NORTH YARMOUTH — Almost two years after being diagnosed with cancer, David “Stretch” Tuemmler estimates his health insurance company has paid around three-quarters of a million dollars in medical bills.
Since January 2016, Tuemmler has undergone months of radiation, invasive surgeries, and lengthy recovery periods to battle myxofibrosarcoma – a rare type of cancer that forms in connective tissue, which first attacked his elbow, then his lungs, and most recently his lymphatic system.
“I’ve already lived twice as long as the average person with this disease,” Tuemmler said Dec. 4. “The goal is to live long enough to see advances in immunotherapy and such.”
A Portland-area photographer since the mid-1980s and owner of Stretch Studio, Tuemmler has become a prominent figure in the local art scene.
So it was fitting that during Portland’s First Friday Art Walk Dec. 1, Gallery Venn + Maker hosted a silent auction to help pay for Tuemmler’s medical expenses.
“It’s the time of year for giving, and what better way to give but to a dear colleague and friend who has touched so many of us through his work and presence,” said Shannon Thibodeau of Venn + Maker.
Tuemmler, a Baltimore native, lives with his wife, Jenny, his son, Casch, and three Samoyed dogs. His oldest son, Sean, lives in Auburn.
Jenny is unable to work due to fibromyalgia, and Casch, who’s now 24, has gastroparesis, a condition that affects the stomach muscles and prevents the stomach from properly emptying.
“He’s nauseous all the time,” Tuemmler said. “It’s another mysterious disease.”
Tuemmler is on disability and hasn’t been able to work much in the past year and a half, but he has still found time to sail and work on building Casch a “tiny” house in his yard – which he said has helped keep his mind off of his illness.
He has also had an active role in advocating for the Affordable Care Act, which included participating in a panel discussion organized by the American Cancer Soceity with health-care professionals and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.
“What we were trying to say is, don’t repeal the ACA without an adequate substitute,” Tuemmler said. “People’s lives are at risk … that’s why I feel it’s really important I have a voice in this.”
“If (my family) did not have insurance through the (Affordable Care Act), I’m guessing we would have at least lost our house,” he added.
Stretch Studio remains in business with help from fellow photographer Russell French, and studio assistant Jason Poulin.
“When I found out that things might not go well, I decided I couldn’t worry about work. I didn’t have time to, it was just one operation after another,” Tuemmler said. “But I kept the business because I need to keep my health insurance.”
Between family, friends and the community Tuemmler said he’s had an amazing support team. Another local photographer, Nance Trueworthy, held a fundraiser for Tuemmler in October 2016 that raised around $20,000 in ticket sales.
“The money obviously really helps, but having all these different walks of life there, some I’ve seen recently and some I haven’t, is great,” Tuemmler said of Friday’s event. “It’s hard letting people give you money, but it was really incredible.”
Venn + Maker Gallery held a fundraiser on Dec. 1 to benefit local photographer David “Stretch” Tuemmler, of North Yarmouth, who was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called myxofibrosarcoma.