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Being a Part of Something Bigger

Todd Wargula and his care team

It’s a chilly Saturday afternoon and the streets of Milwaukee are still a bit slick from the morning rain. As shoppers bustle about, trying to avoid the cold, a warm glow from inside Mojo MKE offers a welcoming sight. Opened in 2021, owner Todd Wargula wanted Mojo to be a space that welcomed regulars and newcomers alike, as well as sports fans, family, and friends.

“To me, Mojo is a place of inclusivity, where everyone is respected,” says Todd. “It’s a place people can call home.”

Mojo MKE regularly hosts a crowd, but today was different; silent auction items lined tables, a delicious spread of food catered to event goers upstairs, and everyone in attendance was there to celebrate one person. Todd.

His parents, Roger and Sue, sister Katie, and brother Brian, as well as friends from Dominican High School and countless more, laughed, hugged, drank good beer, and enjoyed the merriment, happy to support someone who means so much to them.

Todd Wargula and his care teamTodd is easy to love. His zest for life and genuine dedication to those around him draws a crowd and through thick and thin, Todd knows he can count on others, as they can count on him. “This business was never a one-man operation,” says Todd. “It's always been a team.”

And now, more than ever, Todd calls on his team to see him through the tough days.

On January 16, 2022, Todd arrived at the ER with brain fog and an intense headache. “I was also starting to drop things a lot,” says Todd. “I knew something was wrong.”

A CT scan revealed news that stopped Todd and his family in their tracks. Todd had a rare brain tumor called Glioblastoma.

“Hearing you have cancer is surreal,” says Todd. “In that moment, life stood still.”

After finding the tumor, Todd’s doctor referred him to Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin’s Cancer Center, as they did not have the specialists needed at his hospital to provide care. From there, he first met with Wade Mueller, MD, GME '84, GME '90, a neurosurgeon at Froedtert Hospital, who specializes in working with adults with malignant brain tumors and epilepsy. Within his practice, Dr. Mueller utilizes techniques such as functional mapping and imaging, and advanced intraoperative navigation to treat patients.

Todd had a craniotomy just two days after diagnosis to remove the tumor and then started working with Jennifer Connelly, MD ‘03, GME ‘08, FEL, ‘09, associate professor of neurology and neuro-oncology to receive radiation and chemotherapy to shrink the surrounding cancer cells. Dr. Connelly’s focus is on metastasized tumors in the brain and spinal cord. Her goal is to provide quality treatment, while prolonging a patient’s life and maintaining quality of life.

In late September, Todd received his last round of chemo and flew with his family to Europe, landing in Barcelona, and then venturing to Madrid, London and Paris. “I walked over 70 miles in Europe,” says Todd. “It really was an amazing trip with the best people. Traveling with cancer is possible for me, but I have to make sure I’m taking extra precautions. I’m listening to my body; I have my pain and nausea medication, and I’m ready to go!”

After the trip, Todd went in for a scheduled follow-up MRI on October 18 and doctors found another mass on his brain; this time it was on the other side of his skull. On October 22, Dr. Mueller performed surgery to remove the tumor. Treatment slowed Todd down, but he’s nowhere near stopping.

“Watching Todd still live an active lifestyle really speaks to the care he received at Froedtert,” says Katie, Todd’s sister. “Dr. Mueller performed a major surgery on Todd and the fact that he was able to perform a full resection and not damage other parts of his brain, allowing Todd to still really live his life, is amazing.”

Throughout his cancer journey, Todd felt strongly about helping others going through similar diagnoses. “It’s important for me to be part of something bigger than myself,” says Todd. When Kienna Matus, a bartender at Mojo and also a research technologist at MCW suggested a fundraiser, Todd agreed, but asked that it benefit others. “I wanted to make sure the money went toward cancer research and helping additional patients,” says Todd. “It’s not just me going through this. If I can make a positive impact on others and help someone in need, I’m going to do it.”

“We decided to organize the Mojo MKE fundraiser to raise awareness for brain cancer and to show our support for Todd and the entire community who is affected by this diagnosis,” says Kienna. “He has always supported his Mojo MKE employees in countless ways, and we wanted to support him the way he has supported us for so long.”

Kienna’s hope is that by donating to the Brain Tumor Research Fund, under Dr. Connelly, she, Todd’s family, friends, and the Mojo MKE team can help advance the medical approaches and treatment options for those diagnosed with Glioblastoma.

The Brain Tumor Research Fund supports translational research from bench to bedside. “Our team of neurosurgeons, radiation oncologists, neuro-oncologists, neuropathologists, neuropsychologists, neuroradiologists, and researchers work together to deliver patient-centered care,” says Dr. Connelly. Funds also support Froedtert & MCW’s brain tumor repository, the largest collection of brain tumor samples in the country, that allows researchers to learn more about cancer treatments. And, the fund makes it possible to conduct clinical cancer research trials for patients with Glioblastoma and other types of cancer that offer alternatives to typical treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation, and surgical procedures.

Throughout Todd’s diagnosis and treatment, his family has never left his side. “I really feel that Todd has one of the best surgeons in the country, getting to work with Dr. Mueller,” says Roger.

“The goal right now is to slow this tumor from growing,” says Sue. “This type of cancer is not going away, but he has such a dedicated care team. We’re all looking to the future with hope; you hear of people every day who survive diagnoses, so I think, why can’t he?”

Brian adds that events like the Mojo fundraiser are so important. “You realize the strength of your support system. It’s a tough battle, but I know everyone around him is going to be with him every step of the way.”

As Todd looks to the future, he knows the road will not always be smooth, but as his sister told him, “…the worst part of dying is not living.”

The rest of Todd’s afternoon at the Mojo fundraiser is filled with laughter and camaraderie. As he makes his way through the crowd, he’s embraced by family and friends from near and far, and also greeted by Dr. Connelly who, despite her busy schedule, wouldn’t miss a chance to support her patients.

“I couldn’t ask for a better care team,” says Todd. “Dr. Mueller, Dr. Connelly, and everyone I’ve worked with at Froedtert have made such a difference in my life, and also supported my entire family. I feel fortunate to have access to this medical team so close to home.”