It has been almost two weeks since chemo #10. Happily, that day at the cancer center was short. Since then, the roller coaster has been running on the same track as the previous treatments. Spending entire days in bed. Waking up and feeling like that I need to take a nap. Routinely having to ask Michele what day it is, because they all seem the same and because I have little to no short term memory. Then, finally, after 9 days of low energy, poor brain power and comprehension, and general malaise, I again turned the corner and have had a couple of days where I felt ‘good’ or at least what I think feeling ‘good’ is now after 5 months of this.
Very soon, I will be sitting there again, on the day bed, mentally and physically getting prepared for #11. It is now September, the leaves are getting ready to turn, football is starting up, and I have been getting chemo every other Tuesday for 5 months. I am tired. I am bored. As I say pretty much every day, I just want to have a normal day.
A normal day – that is what it seemed like it was going to be 10 years ago. People were going about their business, going to work or school. I was headed out for a 9 AM interview with a headhunter. From the time I had left my friend’s house in Rochester, NY to the time I arrived at the interview, the landscape of the world we lived in had changed.
With all of the 9/11 memories coming back, I have been thinking about the summer of 2001 quite a bit. That summer, Michele and I got engaged and moved to North Carolina for her to start her masters program there. I had graduated from the University of Rochester with my MBA and left my job there after 6 years.
And, in what did not seem like it was a big deal at the time, I made it to and passed the 5-year cancer-free milestone from my first round of cancer. In what was a very busy time, that event, and being told by my oncologist that I was CURED of cancer, does not seem to have been as important as it should have been. Should I be so lucky as to make it to September 2016 without getting cancer again, I am not so sure that I will dismiss it so quickly. Certainly, I don’t believe that making it 5 years will mean that it won’t come back. I have just had the lymphoma return after 15 years, bucking all the odds and predictions. But, I will certainly be thankful in 5 years that I have had them to live, to share with my wife, to watch my daughter grow, to continue to raise awareness and money for the fight against cancer. That is what 5 years, heck, what each year, of my life going forward will be – a celebration of thanksgiving.
15 years ago – cancer, round 1.
10 years ago – ‘cured of cancer’/engaged/moved/September 11th.
While thinking back on those two times in my life, I am brought to remember another morning, in early September 2006, 5 years ago. That morning, the front page of the Boston Globe told the world that Jon Lester, at the time, a 22 year old Red Sox pitcher, had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. I remember that it was a Saturday morning, I was sitting at the kitchen table in our new Somerville condo, and I wept. Non-Hodgkins lymphoma, by all accounts, is a scarier kind of cancer to have than Hodgkins Lymphoma (what I have had twice). Jon Lester was 22 years old, the same age that I was in 1996 when I was diagnosed. I knew that Jon was going to have a tough road and you never know where that road is going to take you. Chemotherapy can save your live, but it does not always work. It also can have long term side effects. I was very sad for Jon for a long time. Then the news came back that he was responding to the chemo. Then, that he was done with chemo. Then, that he was building back his strength and was even going to come back to pitch in the 2007 season for the Sox. In fact, one of his first games back was the weekend of my first PMC ride.
Well, to run through the rest of the Lester story quickly – he did pitch in the 2007 season, including in the clinching game of the World Series. I cried some more watching Jon Lester, Cancer Survivor, holding the World Series trophy high over his head. Then, the following season, he pitched a no hitter. He has continued to have great success on the field, becoming one of the best starting pitchers in the game. About a year ago, Jon and his wife had a baby boy. And this month, Jon hit his 5-year cancer-free milestone. Obviously, I don’t know what he thought of reaching that day, or if the ‘5-year’ mark has the same significance for a Non-Hodgkins survivor as it does for a Hodgkins survivor. But my father-in-law just mailed to me a full page ad that the LIVESTRONG Foundation had in the Boston Globe and I was struck by it. Again, there I was, looking at a picture of Jon Lester, crying, and thinking about fighting cancer.
What can I say, I hate cancer. I love cancer survivors.
The message in the ad, below, has a wonderful tone and makes a statement that I am continually try to make clear to all of my family, friends, colleagues, and supporters. I can’t beat cancer alone. It takes doctors and nurses and lab technicians, for certain. But it takes a much wider network of people, including you, to make it possible for me to do this. And I am so grateful. I hope that I never ever have to repay any of you with the same level of support and love that you have given me the last 5 months, because it will mean that one of you has cancer. But you should know, that I will be right there, among your family and friends, to offer you support and love, ready to do whatever and ready to fight like hell for you. I hope that day never comes.
This Tuesday will be chemo #11 out of 12. Another ride on the roller coaster begins.
- FDA Approves New Drug for Lymphoma (webmd.com)
- Treatment #5 and The Steal (andyridesagainstcancer.wordpress.com)