Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Genesis of "Lift Living"

It may sound odd, but at one point in time I felt guilty for getting Hodgkin's as compared to other cancer patients with more dire prognoses. If you put me in a room with other cancer patients chances are I am the guy that has the most treatable cancer and thus the highest likelihood of being around in 5 to 10 years. If you view things in this context, you may see why I felt somewhat guilty.

I can't pinpoint when I had my revelation, but I am pretty sure it was in my parent's kitchen when I was talking through my feelings on the subject with my mom. The fact is that I was fortunate to be diagnosed with a treatable cancer with tons of research and multiple refinements to treatment approaches through the years. While I could just get through treatment and return to life as I knew it before cancer, I decided that I would use this opportunity to make as big a difference as possible.

Here is how I see it:

- There is a good chance that things are going to be better for me than others with a cancer diagnosis

- I was presented with this opportunity early in my life for a reason (FYI - I am 31)

The easy route would be to return to what life was like before cancer, but I understand the word "responsibility" thanks to Steven Covey. For those of you who have not read 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Dr. Covey breaks down the word into two parts: "response" and "ability." When we are presented with a situation we have the ability to respond how we choose and should be comfortable living with the consequences of our choices. Couple this with the work I did with my whole-life coach during treatment to better understand my core values and it was an easy response:

I am going to use the rest of my time on earth to lift as many people as possible

I am confident I was given this opportunity for a reason and I do not take my fortunate position lightly. Not only am I doing this for my myself, but I am also doing it for people with a less positive outlook based on their medical situation or their older age. Being young with a positive prognosis gives me more time to lift peoples' lives than those that are less fortunate, and I can't wait to get started....

Welcome to Lift Living

Monday, December 27, 2010

A Day in the Chemo Den

Prior to being a cancer patient I really had no idea where chemo was administered. My aunt went through various chemo treatments for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (blood cancer) and I always thought she got her treatment in a hospital room. While the hospital route does apply in certain circumstances, I later learned that the majority of her chemo sessions were administered in her doctor's office. And much to my surprise, the same office where I would be getting my treatments!!! It was comforting to know my aunt had gone through the same routine as I was facing and ultimately ended with her in remission enjoying life to the fullest.

So, here was my typical chemo day appointment schedule:

10:30am - arrive, check in, validate parking, pay copay (bummer)
10:45am - weigh in, blood pressure, temperature check
11am - blood draw/port hook up, meet with oncologist to go over treatment progress, and get what basically was a physical (I would typically meet with my oncologist every other treatment so in the off weeks it was right to the Chemo Den for blood draw and chemicals)
11:30am - into the Chemo Den for treatment consisting of pre-meds (anti nausea/steroids/Tylenol/bennadryl) and ABVD
1:15pm - pay validated parking and drive home w/ stop at Wendy's for a frosty and french fries

It didn't take me long to coin the term Chemo Den... You walk into a large room on the corner of an office building (prob 1/4 of a floor) and there are blue Lazy-Boy medical recliners lining the windows with various cancer patients getting juiced up on their respective cocktails and a nurse center in the middle. For some reason I just though it looked like the pictures of opium dens I have seen in books with everyone laid out looking all loopy and tired... So Chemo Den it was!

Here are a couple cell phone pics I snapped on my second to last treatment:

Notice the various chemo taste deflectors (jolly ranchers/gum/Vitamin Water/Kashi bar). At first the tastes of saline and the chemicals were alright, but pretty soon they become really annoying and you find ways to deal. For me it was gum for saline, Jolly Ranchers for my chemo pushes, and a Vitamin Water chug when they flush my port at the end. Tunes from my i-pod drowned out the background noise of the IV machine, other beeping, puke noises from the bathroom, etc...

All of this sounds bad, but really I have no complaints. All the doctors were awesome, my nurses were great, and all of the other cancer fighters (avg. age 30+ years older than me!) were rocking treatment with strength and grace. There were often 1 to 2 people per patient there for support which is an awesome sight. For me it was my amazing wife or my parents.

If you are in the unfortunate position where a loved one is diagnosed with cancer and has to complete chemo treatment I strongly recommend making the trip into the treatment center not only for support, but also to get inspired by all of the fighters.

It shouldn't take such a heavy life event to inspire, but sometimes we need a swift kick in our daily routines to get us back in touch with what matters in life.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

My Diagnosis & Hodgkin's Info

I was diagnosed with Nodular Sclerosis Hodgkin's Lymphoma in April 2010 based on the results of a lymph node biopsy in my neck which was ordered by my primary physician after a few months of bi-weekly blood work. Hodgkin's is a rare form of lymphoma within the lymphatic system that occurs in approximately 8,000 people (less than 0.5% of cancer diagnoses in the US) per year. The upside of hearing the words "you have Hodgkin's Lymphoma" is that the oncologist's next sentence is "if you are going to be diagnosed with cancer, this is the one you want to get"... Joy!

Hodgkin's is classified across 4 stages based on a bone marrow biopsy, CT scan, PET scan, (and for me a MRI) as follows:

1 - only on the right side of the neck
2 - both sides of the neck, but all above the diaphragm
3 - same as 2, but below the diaphragm
4 - same as 3, but something outside the lymph system is infected

There is also an A or B subclass where A means no other symptoms and B means you got to enjoy unexplained weight loss (I dropped ~20lbs while trying to eat as many calories as possible), constant low fevers, itchiness (I didn't really have this one), and sheet drenching night sweats. The night sweat thing was not just a little sweat on your brow. It was a through your t-shirt, through the bed sheet, wake up and physically not understand how you could have sweat that much. I grew up playing competitive hockey and NEVER sweat this much. I was going to sleep with a shirt on, with another under me, and another next to the bed in case the other two got soaked.

Based on my scans I learned that the cancer had spread through my lymphatic system into my groin area and I also had involvement (aka "lesions") on parts of my pelvic bone and spine. I did not have involvement in my bone marrow which was a bonus, not only because it sounds bad but also because I don't have to have frequent bone marrow biopsies. Those suckers were by far the most painful part of my cancer experience and I don't wish them on my worst enemy.

Here is a picture of the bone marrow biopsy torture devices that are corkscrewed into your pelvic bone in your lower back. Once inserted there is an electric shock type feeling theat helps the doctor collect the actual bone marrow. All I have to show for it is a small circular scar on either side of my spine... Kind of like a minimalist lower back tattoo. Thanks cancer!

So, that put me at Stage 4B. Sounds bad, but the good part of Hodgkin's is that it is very treatable. Even at my stage, I have a 10 year survival rate of 80-85% using first line treatment regimens. My oncologist put me on 8 cycles of ABVD chemotherapy which was administered every 15 days at his offices. A cycle contains 2 treatments so I was faced with 16 treatments, or 8 months of chemo.

It was a lot to take in at the time, but here I am on the eve of what would be my next chemo treatment. Christmas is a few days out, but for me it will come early tomorrow when instead of going to my oncologist's office I can enjoy the solitude of my wife's hometown on the edge of the Adirondack's in Northern New York.

I am nervous about not getting chemo anymore, but also excited to enter this new chapter of my life with a healthier mind, body, and soul.

And I look forward to sharing the lessons I learned over the last 8 months and my journey going forward with you...