Travis Goodnight

Masha Goodnight is running the TCS NYC Marathon in memory of her brother, Travis.

Travis was the kind of guy everybody liked. To his family, Travis was just the best guy ever, with a big personality that could light up a room. He was easy-going, big-hearted, fun-loving, and hard-working. To his patients, he was Dr. G, the friendly surgeon who could make them laugh and heal their bodies. To his colleagues, he was a brilliant physician, though a humble one who never touted his own successes.

After working his way through nine years of medical training, Travis and his wife, Missy, thought their lives had finally settled into a great place. Two weeks prior to October 19, as they’d sat around the backyard fire pit with their two kids, Travis remarked that life was perfect. So, when he developed what he thought might be a DVT in his calf, he wasn’t overly concerned. As a surgeon, he stood on his feet all day. A clot could happen.

Thinking to take care of it and move on, he stopped by the radiology department for an ultra-sound of his leg, asking for a chest x-ray, too. This led to more tests. When his doctor and friend read the results, tears filled the other man’s eyes. Stage IV non-small cell carcinoma of the lung. Inoperable. Incurable.

Travis and his family reeled with shock. How could this be possible? He’d just turned 37, had never smoked, had no preconditions for cancer and looked the picture of health. He had young kids, a fourteen-year-old daughter and a seven-year-old son. They needed him.

So Travis did what he’d always done when presented with a challenge. He fought hard, all the while continuing his medical practice. He’d take massive doses of chemo and steroids in the morning and perform surgery in the afternoons. For a while, his patients didn’t even know he was sick. When news leaked out, the onslaught of love and prayers from his community touched him deeply.

Determined to make memories for his family, he took them to Disney, to Yellowstone, to the mountains, the beach. He planned a golf trip with his brother. Though he was sick and shaky, he stoically pushed through, never complained, and called even the bad days, “an adventure.”

Yet, the cancer didn’t relent, and genetic tests were negative. None of the new drugs would work for him. Convinced that if he could live long enough medical science would find a cure, Travis sought out clinical trials and underwent two. The trails often made him sicker, but a year passed and then another. At Christmas, he seemed to be gaining ground. Appetite back, he celebrated on New Year’s Eve with lobster, his favorite meal. It looked as if he’d see his daughter graduate as valedictorian of her high school, one of his goals. But on April 12, four weeks before graduation, Travis’s grit and determination could carry him no further, and he suddenly passed away. The adored family man, good friend, and beloved surgeon had lived two and half years beyond his initial diagnosis of eight months.

Travis believed strongly in the promise and importance of research and often bemoaned the fact that lung cancer is among the most underfunded cancers, though it kills far more people than any other. He blamed this on the lack of advocacy. Most lung cancer victims don’t live long enough to advocate. That’s why family members, like Travis’s sister, Masha, take up the crusade.

This fall, Masha, a distance runner, will run the NYC marathon, running for the brother who can’t, and to raise money in his memory for the Lung Cancer Research Foundation.