Life With Cancer in the Family

I received an e-mail from a reader of the blog…even though I haven’t updated my story in a while I felt I’d share this story with anyone who comes across this blog in the future. This is a story a lot of people can relate to. The story of a spouse dealing with the heartache of their loved one battling an awful disease. I credit my wife for getting me through my struggle, she was so strong through it all…she injected me, went to every chemo, sat by me as I vomited, was with me as I lost and grew back all my hair, made sure I took all my medicines and vitamins, made sure I ate well, etc… the list goes on and on. Being a spouse, parent, friend or loved one of someone who is dealing with cancer is almost as painful as going through it yourself. I’m doing great now and will update on my story at some point in the future…

Please take a few minutes to read this story that was mailed to me…


My wife frequently tells me she can’t imagine what it was like for me, as her husband and caregiver, when she was diagnosed with cancer. I haven’t shared too much with her about my experiences during this difficult time in our lives, but I realize that my story could be beneficial to others. Perhaps, it will help someone else going through the same thing.

Three months prior to Heather being diagnosed with cancer, we had Lily, our first and only child. It was such a joyous time in our life, imagining what the future could hold for our beloved little girl.  However, when the doctor said mesothelioma, our hope and joy gave way to fear and despair.  I couldn’t grasp the reality of the situation. My wife just looked at me, and I did all I could not to break down. The doctor quickly brought me back to reality when he told us of our medical choices. The choices we made in that office were just the first of many impossible decisions we’d have to make over the following months.

I had a hard time controlling my emotions right after we found out. There were days when all I could do was curse in a fit of anger. I didn’t understand why we had to go through this. With time, I learned to control my emotions. I accepted our situation, and I realized I had to be strong for Heather and Lily. I needed to be the rock that held us together.

Most of my days over the following weeks were spent chipping away at a long and impossible to-do list. Aside from working full time, I had to make sure the house stayed clean, the baby was taken care of, the animals were fed, and other chores were done. On top of all that, I was busy making travel arrangements to Boston, where Heather would undergo extreme procedures to treat her. I learned to prioritize the list and accept help when it was offered.  While at first I tried to do everything myself, I quickly realized that I would run myself into the ground before I got everything done.  I started accepting some of the generous offers of help that came in from our friends and family, and I felt like a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders.  I will be forever grateful to each and every person who reached out to us in our time of need.

One time in particular that was very tough for me was when Heather and Lily stayed with Heather’s parents in South Dakota. It was after Heather’s mesothelioma surgery in Boston. She went there to recover for two months, while preparing for the next phase of her treatment. Unfortunately, I was not able to go with them, as I had to return home to work.  In those two months, I was only able to see Heather and Lily one time.

One Friday, I drove overnight after work to see them. It was snowing, and I had to stop to wait for the plows to try to clear the roads. I arrived Saturday morning exhausted from the drive. I spent a little time with them and drove back Sunday morning to get ready for work on Monday.  It was a long trip for a few precious hours with them, but it was worth every second.

It was hard to be away from them, but I learned to appreciate our time together. I don’t look at this situation as a loss, rather a learning experience. I’m thankful for the help we had; I would have never been able to do this by myself. Despite the odds, Heather is still alive and cancer-free to this day, and I have so many people to thank. It is my hope that by sharing our success story, we can help inspire others who are currently battling cancer.

Chemo #7

I’m quickly approaching the end of this nightmare. For those of you who don’t know, my Stage 2 Hodgkin’s went into remission early on and my oncologist is allowing me to end treatment early after 4 cycles (8 treatments).

I’ve totally had enough of this chemo. I’m emotionally and physically spent and cannot wait to reclaim my body and mind. I’ve been dealing with a common cold after my last chemo. With a lowered immune system and the round of neupogen shots I’m currently taking, I feel like my body has been put through the ringer. My bones are aching, my head is throbbing and my spirits are frustrated.

I have 8 more days until my final chemo. I doubt I’ll wake up the day after and feel great and refreshed but I hope that I can start getting back to normal quickly and feeling alright. It’s been a 4 month ordeal that I’m ready to lock away in my mind and to never remember again.

3/4th

Just got great news from my doctor…I can end my chemo early! I’m ending my 3rd cycle of ABVD today and will need just one more cycle. I’m lined up to be done the day before Thanksgiving.

I have plenty to be thankful for this year. My amazing wife who stood by me through this nightmare. My family for their support and love and my close friends for their prayers and love.

50/50

I was pretty angry when I saw the preview on TV for the movie 50/50. Having been recently diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and starting off chemo, I wasn’t too happy that there was a movie about a cancer patient who uses his illness to pick up girls. That’s exactly what the preview portrayed and I came to the theater expecting to hate it.

I have to say I actually enjoyed the movie, it wasn’t the most accurate recreation of someone going through cancer in their 20′s but it did show how it effects you as the patient and your parents, friends, loved ones, significant others, etc…

I don’t want to give any of the movie away but I did laugh and it wasn’t really focused on exploiting cancer to get girls. I would recommend it…I even got a little choked up towards the end!

 

In other news, I was on neupogen shots for the second time during the past week and as expected my spine hurt like hell. This time I was well prepared with plenty of meds to get rid of the pain and it went by not so bad.

My hair is no longer falling out. My 6th treatment is coming up and my hair is actually starting to grow back! It’s not as dark but it’s something to look forward to.

My doctor will let us know my fate on Friday regarding whether or not I have to do 4 or 6 cycles of chemo so I am getting a little anxious about that. More to come in the following days…

 

Chemo 4 + 5 and beyond

It’s been a while since I updated my progress. Chemo 4 was two weeks ago and it was one of the worst for me. I woke up that morning with anticipatory nausea…meaning that just the thought of having to get pumped full of poison and feel nauseous for 3-4 days was enough. As soon as I walk into the office, the smell sends my senses into an automatic nausea.

