WHITELAND — The ability to work with his hands, sharpen his mind and be there for his wife and kids: These are a few things 33-year-old Zach Tomey will never take for granted.
High school sweethearts Zach and Kelsey Tomey started a family in their hometown of Whiteland, where they started dating 13 years ago. The pair say they are blessed with two children, dogs and good careers.
But this past year challenged their marriage, as Kelsey started noticing changes in her husband.
She attributed the changes to stress from work as he had a challenging job as an engineer, but something inside her knew there may be something else going on.
On Sept. 9, their world changed forever. It was a Wednesday and Kelsey answered a frantic phone call from her husband.
"He kept calling me and seemed very confused," Kelsey said.
Zach struggled to drive to work that day as he began to lose peripheral vision. He has a family eye doctor he has seen since a child and assumed it was another complication from struggles he has had with his eyes in the past.
Kelsey left her job and met Zach at the doctor.
"And I could just sense that something wasn't right," Kelsey said.
The doctor confirmed her worst fears: "She said it's not his eyes, but his brain," Kelsey said.
The two rushed to IU North where the staff at first thought he may be having somewhat typical migraine symptoms, but Kelsey had noticed the changes over the past few months were persistent.
"I said, 'I know my husband. And that's not my husband. And I'm not leaving until we get a CT scan,'" she said. "It was then that the CT scan showed he had a very large lesion on his brain."
They then drove to Methodist where Zach eventually had an emergency surgery. Doctors were able to remove about 80% of the almost nine centimeter tumor on his left temporal lobe during a nine-hour procedure.
Then radiation followed and, now, monthly oral chemotherapy.
The fight of his life
Zach will continue to go in for scans and the family is taking his brain cancer diagnosis day by day, but, thankfully, things so far have remained stable.
The entire ordeal is a little more fuzzy for Zach, who also had a gut feeling something was wrong.
"It was like I was forgetting words or forgetting how to talk," he said.
Kelsey remembers a few days before that Wednesday of the frantic phone call, Zach saying a prayer on the edge of their bed.
"He said a prayer and he said please God tell me what is wrong with me," Kelsey said. "And two days later ..."
"He told me," Zach said. "It's been rough, but it's hard to go through and see other people that are going through the same thing."
The Tomeys found another family nearby undergoing a brain cancer diagnosis, but it is their young daughter who has the tumor.
Zach took off his baseball cap and let the young girl touch his scar on his forehead that looks just like hers. The unfortunate circumstances brought two families together.
"She has a scar just like him and she thinks she's the only one who has the scar and has lost her hair, and so it was so heartwarming to see him take his hat off and let her touch his head," Kelsey said. "And that was just a really special moment. I hate that we're going through this but I feel like we formed a forever friendship with this family."
Becoming 'Tomey Tough'
Zach is still unable to drive, so he can no longer do his job as an engineer. He also has good days and bad days.
On the bad days, he can barely get out of bed.
"I'm in caretaker mode and I kind of try to leave the emotion out of it because just have a job to take care of my family," Kelsey said.
On the good days, he can go out to their garage where he has a workshop and pursue his passion of knife-making.
Zach started making knives as a hobby six years ago and is learning as he goes. It is something he enjoys and he is proud to be able to give the knives to friends and family as gifts or sell to help with the loss of his job.
The business is called Tomey Tough, just as Zach is tough and fighting this brain cancer.
"Being able to come out here and work and do something is, it's nice," he said. "I mean, it almost makes you think that it was something I started doing on the side because it had a future for me."
Zach does not take custom orders or orders at all due to the unknown of how each day will go. He just makes what he wants to create and then posts a picture on Facebook.
"He's definitely pushed through the side effects of the medication and the knife-making has been a godsend," says Kelsey. "(The cancer) makes him go into dark places a lot, but when he makes a knife and sees how proud he is of that, and how much attention it gets, he'll post a picture and he'll sell a knife in five minutes. So that has to make anybody feel good."
For Zach, the challenges of going out to the garage helps him feel like he is going to work and the craftsmanship behind each knife is a sort of therapy for him. It keeps his hands working and trains his brain as he works to recover.
It is also a special bond he shares with his son Weston who comes out to help him in the garage. But, still, the loss of his job and his ability to take care of his family weighs on him.
"You know, I got two awesome kids," Zach said. "It's hard. I don't know how to make that better for anybody. The right things to do everyday."
But the Tomey family is putting triumph over tragedy. The cancer diagnosis shaped and resharpened their minds to look at the day-to-day world in a different way.
"We wake up each morning and look at each day differently," Kelsey said.
Follow Tomey Knives USA on Facebook to see more photos of Zach's knives and get updates on his treatment.