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Cancer diagnosis and beach vacation inspire book

By Peg McRoy Glover

Brad Fischer was sitting on a Florida beach with his wife Tonya and his two girls Anna Mae and Elizabeth when the title of the book he was writing came to him. 

At 46 years old, he was diagnosed with stomach and lymph node cancer in June 2018. His daughters were 13 and 11, so he decided to write about life to leave as a legacy to them. 

On the beach they were laughing, filling buckets with sand and building sandcastles.

“It was then that it struck me that this is life,” said Fischer. “It is about creating beauty from very simple things like packing together water, sand and imagination to create sandcastles.” 

He also saw that moment as a metaphor on the fragility of life. 

“Our role here is to pack our lives with memories, joy, peace and beauty,” said Fischer. “Like a sandcastle on the shore, it ultimately washes away. In a way, there is beauty in it.”

He wrestled with how to spend his time after his diagnosis. His friends told him to make a bucket list. 

Brownsburg resident and former Danville teacher Brad Fischer wrote a book about creating a life filled with laughter, learning and love as he battled cancer. (Photo provided by Tonya Schaffter)

He thought about that at length and concluded that what he really wanted to do was create more laughter, learning and love with the people he most cherished. 

That realization led to the title of his book, “The Sand Bucket List: Lessons for Living Life and Facing Death.” Published December, the book is divided into three sections: Laugh, Learn, Love. He wrote it for his two daughters, but it has already sold almost 1,000 copies on Amazon.

Book publishing is a side-step outside of his career box that exists more on the left-brain side of thinking. 

For 17 years in Danville Community School Corporation, Fischer taught math and then was technology director. He now works as the senior director of an educational technology company. 

Away from work, the right-side of his brain emerged as he journaled and blogged for years before his diagnosis. The hours Fischer spent writing served as his springboard of experience to write his book. 

Two family members proved invaluable during this process. His wife Tonya Schaffter, Danville High School librarian, connected him with an editor to oversee his work. 

His cousin’s son Travis Hasenour, a professional book designer, created his book and its cover. 

“The word I gave him (Travis) was impermanence,” said Fischer. “I did not want an actual sand bucket on the cover, and he delivered.”

Fischer’s battle with cancer has been fraught with roadblocks. Even after 12 rounds of chemotherapy and 32 rounds of immunotherapy, it spread to his brain. The brain tumor was successfully removed only to be followed by a diagnosis of large B-cell and follicular lymphoma, resulting in more chemotherapy and radiation.

He has not had cancer treatments since April 2022. He feels great, but doctors closely monitor his health. The family lives in Brownsburg and the girls are now 17 and 15. Find his book on Amazon. 

“I have had a whole range of emotions about facing death,” said Fischer. “I want to travel with my wife and be here for my daughters. But I have recognized that there is some peace in accepting that we are all mortal.”

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