Quite Refreshing Indeed

In my March 21, 2018 blog post, I wrote about taking a break from cancer treatment. I had just finished my ninth cycle/month of combination chemotherapy (carboplatin and paclitaxel), which significantly reduced the size of tumors in my lungs and spleen since last summer.

Over the past few years, I received three separate cancer treatments with little reprieve from many of the associated toxicities. At the encouragement of my oncologist, Dr. David Pfister at MSKCC, and with my disease stable since January 19, 2018, it was an opportune time to try and heal – both physically and mentally.

I was nervous about what my cancer would do during the break. Actually, I’m still very apprehensive. But what I experienced during this period exceeded my wildest expectations. In fact, it was nice to feel “normal” for a change. Or at least normal for a Stage 4 cancer patient.

Beginning in April 2018, my energy slowly returned. Just in time for the arrival of beautiful spring weather. After a long winter, I was finally able to get outside and go for extended walks with Humphrey. Flowers bloomed and the landscape was green again. Hope and renewal filled the air.

Feeling more confident about my energy levels, I accepted an invitation to speak at the Global Cancer Clinical Research, Drug Development and Therapeutic Accessibility Workshop in Bethesda, MD on May 1, 2018. The session focused on access to clinical studies and cancer treatment from the patient’s perspective.

On May 3, 2018, I published the second edition of my book A Walk with Purpose. I wrote the first edition in three months, as I was gravely concerned at the time that my health would deteriorate, and the manuscript wouldn’t get finished. But now I was afforded much more time to carefully review, edit, and rewrite the story. I’m finally happy with the result.

Shortly thereafter, I spent a week-long vacation with my parents, grandmother, and aunt in Lake Louise, a hamlet in Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies. The company, weather, food, and scenery were wonderful. For a whole week, I almost forgot about cancer – especially as my appetite returned. So did my eyebrows and eyelashes – thank goodness.

Having not satisfied my zeal to hike, upon my return home from Canada I took Humphrey for a 5.5-mile walk on the Appalachian Trail. The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area is home to 28 miles of the Appalachian Trail and is less than a 2-hour drive from where we live. The heat, humidity, and insects were a sharp contrast to hiking in Canada, but it was important for me to get back to another one of my favorite places.

Lorie and I attended a fabulous Memorial Day barbeque with friends. This only reinforced the sense of normalcy during the period, including imbibing a few adult beverages. Certainly not one of my healthier decisions, but for a brief moment, I wasn’t that terminal cancer guy. It was nice.

Just last week, I returned to my hometown of Chicago in connection with the year’s largest cancer confab – the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting. I did a speaking event and second edition book signing for McKesson. In my 25-years working in the industry, I’ve never felt more welcomed as I did that night. It was truly humbling.

During the Chicago trip, I also had an opportunity to see many individuals for the first time in a while. This included Dr. James Gulley of the NIH, Brad Loncar, and many other longtime industry friends. Most importantly, I was able to reconnect with one of my younger cousins for the first time since Christmas 2012. It was exciting to hear about her husband’s brand new coffee business – Sandhill Coffee.

For the past two months, I’ve enjoyed being able to get outside, travel, and enjoy life without being hampered by the deleterious effects of chemotherapy. It’s been amazing and definitely the “pause that refreshes” – just as I had hoped.

But there is still so much to be done with regard to education and awareness of the human papillomavirus (HPV), its link to many cancers, and the available prophylactic vaccine. Accordingly, I hope that my “walk with purpose” as an expert patient is far from finished.

Towards the end of June 2018, I’ll have my first CT scan since being off treatment to assess whether my disease is progressing, regressing, or continuing to remain stable. The results of which will profoundly shape my future plans.

Until then, I’m going to continue to maximize this break from treatment and continue to enjoy every moment I can. I’m especially looking forward to school being out soon, so I can spend more quality time with my wife and daughters!

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On a Happier Note

The last few posts have been downers, so I wanted to share one of my happier, recent moments.

While I am far from an avid hiker, I do enjoy the activity and some of my fondest memories are from a several day journey up a nearby section of the Appalachian Trail/A.T. (starting in the Delaware Water Gap). Another favorite hike was in Yolo National Park, British Columbia, during a family trip.

My youngest daughter, Meg, sensing my zeal to hike once again, prodded me to take her hiking this weekend. I told her that she’d need the proper shoes/boots and that it would be cold, so she’d have to dress warm. We went shopping to pickup a pair of hiking boots and made plans to leave early Saturday morning. I was so excited!

We left mid-morning and it was a truly magical time. When we arrived at the Delaware Water Gap (much closer to us than British Columbia…), the forest was so quiet – you could not hear a sound. There was no breeze, so the 30 degree fahrenheit temperature didn’t feel “too” bad. Fortunately my thoughtful wife planned ahead and bought me a hat to bring, which I did. I never wear hats in the winter. I was glad I did today!

I pointed out the white “blazes,” or rectangles of white paint 2 inches wide x 6 inches high, to Meg as we walked along the trail for a few miles. The A.T. is marked for daylight travel in both directions using this system of blazes that are found on trees, posts, and rocks. One thing we did not expect to find was a small rock garden with carefully balanced stones. It was remarkable and in the middle of nowhere. With greater respect than when entering a church in the middle of a service, we carefully navigated to the center of the rock garden – careful not to bump any stones lest we incur the wrath of the Blair Witch Project.

Towards the end of our journey, it began to snow. The perfect ending to a perfect time. Rather than writing words to describe the day more, here is a small photo collection:

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