of your favorite Yankees?

Shane Varga: I have 3, but clearly Jorge is number 1 in my heart.

I also love Don Mattingly, because growing up he was the best Yankee there, and that’s when I really started to understand baseball.  He was a stand-up guy and also from Indiana just like me.

I love Andy Pettitte because people  have said I looked like him, but besides that, he was an awesome pitcher and another good guy.

But when it comes to Jorge Posada, I really respect the work that he and his family do with their charity.  As someone who has dealt with adversity, it is just always nice to see people passionate about helping others.  But that’s not why he’s one of my favorite Yankees of all-time.  It’s this; Jorge embodies everything that IS a Yankee.  

He worked his butt off every day and never got much thanks for it.  No other player on the field had to take the bumps and bruises that Jorge did, and to still be the hitter he was through all that, well, it amazes me!  The guy was a Warrior, but at the same time, a Saint with a huge heart.  I never heard anything bad about the guy.  His character was the icing on the cake.  It made me sick how he was treated towards the end.  My favorite moment I have of him is in his last season when they wouldn't let him catch anymore.  Then, due to injury, they were forced to put him in and what does he do.....has an all-star game and goes on to catch fire.  I'm sure that year was hard to swallow, but that moment had to feel great for him!

Lisa Varga: I'd have to say Derek Jeter.  He's a class act. Everyone in baseball respects him and loves him. He never gets in trouble, always works hard, has amazing skills and talent both on and off the field.  I also admire the fact that he does charity work! The Turn 2 Foundation is great!  I respect any athlete that gives back and tries to make a difference in the world. 

That's exactly why I created a show called "The Offseason" for the Sports Lounge. So we could talk sports, and charity!  If he wasn't so impossible to get close to, I’d love to do a piece with him and his charity. You never know… I dream big.

BYB: Why are both of you huge Yankee fans?

Lisa Varga: We were born into a Yankees family.  My grandfather, my father, even my Mom.  I don't go anywhere without my Yankees hat.  It's part of my wardrobe, and thank God when I'm having a bad hair day!  

BYB: Lisa, you mentioned to me that you have enough drive and believe in yourself enough to take your career to the next level by becoming a sports journalist and continuing acting.  You said to me "Once you leave Hollywood, you're forgotten."  So, leaving was because of Shane's condition? 

Lisa Varga: Yes, absolutely. I left Hollywood to take care of my brother and to also be there for my Mom who was having a hard time. It was a no-brainer for me. Family came first.  It made me a better person. I found happiness, purpose, and myself.  I posted this quote on Twitter one day that pretty much sums it up: ‘Sometimes you find yourself in the middle of nowhere, and sometimes in the middle of nowhere, you find yourself.’

BYB: How did the recovery change from Chemo, to radiation, to now a Stem Cell Transplant?

Shane Varga: Even after the radiation, the cancer returned.

Lisa Varga: Shane’s only hope for survival was a Stem Cell transplant. They gave him a 50/50 chance to live.  There were tears of joy, tears of pain, laughter and love throughout the journey, but we all stuck together.

BYB: What's the latest on your recovery?

Shane Varga: In July, it will be 3 full years since my stem cell transplant.  My appointments are always brutal because you have a scan and then an appointment to get the results 3 days later.  It is the longest 3 days as you can imagine.  I find out 2 things in my appointments; Either I am still in remission or how much time I have left.  That is a tough feeling, especially now with a son in my life. Ultimately, it comes down to this.....God gave me great strength to endure a whole lot.   I honestly have faith that no matter what I am told or what goes on in my body, I won't die.  Again, why? Because someone would have to tell me that Cancer was going to take my life and I would just simply have to look them straight in the eyes and say "I disagree". Science is only science, it doesn't take into account the human spirit and God's will.

I don't have the option to be negative.  With negativity comes weakness and my body will always be in a fight to survive.  I can't let my guard down.  To sum this all up for you; I refuse to die. I want to live for my family, and now especially for my son.  I won’t put them through that.

BYB: I have always believed in working toward goals, and pushing yourself to do your best. While I wasn't always good at it at a young age, it developed in me. I was touched by just how much fight you have in you... where did you get that courage and strength?

Shane Varga: My Favorite quote is, "You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only option."

I have a deep level of competitive fight in me.  I am a soft spoken guy, very shy, not outgoing at all, and have a HUGE heart.  I get very emotional when I see people with disabilities and people in tough situations that they have no control over.  They didn't ask for what has happened to them.  They are my heroes that give me inspiration. 

For example.....The farthest I have ever ran in my life before last weekend was 4 miles.  I recently signed up for the Portland Marathon October 5th.  Why? Because when I complained to my doctor recently about fatigue, he said I may have to accept it and live with my "new normal" from all my treatments.  Well, I am going to finish that Marathon and send him my photo as I cross the finish line with the caption "I make my new normal." I want to inspire others to do things they were told they could never do or would never be able to achieve.

BYB: Do you read BYB? If so, what can we do better?

Shane Varga: I only recently learned of BYB, but from what I have read I am very impressed!  I am too new of a follower to make any suggestions, but I really look forward to following BYB from now on.  Also, for all the BYB followers....Love Ya!  How could I not? We all BYB!

Shane, Lisa, TJ. Thank you so very much for helping me put this together for the BYB audience.

Ladies and Gentlemen... If you are interested in getting for information about a foundation created by Shane and Lisa called Fight Club for Cancer, please check out their website at http://www.fightclubforcancer.com. It's an important cause.

Shane, You're an inspiration to us all. Keep going kid...

"...Give me scars, give me pain
Then they'll say to me, say to me, say to me
There goes a fighter, there goes a fighter
Here comes a fighter
That's what they'll say to me, say to me
Say to me, this one's a fighter..."

We'll have more from Lisa Varga soon with an interesting charity she's also working on... stay tuned.

You've made BYB the fastest growing Yankees fan site in history. Now shop at the Bleeding Yankee Blue store!  Follow me on Twitter @BleednYankeeBlu and LIKE Bleeding Yankee Blue on Facebook!

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