Saturday, January 29, 2011

2010 By The Numbers

I have always liked numbers. There is just something about them that connects the dots in my head when I am trying to make sense of the world.

After receiving my final health statement from my insurer I thought it would be interesting to analyze how much cancer costs to treat from diagnosis to my final set of scans that indicated I was in remission. And give some other fun facts about my cancer journey along the way...

Numbers without witty comment are pretty boring, so I took the liberty to expand on my year-in-numbers for 2010 to give you some context:

  • $263,074.42 – gross billing for doctor visits, x-rays, scans, surgeries, chemo treatments, drugs, etc. to my insurance company

  • $102,759.02 – actual cash paid to doctors, hospitals, drug companies by me (via co-pays and deductible) and my insurance. A 60.9% discount!

  • ~1,000 – number of extra strength Tylenol taken to ease the achiness and headaches during recovery periods

  • $342 – amount of subsidized parking paid to the ALWAYS FULL Standard Parking garage at Northwestern Hospital in Chicago. Note to self: open parking garage next to hospital...

  • 30 pounds – amount of weight gained from May to December 2010, which is a little less than my 2 year old weighs

  • 25.5 liters – approximate amount of ABVD chemo pumped into my veins over 8 months. This is equivalent to replacing all of the blood in my body more than 3 times over!

  • 6 – BBQ dinners in May/June with my parents, wife, and son to watch the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup! A source of much needed distraction and subsequent happiness. Go Hawks!

  • 3 hours – amount of time I have to lay strapped in for my MRI scans. Three times to date with many more on the horizon over the next 5 years...

  • 2 – haircuts, one of which was self inflicted:

  • 1 – incredible wife whose strength, grace, and positive attitude pulled me through the toughest times

  • 0% – chance WE SHOULD EVER take anything in life for granted.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Readying for Lift Off

As I mentioned in FAQ - Part I, one of the hardest things I faced shortly after diagnosis was the notion that my life was on hold while I got treatment. During one of the weekends where I was not recovering from chemotherapy I decided to get the ladder out and clean our gutters that were hemorrhaging leaves from mild neglect on my part...

When I was up on my roof bailing things out like I was going down with the Titanic, my I-pod shuffle function landed on Bigger Than My Body by John Mayer. This song always resonated with me, but I really never gave the lyrics a close listen as I am more of a melody guy.

After the song finished for the first time I stopped bailing, laid on the roof, and listened to the song a few more times focusing on the chorus:

Yes I'm grounded
Got my wings clipped
I'm surrounded by all this pavement
Guess I'll circle
While I'm waiting
For my fuse to dry...
Someday I'll fly
Someday I'll soar

Someday I'll be so damn much more
Cause I'm bigger than my body gives me credit for

This song became an anthem for me for the remainder of treatment and to this day as I prepare to formally launch a concept I have been working on since August 2010.

As I was solidifying my mission to lift as many lives as possible I stumbled upon an idea that has the potential to connect with every living being on earth. Through this connection I foresee the ability to increase the amount of positive energy in the lives of those who embrace it. As more and more people get on board, we will slowly shift the balance of energy on earth and lift everyone up in the process.

Given the events of the past year of my life and the new found understanding of my potential, I strongly believe this is my moment.

I have been waiting for my fuse to dry for months now...

It's almost time to grab a match.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Score Sheet

Between my freshman and sophomore year in college, one of my closest friends was in a boating accident and ended up paralyzed from the chest down. It was one of those events that shook us all out of our comfort zones and forced us to grow up faster than you would at 19 years old. He and I went on to live together for the remaining three years of college and in hindsight, I am certain I learned more about myself in our apartment than I did in the classroom.

One of the most important lessons I carried into my cancer journey was that when a friend or loved one is going through a significant event such as a life altering injury, death in the family, or cancer diagnosis, there is no right way to act towards/around them. Some people are naturally more nurturing while others may be distant until the storm subsides. This was not an easy lesson to learn, but given the incredible strength and grace of my friend I am not surprised he is the one that helped me understand it.

Over the past nine months I made a conscious effort to be understanding of those people in my life that did not reach out as much as I would have predicted pre-diagnosis. By living in this mindset I was able to focus my energy on healing my body instead of judging people for things they did or did not say or do.

