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.

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