Half-life

I am often telling Michele that “today is another one of MY DAYS“. An anniversary that only I remember – the days I found a lump, the days I was diagnosed, the days of my surgeries, the days that I found out that the cancer that had invaded me was gone, the days that the treatments ended.

Today is another one of those days.

First and foremost, it is my birthday, so it is a day that I share with my mom and dad, my family, and my friends. But this one, I have been thinking about for a while.

I was diagnosed with Type 2A Hodgkins Lymphoma when I was 22 years old. I have now celebrated 22 birthdays since that DAY. So half of the birthdays of my life.  One of the images that I comes to mind is of a young girl, maybe 8 or 9, who I would sit in the radiation oncology waiting room with way back in 1996. I don’t remember speaking with her. I remember her and her mom vividly. But I’ve been thinking that her half-life day would would been as a teenager. I hope that she made it to see that birthday and many more.

 

Also on our mind these days is a dear family friend and her kids. All signs so far are good that she will see many more birthdays – her own, and those of her girls.

And sadly on my mind as well today are two families that have recently lost a dear family member from this disease after long, challenging battles. May the remainder of their days be filled with good memories of their loved ones, rather than the harsh realities of their lives with cancer.

I will undoubtedly be serenaded with “Happy Birthday” a number of times today. I am thankful to be around to hear those lyrics.  Twice in my life, my birthday was shrouded by the specter of cancer.  Then, thanks to all the research, clinical trials, and bravery of the cancer patients who came before me, I received life-saving treatment. I will never forget those birthdays as the uncertainty and fear that filled those days have motivated me to this day.

Today, I encourage you to think about the people in your life – do you know someone who is going through cancer treatment?  Do you know a survivor? Do you know the pain and struggle of a cancer diagnosis and treatment firsthand?

There are many rides, runs, walks, and charity events raising money to fight cancer as well as innumerable other diseases. The Pan-Mass Challenge, which I will again ride in August, is raising money so that cancer will be cured. 100% of your donation will go directly to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s unrestricted funding. In this day and age where research funding is under attack, these funds are crucial. You can learn more about how the Dana-Farber uses these funds here.  I hope that in honor of my birthday and in honor and memory of those that you know that have battled cancer, you will make a donation today. It will save lives. It will move us one day closer to the end of cancer.

Thank you!

Donate here: http://www2.pmc.org/profile/AS0171

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I Am Committed – 17 Days Til the 2014 PMC.

This year is my 8th year riding the Pan-Mass Challenge! For a number of reasons, this is going to be a very meaningful ride for me.

This is only picture I have found of me actually riding my bike during the PMC (2009).
This is only picture I have found of me actually riding my bike during the PMC (2009).

I’ll be riding for my dad, who recently started treatment for pancreatic cancer.

I’ll be riding in memory of my grandfather, who battled prostate cancer, and my grandmother & aunt, who each battled breast cancer. 

I’ll be riding for my mom, who is a breast cancer survivor.

I’ll be riding for my wife and her family, who saw me through my recurrence a few years ago.

I’ll be riding for my daughter, so that she may never have to face this horrible disease.

I’ll be riding for my many friends who have faced this scourge head on.

I’ll be riding to thank all of those who have donated the money that created the treatments that allowed me to celebrate many birthdays (my own and those of others).

I’ll be riding because I can. I am fundraising because I am Committed.

In 17 days, I will hop on my bike and go the extra mile. Actually, I will go 100 extra miles to be exact. I will ride 300 miles (not the mere 192 miles of the official Pan-Mass Challenge), all the way across Massachusetts from the NY border to the end of Cape Cod in just 3 days.

Why? Because we need to make cancer a distant memory.

Please make a donation today to remember those who have past, to honor those who are stricken, and to end cancer in our lifetime. Thank you!

 

I got called “Boring” this morning. And it made me smile.

My oncologist and I have a code word.

BORING

What does this mean?

It means that my blood work is not remarkable, my CT scans were not remarkable, and my physical examination was not remarkable. This morning, I was boring.

Boring means that life can continue returning to normal.

Boring means that I don’t have to go to the cancer center again for a year.

Boring means that I have been cancer-free for 2 years.

Boring means relief.

Boring means that I can continue to dedicate myself to the cause of helping create more boring birthdays for others.

Boring is good.

 

There are Days and then there are Those Days

We all have days in our life that we remember. The fun ones – wedding days, graduations, births – we regularly celebrate. We throw parties and send cards to mark and celebrate these occasions.

