I cried for the first time Friday night… I’m not really sure why it happened, it may just have been the realization of how difficult this process is on everyone, including myself. It’s not all bravado, triumphs, and pats on the backs while people cheer from the sidelines. The serious moments are inescapable and frequent, no matter how focused on your goal you become, a figurative slap on the back of the head is bound to happen, jarring you suddenly off course as your mind panics and screams “Wake Up! You could die from this!” Well, Friday was sort of one of those moments. The overall tone of the meeting with my surgeon was a positive one, but the description of three possible surgery paths and their complications detailed the gravity of the situation.
Success in life is measured on such a broad scale, success in surgery is measured in millimeters and centimeters. For me and others with liver metastases the magic numbers are 1 cm and 20%. 1 cm is the margin of healthy liver surrounding the tumor that has to be removed alongside it, this margin is necessary to the success of the operation, to ensure that there are no remnants of cancer left behind. 20% is the amount of healthy liver that needs to remain for it to regenerate and me to survive, so with 8 tumors spread across my liver with a 1 centimeter margin surrounding everyone of them, some precious veins and arteries, space is a little hard to come by. I think that information was a hard enough slap to knock anybody off track. The good news that came at the end of the meeting sort of fluttered right past me, out the door, down the hall, and out the window……
The important thing with any challenge as our good pal Rocky would say: “it’s not about how hard you can hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” Well, it’s not always easy getting that momentum back up. Despite a beautiful, fun filled walk with Amanda and the dogs by the Charles, I had trouble shaking it. Further research on the subject simply got me frustrated, fatigue slowly started to set in and then it happened… As a last ditch effort I found myself re-reading an email from another Stage IV Colon Cancer survivor out loud to Amanda when it started… tears welled up in my eyes, my chest started to heave, my voice became shaky. The further I read, the harder it became to hold back, until I couldn’t hold back any longer, I gasped for air and my body released. I cried hard, my body woven into Amanda’s arms for warmth and support, my head buried beneath her chin in attempt to hide my face. As I felt her shudder and the salty tears begin to drip down onto my head and combine with mine, I felt ashamed. My resolve had been broken, I let her down, I let my family down, I let my army down, I let myself down, I was supposed to be the strong one, the warrior!
Interestingly enough, as abruptly as it started, it left just as quickly. The bad energy pent up in my body was released like an opened flood gate and only the good remained. You will notice often times after a ferocious storm passes what follows is the most beautiful of days. Friday night was now more beautiful than ever as I felt enlightened, calmed and refocused. Miley even heightened the mood by furiously lapping up the salty tears off of our cheeks and getting us both to break out in laughter. Then I finished reading the remainder of the email out loud:
…after 5 years of finding no evidence of illness, this past February Dave Ryan shook my hand and said, “you’re cured, get out of here, call me in a year just to say hello.” TJ, if it can happen to me, it can happen to you, too. I won’t bs you, chemo sucks. I’d rather have surgery anytime (at least you’re unconscious) than go through chemo. But you’ll develop a routine, figure out your rhythms, manage your eating, working, living, and move through it. You’ll also end up hanging on every test result, every scan, some will be good, some not, but you’ll move through that, too. No one will really know what you’re going through other than you and possibly someone else who has been there before, so this is truly going to be a very personal, sometimes lonely, adventure.
So, I hope you find my story inspiring. If you’d like to talk, I’d be happy to call you anytime, just give me your phone number. Or you could just shoot me an email and let me know how you’re doing. Either way, you’re gonna be okay — and in five years you’ll be writing an email to someone who’s just been diagnosed with cancer, and say, “let me tell you my story…”The most amazing thing was I didn’t start crying because of some tragic story, I started crying because of the triumph in it. I cried because I needed to let go of my pent up fears, trust in my doctors and get my rear in gear to beat this thing. I cried because I believed again in winning, I had regained my resolve. I cried because the good news that floated out the window earlier that day finally made its way over to the south end, came in my back door, and seeped into my brain. The tumors in my body are shrinking, in fact all of the liver metastases have shrunk by 1/3 to 1/2 of their original size! As a result, a plan is set in motion to do two more cycles of chemotherapy (minus the Avastin.) If the tumors continue to shrink further, the more real-estate there is for the surgeon to work with and the less complicated the surgery becomes. And surgery is slated for about 6-8 weeks from now, the second step in my Path to a Cure grows ever closer!
Well, I am back up and moving forward with one goal in mind, shrink these tumors! No more slip ups on my diet and exercise, I will not miss a single regiment until I have kicked this disease to the curb (or petry dish, wherever they put those stupid things after they take em out.) So you better get ready Big C…..well, now I guess I can call you Medium C, but you better get ready, because I have a boatload of new tricks up my sleeve.
