Milestones

After completing the third and final palliative radiation therapy (RT) session this week, I was finally able to return home from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) after being admitted on March 8, 2019. The severe pain that plagued me during this period is due to the progression of cancer in my spine, which is managed through a combination of steroids and oral/IV narcotics. Hopefully, the RT will also provide pain relief in the coming days/weeks and reduce my dependence on the other medications.

In view of the relatively rapid cancer progression and difficulty in getting my pain under control, I made the decision that it was time for hospice. While many people believe that hospice care is only appropriate in the last days or weeks of life, it can be beneficial as much as 6 months before death is anticipated.

Hospice arrangements were coordinated with MSKCC, so I was sent home connected to a patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) pump allowing me to administer my own IV pain relief. With the press of a button, I can activate the fentanyl pump when/if the pain manages to break through the relief being provided by methadone, acetaminophen, gabapentin, and other oral analgesic drugs.

A hospital-style bed was waiting for me in our family room when I arrived home. Later that afternoon, members of the hospice team arrived to answer questions and ensure that I had all of my medications. It was a very smooth transition.

Lying in bed this morning, I could hear birds chirping outside as the first light of day crept over the horizon. Why was I awake so early? Perhaps it’s from the stimulative effects of the steroid medication. Maybe it’s just too hard to go back to sleep after finding myself once again tangled up in IV tubes connecting me to the fentanyl PCA.

My mind drifts to the principle of Occam’s razor: that the easiest explanation tends to be the right one. My mind is reeling over the fact that today marks another beautiful milestone. One that I didn’t think I would live to see, but am so blessed to witness. Today, Lorie and I celebrate our 27th wedding anniversary (Figure 1).

Many people are thankful to witness the dawn of a new day. My father-in-law used to say that any day he could wake up and tie his own shoelaces was a good day. I couldn’t relate to the sentiment at the time, but now as a terminal cancer patient on hospice—it makes perfect sense.

Consider the plight of people living with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and the impact of this awful condition on their caregivers. As time passes and the disease progresses, memory problems worsen. The AD patient may fail to recognize close relatives, which can lead to irritability, outbursts of unpremeditated aggression, or resistance to caregiving.

Similarly, cancer can induce cognitive impairment. This can be attributed to the direct effects of cancer itself and/or due to the adverse effects of the treatment(s) given for the disease. Most studies have identified attention, memory, and information processing as the most common cognitive domains impacted by cancer and cancer-related treatments.

I have been irritable as of late, which is likely a side-effect of stress, steroids, and other medications more so than disease progression. But most of my cognitive impairment is mild and relegated to simply forgetting something I said or did. Fortunately, it would take much, much more to impact my ability to recall that for the past 27 years I’ve been the luckiest man alive. Happy Anniversary, Lorie!

Michael and Lorie Becker, March 29, 1992
Figure 1: Michael and Lorie Becker, March 29, 1992

26 thoughts on “Milestones”

  1. Your lovely bride Lorie is virtually the same beautiful girl she was all those years ago! Harder to recognize you without your abundant tresses…. So happy you two are celebrating 27 years together, and amazing kids. Mazel Tov!

  2. I have been reading your blog for the last few months. I was so happy to find it. My partner just passed away from SCC last week after a grueling battle only 7 months after diagnosis despite the fact that it was HPV.

    I sish you the very best in your journey forward and sincerely hope that it is as pain free as possible. This is such a devastating cancer.
    Jeanne Bartels

  3. The adoration you share shines brightly from you both in the pictures you share. Love to you both on your very special day.

  4. Enjoy this wonderful day, no matter what. Both of you are such wonderful persons, and Lorie is a gem.
    And, Michael, you are teaching us so many things, every time I read your blog posts, I feel enriched (so you have alreday won, remember this, and being the daughter of a cancer patient with bone mets, I know the pain you are going through). My deepest gratitude and hugs, Clara from Italy.

  5. Sounds like you have things under control. I have never known anyone like you who can deal with such things in a reatively calm manor. Or at least that is how you make it look. You are my hero! Happy Anniversary!!!

