Honestly, Not Such a Good Friday

This past Wednesday, I had a thoracentesis procedure in which a needle was inserted into the pleural space between my lungs and chest wall. This procedure was done to remove excess fluid, known as a pleural effusion, from the pleural space to help me breathe easier.

Michael Becker blogging from his laptop at NIH on April 15, 2017

During the procedure, Dr. Elliot Levy, an interventional radiologists at NIH trained in radiology and minimally invasive procedures, drained 1.5 liters from the pleural space. Almost immediately, I felt better and even while I was being wheeled back to my recovery room, I asked my wife Lorie to grab me a turkey sandwich from the cafeteria as I was quite hungry. It’s possible the large amount of fluid on my left side was putting some pressure on my stomach, which could help explain why I haven’t had much of an appetite lately.

By Thursday, however, the fluid was returning, prompting yet another thoracentesis procedure on Friday to remove 1.5 liters of fluid. The rapid nature of the fluid buildup means that I will most likely have an Aspira® drainage system surgically installed to conveniently let me drain the fluid buildup at home via a small catheter and drainage bags. That procedure is planned for Monday, so I have been staying at NIH since Wednesday and will be here over the weekend.

More importantly, however, a CT scan was also done on Friday morning with disappointing results. The cancer nodules grew since the last CT scan on March 7, 2017. This reflects true disease progression as opposed to “pseudo-progression” as discussed in a prior post. I have been taken off the clinical study with M7824.

My individual results do not reflect poorly on the future of M7824, but rather underscore that we still have a lot to learn about immunotherapy and cancer. While I may not have benefited from the drug, the resulting knowledge and clinical data may help guide future development and I am proud to play a part in that process.

At this point, if I received no further treatment and went on hospice, my likely survival would be about two months – although every patient is different. I have scheduled an appointment with my oncologist at MSKCC to discuss the pros and cons of chemotherapy at this stage, but the balance between quality of life and quantity of life is not trivial and I haven’t made a firm decision to go in this direction. Chemotherapy may only add a month or two of survival with a negative impact on my quality of life.

While I have been very open about my disease since originally being diagnosed in December 2015 and enjoy blogging, I will now be focusing much more time with my wife and daughters and finishing up my memoir, which I hope to have published. This will unfortunately mean less time for updating this blog and responding to emails.

Thank you to everyone who has offered their best wishes, thoughts, and prayers during my cancer journey. Having such an amazing support network of family, friends, and social media contacts has been a great source of strength and inspiration. Special thanks to my wife, Lorie, who has been by my side the entire time.

If you’ll indulge me, I would like to end this post with three requests:

  1. If you have a son or daughter, please talk to your doctor about the HPV vaccine, which protects against cancer of the cervix, vagina, and vulva in women; penis in men; and cancers of the anus and head/neck (including the base of the tongue and tonsils) in both men and women. HPV is a very common virus; nearly 80 million people are currently infected in the United States. About 14 million people, including teens, become infected with HPV each year, resulting in 30,700 cancers in men and women. HPV vaccination can prevent most of the cancers (about 28,000) from occurring.
  2. Help preserve federal funding levels by communicating with lawmakers about the critical importance of investing in medical research. There are far too many people suffering from cancer and this is not the time to cut the budget for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) by 18.3 percent, about $5.8 billion, as has been proposed. In an Op Ed by Harold Varmus appearing in the New York Times on March 22, 2017, he states that  only about 10 percent of the NIH’s budget supports the work of government scientists and that “over 80 percent of its resources are devoted to competitively reviewed biomedical research projects, training programs and science centers, affecting nearly every district in the country.” Harold Varmus, a professor at Weill Cornell Medicine and a co-recipient of the 1989 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, was the director of the National Institutes of Health from 1993 to 1999 and of the National Cancer Institute from 2010 to 2015.
  3. If you or someone you know is battling cancer or another disease, please talk to a physician about available clinical trial options. Clinical trials are a key research tool for advancing medical knowledge and patient care. Such trials are important to learn whether or not a new approach works well in people and is safe and which treatments or strategies work best for certain illnesses or groups of people.

9 thoughts on “Honestly, Not Such a Good Friday

  1. Michael, I am blown away by your courage, your grace and your continued efforts to advocate for vaccinations, funding and the advancement of clinical trials in the face of your own devastating news. I wish you peace as you gather information and make difficult decisions in the next few days and comfort in the months ahead. If there is anything I can do for you or your family, I’m right around the corner.

  2. I could not have said it any better than Susan just did. Michael, you are so loved….. You are an absolute warrior who has shown incredible strength through all of this. I admire you so very much. I wish I could give you a big hug right now.. You remain in my thoughts and prayers. <3

  3. I also agree that Susan said it the best. I have learned so much about oncology, and much more important, about you from these blogs. You and your family are always on my mind.


  4. Michael, you are the eternal leader who thrives on not just verbiage but upon action. You epitomize courage and resolve but you do so with a constant appreciation of the fact that everyone needs the support of others. You are surrounded by the best medical teams and a family that loves you through the good times and the dark days.

    I was privileged to visit you at Cytogen during the days of Quadramet and Prostascint. My friend Nick Borys was leading the medical group. Kathy Francisco and I came to see you and your team on business related issues. You were publishing Becker on Biotech before most people knew what biotech was.

    My grandfather once told me that during our lives we will make a lot of money and a lot of mistakes. Eventually, we figure out that they are not mutually exclusive! At the end of our lives we realize that we really only make one thing…….MEMORIES. My friend you have made some very damn good memories and you will make more.

    God Bless You.
    Tom Overmyer

  5. I have kept up with your posts over the last several months and patiently wait for updates to see how you are doing. I wish you and your family nothing but the best in the months ahead. I hope you realize how many lives you’ve touched on here and throughout your life. We are still cheering you on!

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