Much Love – Teej
p.s. Things in my daily and weekly regiment now include:
p.p.s For those in need of some anecdotal humor after a good cry. I had a nurse the other day say “Ok now change out of your clothes and leave your underwear and socks on” then she said something that escaped me as she walked out of the room. So She left, I changed, and eventually she returned with a knock on the door “Are you all set?” I say yes and she proceeds to walk into the room in shock. “I Guess you didn’t want to change into the gown” she says as I stand their in my boxer-briefs and socks. “Haha, nope I guess I’m all set. But honestly I didn’t hear you say that.” She leaves for me to finish changing.
Time passes…but is it fleeting? I am currently on my 4th cycle of chemo therapy and it is so strange that almost 2 months have passed since I was told I had cancer. Speaking of which, do you know what I told my Dad when we were sitting in the Dr.’s office waiting for the diagnosis? “I do not want to know my chances, any percentages, or a time limit….because they do not apply to me, they will not apply to me, we will beat this thing no matter what.” To this day, I have still not asked or been told what they are because I do not want to know, because I am not a statistic, because I believe.
Life does not have set rules, the young, healthy, and strong sometimes pass on, and the old, sickly, and weak sometimes live to see another day. There are miracles and there are tragedies that occur everyday that can never be explained. And then there is the common belief that “everything happens for a reason,” but does it really? I can’t believe that, because there are millions of horrific, indescribable events that simply shouldn’t have happened to so many innocent people. What I can say is that good does come from all evil, and in the end there is always peace. Every living thing has energy within them, energy that has all originated from the same source, and when your body dies your energy still goes on… because energy does not simply disappear, it is just transferred to something else…. I think it returns to that source. In a way that means we are all connected, we are all part of that same energy. This can hold true regardless of your religion, we all came from the same place and will all return to that place, back together again, as one. So shouldn’t we treat each other like we are one? Isn’t that the basis of most religions? To be good to one another?
I didn’t really plan on getting onto this subject, because it simply fuels anger, it is the cause of the most hatred and bloodshed since, well, mankind. But I guess you can’t really control stream of consciousness…. it just goes where the mind takes you. Organized religion does so good for so many, but has done so bad for so many as well. When the corrupt take control of it and skew beliefs so they can gain personal power, you know it is usually headed in the wrong direction. Our history is littered with atrocities in the name of god: The Inquisition, Aztec Human Sacrifices, Witch Trials, Roman Persecution of Christians, Thuggee Murders, The Crusades, The Holocaust, Islamic Jihads… the list goes on and on, and can go on, and will probably go on forever. I was raised Catholic, but I for sure do not believe in every single writing in the bible. So I just try to stick to the basics, the simple, and the simplest it can get for me is believing….and believing is the most Positive Energy there is. Interestingly enough, that is where organized religion can cause so much good, it brings a large community of people together to support one another, to be good to one another, to believe. It helps spread positive energy to millions.
So many of you, regardless of your specific religions have been believing and praying so hard for me and I can feel that positive energy fuel me towards my goals. I didn’t really want to say this because it sounds corny, but hey, stream of consciousness right? “It’s like the wind beneath my wings.” And I don’t mean angel wings! Well, keep the energy flowing because I just got some more great news yesterday morning. Carcinoembryonic Antigen (CEA) is a tumor marker in my blood and the original level at my time of diagnosis was 295.5, I just learned that before my third cycle of chemo started that level dropped like a stone to 171.0. A doctor would say this is not a definitive guide to my health, but it is a really good indication that things are heading in the right direction! I believe the cancer is leaving my body.
As for the next steps in the process, I have a CT scan on Wednesday, Sept 14th and a meeting on Thursday, Sept 15 with my Physician and Surgeon to review the scan and determine how the chemo has actually affected lesions in my body. The surgeon will then decide whether he wants me to continue further with the chemotherapy or if I should begin preparation for my surgeries (which would be in about a month.) There is a careful balance between chemotherapy and surgery: The chemo makes the surgery “less complicated” because it is intended to shrink the tumors and gives him more room to work with. But the chemo is also poisonous to my liver which makes liver surgery higher risk, if he was to remove too much of my liver and I did not have enough healthy liver left…. well, you get the gist. However, I trust their judgement as they are amazing doctors, I believe we are still on the “Path to a Cure,” and the light at the end of the tunnel grows brighter.
Much Love – Teej
p.s. Time may be fleeting for some more than others…. so shouldn’t we help one another, make things easier and people happier? I visited the most amazing non profit organization yesterday called Christopher’s Haven. They provide housing to out of state/country families who bring their children to Mass General Hospital for cancer treatment. I can’t think of a more noble cause than providing comfort to children and their families during such a difficult time. It allows the kids to have the support system nearby that they desperately need, so righteously deserve, and that I am so lucky to already have. I know I have such a wonderful army with so much energy, maybe some of you could send some of it their way too?… Oh yea… My Family and I met the most adorable and personable little girl there, I believe she was turning 10* today. Happy Birthday Jasmine!
*Updated, Thank Ma for the correct age! Anti-Nausea meds makes me a bit loopy.