By Lauren Huneycutt



The Winkelmaier family was no stranger to chemotherapy. Both Garrett and Janine knew they wanted to return to Reno Oncology, the same treatment center George Winkelmaier had attended for years.

“These two nurses just fell in love with George,” Janine Winkelmaier said. “One day I went with him to his treatment, and instead of calling his name, they stuck a foam finger out the door because he was their number one patient. They started doing all these same silly things to Garrett too, and did their best to make something ugly, happy.”

Garrett Winkelmaier’s support system was huge. He had his mother, brother, girlfriend and extended family, as well as friends and an entire community.

“Just knowing we could pretty much call anyone in our phone book for something was really comforting,” Garrett said.

Janine Winkelmaier’s friends however, would not wait for a call like that. They could not stand to watch their friend struggle to support her boys. They wanted to be more than emotional support. They wanted to find a way to take action.

“The Winkelmaiers are a strong and humble family,” said Lynette Schweigert, 10-year friend of Janine Winkelmaier. “They would have never asked for help. That’s why this group of women and myself created this account on their behalf.”

The fundraiser Schweigert spearheaded for Garrett Winkelmaier became titled “$19 for Garrett.” A small group of Janine Winkelmaier’s friends worked closely with Schweigert to create a donation database to help the family pay for the looming medical bills, compensate for one parent’s income and help Garrett pay for college once he was finished with treatments.

Garrett spent his 19th birthday having a chemo treatment. Any donation was appreciated, but with Garrett’s 19th birthday and baseball background in mind, a donation of $19 to his GoFundMe account was considered a “first base” donation, $190 was a “home run” and $1900 was a “grand slam.”

“To me it was a no-brainer,” Schweigert said. “Everyone felt helpless after George and Garrett got sick. This fundraiser was a way for people to feel hope and find a way to help.”

The GoFundMe account was wildly successful thanks to facebook and donations from around the nation. It took away a number of the stresses that the Winkelmaiers had been facing for years. While they were thankful to have some of their worries alleviated, Garrett Winkelmaier was still in the midst of treatments.

“My doctor was on top of the anti-nausea medicine,” Garrett Winkelmaier said, “so chemo wasn’t too awful. Radiation was worse. I was so tired and useless, it really messed with me mentally. I just wanted to be able to do things again.”

Mackenzie Hunter, Winkelmaier’s girlfriend, was there for him emotionally through everything.

On the day of George Winkelmaier’s death she flew directly to Reno and stayed for two weeks. She was with Garrett Winkelmaier for the biopsy of his tumor, but was not in town to hear the results of his diagnosis.

“Distance is hard as it is,” Hunter said, “but then constantly not knowing about his health and having to hear about it over the phone was torture.”

During Garrett’s treatments Hunter would fly into Reno every three weeks and stay as long as her schedule would allow.

“I would go to chemo with him every time I came into town,” Hunter said. “The first time I ran out crying, but that’s what I did. I would go to work and school in Oregon and then come back here.”

Garrett Winkelmaier’s treatments were all occurring during the college spring semester. Hunter still had to attend school in Oregon, even though her heart was in Reno.

“We always joke that there’s not a whole lot that could come along now and wreck us,” Hunter said.

The couple began dating their freshman year of college. Their relationship grew and strengthened through trauma and trying times.

“I couldn’t leave him,” Hunter said. “We had only been together maybe eight months, but I knew I loved him and I knew he loved me, so I did what I thought was right as a supportive girlfriend.”

Hunter now lives in Reno. She is ready for her May graduation as an education major and works nearly full time to support herself living here. Her parents were supportive of her move to Reno to be closer to Winkelmaier and his life here.

“I just knew it was what I had to do,” Hunter said, “and I wanted to be where he was.”

Throughout his treatments, Garrett could not just relax. After seeing his father battle sickness for years and still go to work everyday, Winkelmaier was inspired to find a job and something to look forward to.

“During my treatment I was coaching,” Winkelmaier said. “I was actually coaching Drew [his younger brother], so I got to see him every day outside of being tired and sick. It was good for both of us I think.”

Winkelmaier had found a reason to get up. With his dad as a guide, he found a purpose to do something every day besides not feel good. He found his outlet for dealing with the grief in his life.

“Garrett gained a maturity from watching his dad,” Smith said. “I don’t know if he even realized it, but they were so much alike, and they were both insanely tough through chemo.”

Smith had also moved back to Reno from Oregon. Before Garrett Winkelmaier was diagnosed, the two boys planned on living together in their hometown. They had picked out a one story, two-bedroom house, directly behind Bibo Coffee Co. near campus. Winkelmaier did not have enough time to settle his things into their new house before he had to begin treatments. He spent his time at his mother’s for the duration of his chemo and radiation therapies.

“Towards the end of his treatments, he started staying with me in the Ninth Street house again,” Smith said. “He was the strongest guy ever. You could tell he was feeling like shit, but he was still him. He was funny, and we would mess around like always.”

After four grueling months of treatment, the Winkelmaier family had to wait three more months before any tests could be done to see if Winkelmaier had beat his cancer. During that time he worked to regain his strength, his energy and his hair. He was happy to have eyebrows again, but the hair on his head grew back in curly.

“Man, that was hilarious,” Smith said. “Our friend Scotty has really curly hair, so I would tease him and call him Scotty all the time. We both thought it was pretty funny.”


Garrett and his father, George Winkelmaier, pose at the top of Windy Hill for a Christmas card. This photo was
used as the main photo on Garrett’s GoFundMe account.
Photo courtesy of Janine Winkelmaier

Garrett Winkelmaier finally entered remission, but the cancer battle does not necessarily have an end. For the next five years, Winkelmaier will be checked and tested every six months to make sure there are continually no cancer markers in his body.

“They don’t actually ever say you’re cancer free,” Janine Winkelmaier said. “They don’t say those words. They just say there is no cancer lighting up in the tests.”

As a family they made it through the unthinkable together. They survived what most people could not imagine enduring, and their individual strengths contributed to their success as a whole.

“Drew is a bit of a clown,” Janine Winkelmaier said, “and thank god he is. He could just come around any corner and diffuse whatever tension was in the room. We would talk about George a lot too. Usually just tell a happy story and that would make us all feel good.”

Garrett Winkelmaier has been done with treatments for over a year now. His tests and scans thus far have been clean. With a positive outlook on life, Winkelmaier is taking 17 credits at UNR, working toward his electrical engineering degree and cannot wait to start coaching baseball again, as long as his schedule permits it.

He lives with a new roommate in a town home complex near his mother and brother, close enough to make it to all Sunday dinners. On Sundays the family, along with Hunter and Drew Winkelmaier’s girlfriend, gather to eat, play games and catch up on the details of the past week.

“If you can make it through something like that, then the rest is just small potatoes,” Winkelmaier said.