My regular nurse wasn’t in and the new nurse was a little too quick on the push for the Red Devil, luckily I was right next to a garbage can and I vomited continuously for about 10 minutes. I continued to vomit until the end of the chemo. I even vomited when the nurse flushed out my port. The doc wrote me out a script for lorazepam and told me to take some the night before and the morning of treatment. It helped a little bit for chemo #5 because I was at least able to sleep through the night without waking up or having nightmares. I did feel awful during the chemo but afterwards I actually felt fairly normal and the nausea wasn’t all that bad.

After Chemo #4 I had a PET scan done to see how the treatment was coming along. Doctor gave me great news that I had no hot spots and the lymph nodes had almost all shrunk back down to normal size. He gave me and my wife some options on how we can proceed with treatment…

First he said we can stop chemo all together now and go through a 2-3 week radiation treatment. That was out of the question for us since I’m 26 and there is too high of a risk for secondary cancers, especially with shooting radiation into my chest and neck…no thanks.

Another option he put on the table is that I may only need a total of 8 chemo treatments instead of 12…Uhhhh..duhhh…I’ll take it. Unfortunately, it’s too soon to tell. My doctor is off to a conference in my hometown of New York and said he wanted to talk about my course of treatment with some other oncologists. I have my fingers crossed for only 8 treatments. This way I’ll be done the week of Thanksgiving, take my law school finals and have a month to return to my old self.

Chemo #5 was yesterday…I did throw up during the chemo after getting the Red Devil but felt alright for the rest of the day. I did end up taking a 3 1/2 hour nap and then couldn’t get out of bed for the rest of the night. Today I feel pretty normal and took my anti-nausea meds as a precaution.

I have to start neupogen shots tomorrow through Thursday. My blood counts are low but haven’t gone down to a nonexistent level at any point. I’ve been taking multivitamin and eating fairly well. Last time I was on neupogen I had the worst spinal pain ever on the 4th day and that is something I am not looking forward to but it’s nothing some percocet won’t treat.

 

Chemo #3

I had my third chemo treatment on Friday. Usually after chemo I’m not that bad but this time I felt really crappy. Appetite is hard to come by after chemo but I sucked down a bowl of chicken soup and about an hour later as I was relaxing watching TV I barely made it to the bathroom to vomit it all up.

The incredible thing is I feel great after I throw up. The nausea subsides and I’m just hungry again. My doctor gave me a sample of some patch called Sancuso which is supposed to be a 7 day anti-nausea med. So far I can’t say I see a big difference but who knows, maybe I would have felt even crappier. I’m still taking my Compazine if I feel queazy.

Another weird effect I’m feeling is my taste buds seem to have lost some of their spark. I wasn’t very hungry yesterday but I tried eating some of my favorite Boars Head Honey Turkey and White American cheese and it just tasted so bland and gross. This is where I self-medicated with a few tokes of marijuana. I keep some marijuana around to help with the appetite but haven’t really been smoking much lately. I had to see if my taste buds would wake up a little and they sure did. I was able to finally eat something and actually enjoy the taste. It’s not very conducive if you have things to do but if you haven’t ate all day just take a few tokes and you’ll be good to go.

 

Chemo #2

It has been over a week since Chemo #2 and this one was way different for me than the first one.

The morning of my treatment I was hit with a lot of sudden hair loss. I was in the shower washing my hair and it was coming out in clumps. I knew it was going to happen but not that soon. Check out my last post for my thoughts on that.

I had my chemo on Friday and requested one change from the last time, push the A drug through SLOW! The red devil leaves an awful taste in your mouth and I sometimes smell it out of nowhere weeks later. My nurse pushed it through for about 7 minutes and it was very slow and I didn’t feel it one bit. The chemo went by smoothly, took about 3 hours for the whole thing.

I felt fine after the chemo and even went to go get a haircut right after. Saturday I was expecting to wake up to nausea and crappy fatigue but I felt fine all day. It was weird to me but I started thinking maybe it won’t be that bad. I’ve been eating well and drinking lots of fluids so maybe I flushed it out my system already.

Sunday. Not so much. Sunday I had a bit of fatigue and lots of nausea. I even vomited after one of my meals. Same thing on Monday with the crappy feeling and the vomiting.

By Tuesday I was back at school and felt okay. I was at about 85%. I was careful with what I ate because I didn’t want to vomit in school or during class (which wouldn’t be great to be known as the guy who puked during Constitutional Law or something).

Progressively each day gets better and I feel good. My wife force feeds me organic food to boost my immune system and had been giving me shots of Neupogen because my white blood cell count was at a 2.0 (Normal is 4.5+). A week after treatment I had my doctor check my blood and it was at a 5.2! He was very surprised that it bounced back so much in one week and I’m going to contribute that to a combo of the good diet, neupogen and mens multi-vitamin I take daily.

I wake up to a pillow full of little hairs every morning but I can’t say my hair has gotten too patchy. It’s very short at a #2 all over but I can’t say it’s growing back too fast. My facial hair has been growing slower, I shave once a week and it’s what I’d typically grow in 3 days. My bowel movements haven’t been all that great, constantly backed up and now it’s getting much better just in time for the next round of chemo. It’s a vicious cycle. Friday will be chemo #3 and that brings me down to 9 more treatments. Should be done by end of January/Early February. Cannot wait to get this over with! Luckily time has been going by quickly but I’d love to hit the fast forward button just once in life.

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