Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

Well, in a few hours it will be 2012 here in Colorado so I thought I would muse a bit on the year gone by. It's been a hard year with some serious medical hurdles to clear - as you, my faithful blog reader have seen through my blog posts. The big upside to this year is that I am demonstrably healthier than I was last year at this time ("Look, mom - no bumps on my neck"!). I'm involved in a clinical trial for a new antibody therapy drug called Adcetris  which does cause my hematocrit to trend downwards so my athletic performance still isn't back to anywhere near where I was pre-cancer. But by all normal measurements I'm pretty healthy - going to work full time, exercising several times a week, eating and sleeping normally, able to travel for business, etc. I'm looking for 2012 being a year of continued good health, some good work at my current job and getting more involved in LIVESTRONG biking and cancer support activities. For the occasional blog reader and to help me get some sense of closure, here's a summary of what the year felt like to me.

January - uggh. Pretty depressed with the news of the recurrent Hodgkins. Go through a battery of tests to make sure I can tolerate more chemo. Start chemotherapy. Start to learn about stem cell transplants (basically a transfusion of your own blood after getting blasted by high dose chemotherapy).

February - Complete initial chemotherapy. Very positive response to the chemotherapy so this buoys my spirts quite a bit. Get some time off between the chemotherapy and the start of the stem cell therapy process. Try to get as healthy as possible for the upcoming shit storm.

March - The chemo gauntlet is thrown down. Harvest bone marrow stem cells, then blasted with high dose chemotherapy. Bye bye, immune system. And hopefully, bye-bye cancer. Then on March 28th, my "2nd birthday". I get back my own stem cells and start to rebuild my immune system. At the end of this month we get the sad news that Socrates has passed away, probably from some sort of pancreatic illness. Just another "fuck-you" that the universe cares to throw at us. Starting to feel like my middle name is Job. But wait, there's more...

April - The missing month. 32 days in a row of staying in the house, only going out for walks around the neighborhood or to visit the doctor's office or hospital every day. Multiple transfusions of platelets and red blood cells. Lose 12 lbs in 4 days. Chemo makes my entire GI tract - from mouth to anus - feel pretty unhappy. Pick up some small infection but given my non-existent immune system, I have to get treated with 5 infusions a day for 10 days. This starts at 5:30 am and ends at 11:00. At home. All done by Susan. While I try not to puke or pass out from various things. My workouts are reduced to doing laps on the 2nd floor of our house. Susan earns Wonder Woman status for being with me through all of this. There are angels living among us and I am very lucky to have one as my wife. I build up a debt of about 64,000,000 chick flicks I will need to go see to pay her back for everything she has done for me.

May - Coming back to life. Get back to work, immune system reboot complete, a bit more exercise. Platelets, reds and whites are all reasonably happy. I get back on the bike and rejoin the human race. At the end of the month we welcome a new member into the family - Athena joins us as our next generation philosopher cat. Another sign of returning to life...

June - More improvements in health. Manage to ride on a team that does the 24 hours of eRock. Am probably in the 95% percentile in terms of lap speeds for participants in the race. Receive many pity votes going up the one hill ("you're doing great!") as people stream by me. Resist the urge to put bike pump in spokes of passing well wishers. Susan's legend gains a new entry as she super-mans on the course at 5:30 am and comes into the transfer station covered in blood. My Woman of Steel gets patched up and returns to the race course to do another lap. I am SO HAPPY to be able to ride my bike with friends and not get sick or crash or throw up or pass out or... But I long for the days when I was not in the bottom 5% of bike riders in terms of speed around the course.

July - Steady progress on all fronts. Training for the Copper Triangle and the BStrong rides in August. Lots of work upheaval with management structure changes. Check my neck about 30 times a day, waiting for the return of the dreaded bumps indicating the cancer has come back and is trying to kill me. Living under the cancer Sword of Damocles. Join a men's support group and we chat about our mortality, fears, hopes, emotions. Anger, fear, sadness, enlightenment. A pretty intense hour every week for six weeks. A good group of guys and I hope they all are around for a long period of time. During the six week period, one of them gets a diagnosis that his multiple myeloma as returned and another ends up back in the hospital, probably related to his leukemia. Nothing casual about the events in the lives of these guys. As always, it's good know that there other people in the same shit storm as you but it's still hard work to sit down and share the ups and downs of this kind of experience.

August - Great success at both the Copper Triangle and BStrong rides. I finish both of them and get to celebrate each success with friends and family. CAT scan shows no new growths in my lymph nodes. Yeah! However, towards the end of the  month I start to develop some sort of illness - spiking fevers after I exercise. Uh-oh...

September - Despite fears of some sort of infection getting a hold of me, we travel to Bozeman to see Caitlyn. I end up getting a bit sicker while there and we decide to come back a bit early. We had a good time visiting for about 5 days in total but I'm scared that I'm sick again. My lung function doesn't feel great and I'm worried that my immune system is in trouble. Get back to Denver, do some pulmonary tests and my lung function is actually better than in February. I start an anti-bacterial medicine that seems to get a handle on whatever is making me sick and I gradually get over whatever it is. So now you're sick, now you're better, we don't know what it was but don't worry. Am reminded again that despite all the advances in medicine it's still a bit of an imprecise  science.

October - Settling into a pretty nice routine. The SGN-35 protocol makes me a feel a bit fatigued but in general I'm tolerating it ok. I develop a couple of skin rashes that no one can completely explain. Start doing some more heavy duty business traveling with no side effects. Starting to get nervous about my next CAT scan.

November - Another normal CAT scan. Yeah! Enjoying life and trying to be patient with the fact that I'm on a 21 day blood chemistry roller coast. Get the SGN-35 on day 1, feel ok for a couple of days, then  feel a bit fatigued for 4-6 days, then gradually improve until day 21, then start it all over. Get a small head cold and get over it without any medical intervention. Yeah! My immune system is functioning ok...

December - Get another rash. No one knows what it is. Gradually it goes away. SGN-35 roller coaster continues, although on December 19th my 'crit is > 40 - the first time this has happened since December of 2010. Awesome holiday times with family coming in from all over the world. Still working through intermittent periods of anger, fear and sadness but the good moments far out weigh the bad.

And speaking of good moments, I have to wrap this up and head out for a Near Year's Eve celebration. I hope your 2012 is full of good friends, family, love and good health. Cya on the bike/hockey rink/soccer field!