Sunday, March 22, 2015

Post Infusion

It was 1997.  I was sitting on the back deck, when I received a phone call from the doctor.  Unceremoniously, he told me that I had cancer and to let him know when I wanted to do something about it.  I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostate cancer.  I was shocked.  My wife was shocked.  To be told you have cancer is like getting sucker punched.  The next few nights I spent talking to my Higher Power.
I couldn’t go back to that doctor.  His coldness scared me.  I started doing my own research.  Over the next few months, I elicited several “second” opinions.  I was surprised that none of the doctors could actually tell me how I contracted cancer.  I finally asked one of them if I could have gotten it through voodoo.  He assured me that voodoo had nothing to do with it, but he offered me no credible reason why.  Without any viable alternative, one can speculate that voodoo may have been involved.  
I had a prostectomy at Yale.  It was a powerful experience because in my mind, I was saving my life.  They took out my prostate and I assumed the cancer with it.  However, several months later my PSA (prostate serum antigen test, used to measure prostate cancer) started climbing.  After all I had been through, basically they were saying, “oops, we didn’t get it all.”  I was advised to have radiation treatment.  After 30+ radiation treatments I was again told, “oops, we didn’t get it all.”  I asked what next and was told there was nothing next.  I was to wait until I was really in trouble and then they would poison me with chemotherapy. 
Well this didn’t sound very attractive to me.  In my own sophomoric fashion, I decided to take over.  I felt responsible for conceiving cancer, so I would be responsible for eliminating it.  I remember at the time talking to Andrew Weil, M.D. about my plan.  While he supported it, he also added, “It is much more difficult to get rid of cancer than to get it.”  That didn’t stop me.  I changed my diet, my exercise routine, my spirituality, and my entire view of life.  I started going to Bikram Yoga almost two years ago, which was great for my body.  It got me ready for the ordeal ahead.  But the most important thing that happened was a change in my thinking.  I began to live like I was dying.  The result was that for over 15 years, I kept the cancer growing slowly.  In addition, I did a much better job of taking care of myself.  My family, friends, and especially my wife were an incredible help with this.  But this past summer, it got out of the box.  A number of events happened all at once.  
Sloan Kettering and Hartford Hospital joined forces.  I was approved for a new treatment regime that had been developed by Sloan Kettering.  I would receive hormone therapy and chemotherapy at the same time.  They had found that this was vastly more effective.  We planned to start the chemo therapy after my daughter Kelly’s wedding in October.  
From October through mid-February I received chemotherapy, or as they call it ‘infusion.’  Every three weeks I would get a new dose.  The following week I would feel terrible, the second week a little better, than the third week, almost normal.  Then we would go back and start the process all over again.  The negative effects were cumulative.  It was a horrible ordeal.  The treatment team at Hartford Hospital did their best to make me comfortable.  But most of the time I just felt terrible.  My energy level was gone.  I had constant physical problems.  I started to look like Uncle Festes from the Adams Family.  I see ads for chemicals that cleanse your body and I chuckle.  You haven’t had a cleanse until you’ve had 5 months of chemo.  Its like having a very caustic detergent being flushed through your veins periodically.  I finished the chemo treatments in February, yet the affects are still with me.  I still look like Uncle Festes.  I’m still tired and achey.  But everything is slowly getting better.  Despite my whining, I know that I had it better than many chemo patients. 
I am told that they can no longer find any evidence of cancer.  I am officially in remission.  I’m good for another 10,000 miles.  Now I can focus on healing from the chemo, getting my body back and taking back my life.  
During this period of time, we were relatively isolative.  I did work in the office, but avoided social events.  We were worried about compromising my immune system during treatment.  In addition to avoiding social events, I avoided talking to friends and family.  Much of the time, I didn’t have the energy to do any more than I was doing.  People that knew what I was going through sent me love.  But I still needed to isolate.  This was something I did for me.  I could’t risk any negativity getting in my head.  In the late 90’s when I told people about the cancer, I was sometimes confronted with people who believed it was a death sentence.  Not knowing who would say what, I avoided most everyone in my life except for my clients, my closest friends and my family.  I avoided both the positive people and the negative people in my life.  However, it allowed me to remain confident that the treatment would work.  Everyday I told myself that the treatment was working.  
With chemotherapy behind me, I wanted to let everyone know what happened.  Once my picture appeared on Facebook, we started getting more inquiries.  I might as well let everyone hear what happened all at once.  So, this is also an open apology to those who felt kept out during my ordeal.  I can understand your frustration with my lack of responsiveness.  You have a right to feel left out.  I hope you will understand how I made this decision.  
Everyday feels special.  I acknowledge and appreciate the love that has been around me.  It is a gift I have been given.  And everyday, I will try and earn it all over again.