As I have mentioned before, I grew up playing competitive hockey. One of the main (if not only) goals of a young hockey player is to get on the score sheet. Whether it is from a goal, an assist, or a strategically placed penalty, being a part of the score keeper’s tally was of the utmost importance. It is only later in life, thanks to my friend’s lesson and a battle with cancer, that I realized score sheets only burden us as we mentally keep track of who has scored points in our lives.

Don’t wait for a reason to stop keeping score. Take a moment and rip up your score sheet so you can reallocate the energy it takes to maintain it towards something more positive.

Who knows, maybe you will lift yourself up in the process...

Saturday, January 8, 2011

FAQ - Part I

In an effort to fill in as many people as possible, and give my reduced lung capacity a breather (thank you bleomycin!), I am going to give a quick rundown of the top questions people have for me about the past 8 months of my life. Hopefully this will give you an understanding of one person's experience with chemotherapy. Full disclosure, much like snowflakes, every cancer fighter's experience is different so don't hang your hat on mine!

1.) Wow, you look great! (translation: why do you look heftier than the last time I saw you?)
As I previously stated in the blog, I lost ~20lbs during the symptoms part of my cancer journey. Shortly after my first chemo, thanks to steroids and dying cancer cells, my appetite returned... with authority! I live in the Chicago area and have a penchant for deep dish pizza. Pre-cancer I could take down a slice or two in a meal, but during the first few cycle of chemo I was eating 3/4, or 6 slices, of a deep dish pie... it was disgustingly awesome! My wife and I made a game of it during each treatment weigh-in trying to guess how much I gained. In the two weeks between the first and second treatment I gained 6 lbs! So, now I am up 30lbs from my low and loving life. Granted I need to start working out, but I am never going to stress about my weight again.

2.) And your hair... (translation: I thought you were going to have the cue ball look like all other cancer patients I see)
So did I! This is one thing all cancer patients think about when they are diagnosed and most people (me included!) associate with cancer. I even shaved my head down low in the beginning to get it over with and be more aerodynamic. Then a funny thing happened... no hair fell out. My hair growth did slow down to the point where I had two haircuts during my 8 months of treatment and I could get away with shaving every other day instead of daily. I suppose the loss of leg hair and armpit hair counts, but no one sees that anyway. About half way through my treatment my wife and I asked the doctor if not losing hair meant the chemo wasn't working. After a short laugh he asked me if I wanted him to bring in a room full of Hodgkin's patients he treated back in the 1970s that kept their hair through treatment and were alive today... Needless to say, that lightened the mood.

3.) What was the hardest part of your cancer journey?
Physically, the hardest part of getting chemo was the effects of a shot I had to give myself the day after chemo to boost my white cell production (Nuelasta). This shot is awesome because it helps your body get to where it needs to be for the next treatment. It is not so awesome because it basically expands your bone marrow and makes your whole body ache (bones and muscles) for 2-3 days. I would compare it to the growing pains you have as a kid combined with the worst case of flu (sans puking) you have had in your life. And I did that 16 times...

Mentally, the hardest part was in the beginning when I had to cope with the fact that my life as I knew it was on hold for 8 months while I got treatment. I felt like I was sitting on the sidelines of life while all my friends and colleagues continued to advance in their careers and with their families (ABVD can make you sterile...). I am a competitive person so this was a tough pill to swallow. Once I identified this feeling and understood my new reality I decided that I was going to use my 8 months of treatment time to get to know myself better and come out of it with a "spiritual MBA" as I put it. I enlisted the help of a family friend/whole-life coach (Jim Warner of OnCourse International) and began to understand my core values, personality, strengths, and where I was spending energy in my life. Not only did the work we did indicate that I am strikingly handsome, but it also gave me a better understanding of my potential as a human being.

I can't imagine where I would be right now without going through this self reflection. It is one of the core reasons for this blog and I plan to share my learnings over time with you. Hopefully I can be the catalyst for taking a closer look at yourself instead of waiting for a cancer diagnosis or similar life event. The sooner you can get in touch with the true you, the sooner you can begin to lift your life towards maximum fulfillment.