After two biopsies taken on a mass in his stomach had come back negative, Ryan Wetnight received some shocking news from his doctor last November.
The former Bears tight end was informed that he did in fact have gastric cancer and needed to see an oncologist and begin chemotherapy immediately.
"When he told me that, it was the last thing I was expecting, so it was pretty devastating," Wetnight said. "The whole time my mindset had been, 'There's no cancer. I've got an issue, but we're going to be able to take care of this.' My mindset was I'm not dealing with cancer and then all of a sudden I am."
Upon hearing the diagnosis, Wetnight immediately thought of his wife, Stacey, and their sons, Scott, 12, and Zach, 10.
Former Bears tight end Ryan Wetnight poses with his wife Stacey and their two sons.
"That was the first thing on my mind," Wetnight said. "When someone tells you that you have cancer and you've got to get this figured out because if it spreads and it gets to other places, who knows what might happen.
"They diagnosed it as Stage 3, so it didn't get to other vital organs, which was fantastic. But it did get to some lymph nodes outside of the stomach."
Wetnight, 47, appeared in 91 games with the Bears over seven seasons from 1993-99, catching 172 passes for 1,522 yards and nine touchdowns. He originally joined the team as an undrafted free agent from Stanford.
A native of Fresno, Calif., Wetnight lives in Simi Valley, Calif. He has spent the last 15 years working in the real estate field and owns and operates a Re/Max franchise.
Wetnight's surgical oncologist has recommended he undergo a total gastrectomy, a complex procedure that involves removing the entire stomach and connecting the esophagus directly to the small intestine.
Wetnight plans to meet with other specialists and decide in the next two or three weeks whether to have the operation.
"I'm going to talk to some other people and see before I go down that road," he said. "It's a pretty big surgery, a long recovery and a big alteration of your lifestyle afterwards. I've got a bunch of different doctors and surgeons I'm going to speak with and see if there's another way. But if not they want to get me in there sooner rather than later and they want to do some more chemotherapy afterwards."
Since receiving the diagnosis, Wetnight has leaned on his family and friends for support. He is close with many families in the Simi Valley area having coached their sons in football, baseball and other sports.
"The support from all these people has been really overwhelming," Wetnight said. "There were a lot of people who were pretty shocked, especially me being a younger guy and being healthy and all that."
Wetnight has also heard from several of his former Bears teammates. He speaks often to Erik Kramer—who lives nearby—as well as Keith Jennings. Others who have reached out include John Allred, Todd Burger, Chris Gedney and Ty Hallock, among others.
As he fights cancer, Wetnight is maintaining a positive outlook.
"At first I was certainly scared and frightened," he said. "You have a lot of crazy things going through your mind. But after I digested it a little bit, I'm very positive about it.
"It's going to be a tremendous battle and it will certainly alter my life, but I think they'll be able to get it all out and cure it—or at least get it into remission because we caught it early enough. I'm positive about the long-term outlook. It's just a process I have to go through, especially if they're going to remove my stomach. It's a tough process to go through and it's certainly going to be a rough year to get through all of that.
"The surgery is really the thing that's got me a little scared because if I have to go through the complete stomach [removal], that's going to put me down for quite a while. I won't be able to do what I normally do for several months. So that's the big elephant in the room right now."