And then there are the bad ones. The days that we never forget, but typically are the only one to recall. Sometimes, if you are lucky, these anniversaries slide past you without a single notice. Often though, at least for me, these days hang over me and are reminders of the most difficult and trying times of my life.

As you might have guessed, today is one of these days for me. There are many days between January and April that pop out to me from my first bout versus cancer in 1996 and, more recently, round two. First oncology appointment. Surgery. Diagnosis day. First treatment. I’ve been through all of this. Twice.

But, for some reason, March 13 is one that I remember very uniquely. Back in 1996, I don’t really have a sense of when I noticed the large mass on my neck. It was a few weeks or so before I even went to the doctor. But, in 2011, when the Hodgkin’s Lymphoma was back, I distinctly remember the circumstances that led me to find the lump.

The first weekend in March 2011,while in Boston for work, I learned that a dear colleague of mine at Harpoon had been diagnosed with breast cancer and she was jumping right into surgeries and treatments. I was fairly devastated by this news. It really shook me up. But, when I got back to Baltimore, this news got pushed to the back of my mind quickly. I flew back to Baltimore and Michele left for 12 day trip to Moscow and Siberia. Yup, Siberia. I was on ‘Daddy Duty’ with the then 17-month old Shannon. I had daycare to help during the week and some weekend dinner/playdates planned. By the time, Sunday evening, March 13th, came, I was exhausted.

After putting Shannon to bed that night and cleaning up the house to get ready for the week to come, my thoughts went back to my recently diagnosed friend. I hadn’t reached out to her yet. I hadn’t checked in. I thought about how I wanted to do that, to not push, try to remember what it was like 15 years before when I was going through what she was going through. I decided I would do a better job writing that email in the morning and went to hop in the shower.

When I finished my last annual follow-up after round 1, back in Rochester in 2001, I was told that I needed to routinely check my lymph node areas for lumps. Where are your lymph nodes? The ones that you can feel are in the neck, in your armpit, and in your groin. Thinking about my friend that evening had reminded me that it had been a while since I had done my own routine check. I have no idea how long it had been. So that night, taking my shower, I did my check.

Neck – no problem.
Armpits – no problem.
Groin – hmmm…. that doesn’t feel right.

Oh crap.

Sunday, March 13. 2011. One of THOSE Days.

By the end of that week, I had seen my primary care physician and THEN Michele got back from Siberia. Early the next week, there was the CT scan, then a meeting with a surgeon. By the end of March, biopsy. Confirmation of diagnosis in early April… then preparatory stuff and more tests and scans. Then chemo started…. it was like a snowball rolling down hill. One thing right after another. But it all started that day.

So what did I do today? Before going to work today, I hopped on my bike trainer for a half hour. Went to work, had a nice dinner with Michele and Shannon, and then I put Shannon to bed. And then I hopped back on my bike again for another 45 minutes. I haven’t done a double session on my trainer, ever. If you are reading this, you know why I am training in mid-March. Then, in a full sweat, pleased with my efforts, I jumped in the shower.

Yup, the same shower that two years ago, I found out that something wasn’t right, and that it was probably cancer, that it was back after 15 years. But tonight, all I thought about was how to share this with all of you, to try to put some context around it. How do you explain ‘one of those days’? One that starts the snowball that quickly overwhelms your entire life and turns your entire existence upside down.

Some of you who are reading this, certainly, understand what I am talking about. For the rest of you, I hope you never have one of these days.

If you don’t have to get a bone marrow biopsy….

Just in case you were considering, for whatever reason, having a bone marrow biopsy done on you, here is my advice. DON’T DO IT!

My first of two days of tests and scans included the second bone marrow biopsy of my life. That is two too many. The third time will not be a charm. I wish I had never heard about the concept of removing bone marrow from your body in the first place.

Of course, I am obligated to add, that if you need to get a bone marrow biopsy, then it is a very important diagnostic tool. Take my advice – ask for sedation, I know I will if I have to do this ever again.

All in all, I am fine after today. Tomorrow’s tests are all easy and I am looking forward to a relaxing long weekend prior to my first chemo treatment on Tuesday.

Thanks to the many folks who sent emails, notes, texts, and comments today. I have read them all and appreciate them greatly. I will try, in due time, to get back to all of you. Until then, my and what is left of my bone marrow need to rest.

Andy