  6. As my mom and dad aged, they only bought ripe bananas😊
    Happiest of Anniversaries to you and Lorie. I wish you both a peaceful day, one to be celebrated without stress and anxiety. I also hope the palliative care you are receiving allows you to defy the six month timeframe.

  7. Congratulations to you and your lady on your anniversary. Not many people live together harmoniously so long nowadays. Good to read that you are as comfortable as reasonably possible under the circumstances and are facing the situation calmly. I hope everything goes as well as it can.

  8. I remember that day fondly. As the “A” type parent of a kindergartner in Miss Statlands class, I took it upon myself, along with stealth help from her program assistant to make “wedding” wishes for our favorite teacher. Knowing what kind of person she was, I knew the man she was marrying was something special. I felt so fortunate a couple years later to daycare Rosie. Luckily for Lorie, she was able to stay home with her after a short time. It’s been amazing watching your family grow. I hope you enjoy your anniversary and are able to celebrate each other on a job well done. Congrats!! 🎊🍾🎉

  9. Thank you for sharing your special day with us and indeed it is a wonderful milestone! I hope you can feel the strong support of both loved ones and strangers as we accompany you on your journey. I began following you and Humphrey in 2016 after reading your book. I wish you continuing comfort and ease. May your day is blessed.

  10. Happy 27th anniversary to you, Mr Becker and to your lovely wife, Ms Lorie.

    Rest assured that you and your family are always in my daily prayers.

    Thank you for sharing your special day with your extended family, your blog followers.

    May the good Lord grant you comfort and peace.

    Take care Mr. Becker.

    Gina Mikulski

  11. I feel so fortunate to have known you. I have always had respect and admiration for you, but the grace and generosity with which you have shared your life, your thoughts with us, this took such strength, courage, and love.

  12. Every time I see Lorie’s face on this blog, I feel as though I know her from somewhere…or is it just that I’ve been following long enough to feel like she’s become more than just an acquaintance? With that big, unabashededly kind and warm smile of hers, you’ve made us fall in love with her, too. And I love that you still maintain clarity and humor (“see Fig. 1” made me giggle).

    As I write this, my family and I are in Iceland. And as I’ve written before, I’m not a praying woman, but I’m going to ask my hubby and 4-year old to send the biggest, most positive thoughts they can muster up from the glaciers, from atop mountains and from the deepest fjords. Every place that’s beautiful (which is almost everywhere here), we will send happy thoughts.

    Thank you, Michael. Savor this intense and special time with your family and friends.

  13. Michael, I have not written for quite a while BUT I have not quit praying for you. I remember posting one time…..I asked God if I was CALLED to be your prayer warrior/partner. I am not sure why but you come to my mind almost daily and often in the middle of the night. When I think of you and your family, I pray for you. I am still praying and still believing.

    The post above says, I am not a praying woman. I am here to post I am a praying woman. In that, the most important thing is that so many people have been touched by you and therefore so many people are FOR you….praying for you, hoping for you, believing for you, remembering you and a whole lot more.

    Just a reminder that I have never met you but you have touched our lives mightily in ways that you can’t imagine. Thank you for believing in Vern and helping Vern at a low time in our lives.

    I will not quit praying for such a remarkable man who has done so much good.

    I heard someway say recently that sometimes patients just out live hospice. Why not?

    Vern and I celebrated our 50th Wedding Anniversary this past year. Don’t think less of me but I pray for a long and healthy life for you.

    Blessings and good wishes to you and Lorie and the girls.

    Jeri

  14. Happy Anniversary! You are an inspiration. Keep writing and my prayers are with you and your lovely family.

  15. Dear Mr Becker,

    I have been following your blog for some time, I got interested in oncology when my mother has been diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer about 10 years ago, since then we went many times through remisions and progressions of the disease. Please keep writing. Happy Easter.

  16. I remember being in my doctors office and being diagnosed.
    The moment your doctor says the word “Cancer” your life changes.
    In my case, my mind became overwhelmed and I was numb.
    I walked out of his office on auto pilot. But not an hour later, back in my office, researching online, I came across your blog Michael.

