Wednesday, 31 December 2014

And it begins

So I have begun chemo and with it the true fight against cancer. On December 19th I had a port put in. This was actually a very quick procedure but when the nurse started to describe it to me I told her she could just skip to the part where I sign off on permission.

This port means that I don't have to get poked constantly to get my chemo drugs put in and makes it a very simple procedure. The surgery itself was only about 8 minutes and the doctor was very good and actually quite hilarious. I was tented off so that only my neck and right chest were exposed and they let me wear my headphones with my music on low so that they could still talk to me. 

A small (about 1 1/2 inch) incision is made and a triangular bubble was inserted above my nipple. Then a catheter (tube) was fed up to my neck where another incision was made and it was inserted into my jugular vein. Then I'm closed up and sent to recovery for a couple of hours. This was all done just with local freezing. The nurse asked if I wanted some numbing and I said yes so she leaned down to my ear and went "num num num num." (not really but that would have been awesome). The nurses were just awesome and after my surgery took some pictures for me.

After looking at the photos I noted a major mistake in my photo prep. When wearing yoga pants I need to hike them up and not slouch because the resulting muffin top is just too much.

The nurses were also smart and told me to take a sympathy photo just in case I needed it later. 

This needed to heal before anything else could be done but in that time I received a package that meant a great deal to me. It was from Fireman Rob (@teamfiremanrob). Rob is a firefighter and USAF vet from Wisconsin that competes in Ironman triathlons. However, to raise money for ailing firefighters Rob does the marathon portion of Ironmam in full bunker gear with helmet and Airpac. Seeing Rob out on the course in all that gear is truly inspiring and I've lived chatting with him a little the few times we've shared a course. After my diagnosis I messaged Rob on Twitter and told him how inspiring I found him. He responded by sending me a running hat from his charity. But the other item in the package brought Kim and I to tears. It was Rob's race bib from Kona (Ironman World Championship 2012) with a note on the back telling me to stay strong and that I'd earn my own. Triathletes will understand that this is a treasured item and so to give it to someone is really an incredible gesture. I framed it and went to Michael's craft store and put ánimo on the front. Thank you so much Rob.

On December 30th we got to meet with Dr. Michael Sawyer. He's an incredibly nice man but what was most impressive was his astounding knowledge. He sat with Kim and I for an hour and a half and although the prognosis is not much different he gave us some hope. He said no one can predict when any of us will go and that I shouldn't discount my physical fitness. He wants me to continue training as much as I can as, in his words, "we have no idea why Lance Armstrong is still alive." We asked about me planning to complete an Ironman in August. His response? "Go for it!" Awesome. Additionally, he also mentioned that there are drugs in the works that may be incredibly successful in the future. So although I was hoping he would sit us down and apologize because they were wrong and, in fact, I didn't have cancer I am very happy in his care. As we left he told me I would be starting chemo the next morning at 8:15am. This was great as I didn't have much time to fret, although I didn't sleep well.

They warned us to not arrive early as the doors don't open until 8:15 and they weren't kidding. A group of us huddled in the entry way to the room and at exactly 8:15 the doors opened up and we shuffled in. I was escorted to my chair and my nurse Paige asked if I had a port. I told her I did and this made her very happy as it is very easy to hook me up, and she was right. Rather than a standard needle the drugs are given through a device that can best be described as a power plug with a single pointy prong. This prong is pushed through the skin and into the bubble. That's it. 

The nurse was awesome and made me very comfortable. She explained all of the possible side effects and what to watch out for and fortunately I only experienced one of the very minor ones. My head and hands began to sweat excessively so I was given a shot of Atropine and it fixed itself up. As the nurse promised chemo was actually quite underwhelming. You sit in a chair for 3 hours and then you leave. That's it. 

Well, that's not totally it. For the next 46 hours I get to wear a very functional yet stylish fanny pack with a bottle of chemotherapy that pumps into me at a slow rate for the next 2 days. It's a bit of a hassle, but you know what REALLY sucks? Dying sooner.

I truly hope everyone has an amazing 2015 filled with incredible experiences and wonderful memories. You only get one shot and none of us know how long it will be. Ánimo

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Wake up call

Kim made a really good point the other day. She told me, "all the doctor said is, 'in 6 years something bad might happen to you'."

