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Published May 26, 2020
By Shelbey P.
Despite battling brain cancer for several years, UW freshman Trent Slade didn’t let this disease take control of his future as a student, son, brother and musician.
Born in Fort Collins, CO, Slade grew up and spent most of his life 65 miles from UW. He chose UW not only for its impeccable dining hall, but also because it was affordable and a smaller campus.
Slade says his biggest struggle in life is being legally blind due to brain cancer — but that never stopped him from pursuing and doing what he loves. He decided to study mechanical engineering to fulfill his passion for math and science. On top of that, he stayed true to his roots, and joined Singing Statesmen and Happy Jacks here at UW.
Slade followed in his family’s footsteps and began his musical career at the prime age of 4 years old. The second oldest of four, he began playing the violin along with all three of his brothers and dad but found his passion in singing. Singing is something the whole musically-inclined family participates in and practices together.
“I would say music is so important in my life because it makes me happy,” Slade said. “That’s really vague, but that’s what it boils down to.”
Due to its personal nature, Slade finds singing particularly important and different than other forms of music because he’s the instrument. He says being told he sounds bad is harder hitting because it’s not an instrument making the music, it’s a voice. However, working on and improving his singing talent is that much more rewarding. This reigns even more true in Slade’s life.
Less than eight years ago, Slade had a feeding tube down his throat constantly and could barely speak. In addition, the five surgeries and seven procedures affect his neck muscles to this day. Despite this, Slade says his voice is now far better than it was even before cancer.
“That isn’t true for the rest of me (with the exception of my sense of humor),” Slade said. “Most of my body feels out of my control, so being able to constantly work on and improve my voice really means a lot to me.”
Slade was diagnosed with brain cancer back on October 15, 2012, and the tumor was removed four days later. At this point, Slade was considered NED (no evidence of disease) and was put in treatment from November 2012 to September 2013. He went through radiation therapy November through December 2012, followed by nine months of chemotherapy.
“Treatment was a rollercoaster,” Slade said. “There were some really hard times, but I also remember some of it being all right.”
Chemotherapy, Slade said, is where the rollercoaster really started. He recalls actually looking forward to infusion days due to the fact that they were every four to six weeks instead of every day like radiation, so he had time to recuperate between infusions. Slade said he’d usually feel pretty good during the infusion and the few days after, but after two weeks, he would begin to feel terrible. Slowly, he’d start to feel better the next few weeks, at which point he’d do it all over again.
“My head doctor (I mean that as in the one in charge, but he was neurologist, so it’s also an unintentional pun) was very thoughtful and didn’t want to make me have chemo during the holidays, so we stopped in November 2013,” Slade said.
Slade has been cancer free since 2012 but was going to check-up MRIs frequently. After seven years, he officially got the “cured” call this past summer and has been cleared to go in for check-up MRIs every three to four years now.
“I was honestly just more excited when I heard that I wouldn’t have to have another MRI for so long,” Slade said. “There was relief, too, because the chance of getting cancer again was super small, but my worries about cancer coming back had faded almost completely after the years.”
There has been a constant theme in Slade’s story. Even when faced with the worst and asked about the worst, Slade finds something positive (and funny) to say about everything. It takes a lot of courage to come out of losing sight and still excel in music and studies. It takes courage to grit through treatments and come out with a positive outlook as you go into the next session just after starting to feel better.
What can be taken from Slade is more than positivity. It’s about facing and confronting situations in your life that are painful and turning them into experiences that make you better. There’s always going to be a bump in the road, but if you face those bumps head on with courage, you’ll get so much more out of those experiences than just bad memories.