    I wrote to you and seeing how close we were in proximity, asked to meet you for coffee. (Coincidentally your daughter was the barista that day in the coffee shop 🙂

    I had questions and fears. You explained everything to me. You knew everything about my condition. You were patient and knowledgeable and encouraging. (And for those of you reading, it was evident that Michael was pretty brilliant also)
    I left the coffee shop that September afternoon last year, feeling so much more prepared for what I was going to face.
    I knew all the statistics and facts about my condition.
    You knew that, based on my condition, my survival rate was high.
    And one more thing.
    A thing that I’ve come to find out over time, is a “Michael Becker type thing.”
    You told me that although we had the same exact condition, you were terminal. That you had wound up on the unfortunate side of those same odds/statistics.

    The last thing you did as we walked out of the shop was to pat me on the back and say “You got this”
    I cried in my car.
    For relief? For you? This guy I had just met who befriended me and was helping me, encouraging me, cheering for me… And giving me hope with his calm, kind demeanor and his knowledge.

    Michael helped me that day and many other days after that.

    You were thin and gray and pale – much like how my father looked, back when I was 28 and he was in the slow process with terminal liver and stomach cancer, not quite a year after he and I had finally reconciled.

    At any rate, after coffee with you I went and got your book, and finished it. Being familiar with the industry you had worked in, I read some things truly remarkable about your life prior to your diagnosis.
    I don’t think anyone else has ever done some of the things that you did. You went from being an investment advisor in Chicago to being the top Biotechnology analyst in the country. (which basically means the world) meeting with the top Biotech CEO’s in the U.S.
    You recognized what was going to happen in that industry before anyone else did. And just by doing what you were doing, and publishing the first biotech monthly newsletter, you created a Biotech analyst category that hadn’t existed.
    But that wasn’t all. Later you went from being the top BioTech analyst in the US, to being recruited to the corporate side – of a biotech company you were covering. And ultimately becoming the President and CEO of that company. The Board asking you to run the business.
    I’m fairly certain that chain of events has never happened before or since.

    Then you did other things that no one else has done relating to HPV and head and neck cancer. Like using your network and traveling the country, giving presentations and educating leaders about the HPV vaccine/and head and neck cancer. You called it a “Cancer vaccine.”
    You coined that – now all of us say it. (With the explanation you wrote.)
    And continuing that work and more with your book; A Walk with Purpose.
    And then this blog that has educated and helped so many of us all over the world. Even the Biotechnology company you ran years ago was “dedicated to advancing the care of cancer patients”

    You helped me and you’ve helped countless others. You’ve helped people that will never know it, that you don’t know, who won’t get cancer later in life, because they were vaccinated for HPV as a child, or teen. And that took place because you educated some one who cares for them about HPV. They may never know your name or what you did for them – Because you did it without asking for recognition.
    You did it to help other people.
    You did it while you were terminal and time was passing.
    And you did it because you could.
    It was the right thing to do.
    The utterly unselfish thing.
    It was honorable and it was selfless.
    It was Michael Becker being Michael Becker.

    You’ve made your mark on this world Michael.
    You’ve helped people. If that was the purpose of your “Walk,” well then you did it.

    I am honored to have met you and spent a brief time being your friend.

    I will never forget you.

  17. You are admirable and a true example for all of us, as a person that truly loves life and knows to be kind to yourself and with others.

    Your words mean the world to me and thank you for sharing. I battle Leukemia (AML) 2 times, and in the second episode received a Bone marrow transplant, steroids for 3 years… the full package to keep it simple, and till today, 20 years after, I am experiencing some issues after treatment, but although can not complain.

    Every moment counts, every second that we have is a bliss and a gift to enjoy surrounded by our love ones and with our self.

    You will never be forgotten! I will tell your story… A big hug!

  18. Very good to see that you are here to reply to your friends. I hope you can post again soon. Your love for your wife is a good thing, and good things reverberate for a long time.

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