This resonated with me. None of us is guaranteed anything but in our day to day we can get super stressed out about stupid little things and forget to appreciate the good things. This morning for example, my 3 year old Calliah got up and came into our room. Typically I would shoo her away and try and get back to sleep. Instead I brought her in to bed and cuddled her extra hard and had a fun little conversation with her. This only cost me about 15 minutes of sleep but was worth so much more in terms of being a dad. 

A couple of years ago my friend Tyler and I hit a moose on our way to referee a hockey game. We easily could have been killed that night but weren't. Everything since then should have felt like a bonus to me but we get back into our normal day to day lethargy and forget to enjoy this limited life.
Our mortality is a real bummer but being awakened to it is sure a great way to remember to get the most out of the life we are given. 

Don't get me wrong, I've been really anxious and upset at times this past month but I'm usually able to find something positive to get me back on board. Sometimes it's a research study that gives me some hope, sometimes it's a survivor story and other times it's the fact that if things don't work out I won't have to endure this seemingly endless rebuild the Oilers are trying to put me through. 

The next step is getting a port inserted into my chest so that chemo is easier to do. This will be on Friday and I was pretty nervous about it. Fortunately my mom connected me with a local police officer that underwent treatment last year for colon cancer and he really put my mind at ease.

Stay healthy and happy and we'll chat soon. 

Friday, 12 December 2014

Roller Coaster of Emotions

Kim and I want to start out this post by stating how incredibly thankful we are to the people in our lives. This last month we have been taken care of in so many different ways and the sad reality of it all is that there is no way we will ever be able to repay anyone adequately. 

The dinner and silent auction that was held to make sure we didn't have any financial worries during our cancer battle was absolutely amazing. 300 people took time out of their lives and money out of their wallets for us. It was an amazing collection of people I've come across in my 34 years and it was so neat to have them all in the same room. Brett and Amie Babkirk put together an event that anyone would be proud of, oh, and they did it in about 3 weeks!

The other contributions Kim and I are ever-thankful for are the people we've relied on time and time again for babysitting, rides and my friends in the medical community who have entertained my seemingly endless stream of questions without batting an eye. 

Now on to the big stuff. We had our first consult with the Cross Cancer Institute doctors. Kim and I made our way into the room prepared to hear that I had Stage 4 Cancer and a plan on how they would attack it. What we got was absolutely gutting. Our oncologist had zero bedside manner and appeared to be nervous and unsure of what she was telling us. One if the first things she explained was that "this is not curable." This hit me HARD. I actually had to lay down on the table and actually sweated through my hospital gown. After rambling about some numbers she came back around and said, "but it is treatable." I half yelled half gasped "you need to say that first!" After this she explained that I would need to be "on chemo for the rest of my life every second week until I become too fatigued either physically or mentally to continue treatment. She then drew us a bell curve and explained that the 50% person gets 26 months. Everyone else ranges from 6 months to 6 years and because I'm young and healthy I'm probably on the right side of the chart. 

Devastated, Kim and I walked out and across campus to get some lunch as we had to kill an hour before chemo school started. We got a couple of sandwiches but hardly touched them as we just stared at each other and contemplated this news. After this we made our way back to the Cross and started chemo school. It was at this point I got pissed off and started thinking about all the positive stories I'd read online. So I started looking them up again and realized that what this first doctor had told me was about someone else. This was not how you treat a young athlete, this is how you treat an 84 year old with diabetes. 

After chemo school I approached the nurse and asked about switching doctors. She told me it wasn't overly common but got me a phone number and we submitted a request for a doctor change. I also put in a request directly through the Cross for the most aggressive oncologist on staff and I'm happy to tell you that he will be handling me from now on.

The next day we got a call from my original surgeon and she told us some more awesome news. I have to admit, I hated her SO much in the hospital, who was she to find cancer in me? It's ok because I told her before I left, but she has stayed on my case and two weeks ago had spoken with a liver surgeon who said they would do a liver resection if I responded to the chemotherapy. 

Attitude readjusted!!! The morning before I was told good luck and ride it out. The next morning I've got a team ready to work for me. 

People! Don't always accept the first thing you're told. I refuse to lay down and literally die, I've got too much to live for. Cancer fucked with the wrong guy. 

The next step is a CT scan on the 16th to establish my baseline then on the 19th to get a port put into my chest to make getting chemo easier. It will need time to heal and I'll start some time after Christmas. 

We're looking forward to getting going and starting with the good news!