Cancer Story

Back to School

Continuing my experiences from the post on 9/14, I’ve now finished my treatment and was returning back to school. At this point, I was in 4th grade and didn’t really think much of how my friends would react to my return. However there was the feeling of excitement and anxiety like it was the first day of school. I remember showing up to class right after lunch and there was my classmates welcoming me back. Since I was still on treatment, I was only allowed to stay at school for part of the day and then resume the rest of my schooling at home. On that first day, I was quickly reminded how important it was to be part of school and having friends nearby. Initially it was showing them what I’d been through including procedures, hospital stays, and showing some x-rays that I brought with me. The proof was all there and at my age I was proud to show off what I’d been through. However, over time I started to be ashamed of sharing my treatment experiences because I could tell that some were freaked out. To put some perspective here, everyone was around 8 to 9 years old so the concept of cancer didn’t really make sense to most at that point. Also I didn’t have any hair at this point so wearing a hat in class was unusual and I could tell folks were wondered why I would be wearing it. Yet I had my good friends there to back me up in case any uncomfortable situation were to arise.  The most uncomfortable parts of being a fourth grader with cancer is having to leave halfway through the day and having to wear a chest protector during any activities outside or during intramural time. I was required to wear a chest protector to safeguard my catheter because I was still having my blood drawn and was receiving small amounts of chemo each week. Throwing on the chest protector was interesting especially when I had to hide around a corner to put it on and how it felt under my shirt. The chest protector was bulky and I could tell that others knew I was wearing one. Despite my annoying protective gear issues, I had a gym teacher who understood my situation and always found ways to involve me no matter what. For example, if we played floor hockey I was always the goalie since I was already wearing the chest protector. If we played kickball, I was the catcher which prevented a line drive from hitting my chest. As time went on, I would be allowed back for a full day of school and felt that my life was resuming back to normal.  From time to time there would be a couple of reminders that I was still different, especially when folks I didn’t know would take my hat off my head and notice I didn’t have any hair. This made me more self-conscious of my looks and made me more aware of anyone attempting to pull my hat again. Eventually, my medications would wear down and my hair started to grow back. I was about to finish fifth grade and was looking forward to middle school as my next challenge. The exciting part was that my catheter would come out that summer which meant no more chest protector. Thank god! My doctors indicated my blood results were looking good and at the moment I was in the clear. For the next few years, I would continue to live a healthy life that included an occasional office visit in case anything were to come back.

working out

Runners High

Having finished a 5 mile run around the town of Pelham it’s amazing to see how things haven’t changed much since I left. It’s like time stood still but with fewer people that I know and a couple of new businesses. I left Pelham after finishing college and lived in three other cities; Providence, Boston, and Chicago, before returning back. To be honest, much of my past happened in New York and in a way I wasn’t ready to move back there right away. Anyway, after living in Chicago for 3 years, my wife and I decided to move back to be closer to family and friends. As part of my adjustment, I started taking up running to get familiar with Pelham again. Typically, my runs would take place in the heart of town where I reminisce all the places I used to hit as a kid; the pizza parlor, the local grocery store and empty shops on Fifth Ave. The buzz of activity is what I love about running and how keeps me closely in touch with the area. Running for me started because of my mom, who ran every day before heading to work. She would get up early every morning around 6 AM to head out for a 5 mile run as part of her daily workout routine. One time she took me to the Bronxville race track to run a couple of laps. At first, I wasn’t a fan of it but over time my body got adjusted to running. Eventually, I started to increase my pace and distance to where I was going out on 2 to 3 mile runs. It was when I moved to Boston where I went from small runs to half marathon distances. It’s a great place to run especially along the scenic route of the Charles River. Boston offers runners a way to gauge their distance using the Science Museum as the starting point and the bridge (over the Charles) they’ve crossed. Typically I would start near the museum and cross the second bridge which was around 5 miles. Eventually, I saw the potential to challenge myself to go further and go beyond my 5 mile route. Then one morning I woke up early and was determined to go for a long run. It started as my normal route but instead of going right and crossing the bridge, I went straight instead. My goal was to make it to the next bridge that crossed the river, which was another 4 miles of running. By the end of my run, I ran a little over 9 miles which was more than I planned for. Convinced I could do more, I started participating in half marathons. I was completely into running to where I enjoyed the benefits of weight loss, eating whatever I wanted and more importantly just being outside. Having completed a number of half marathons, I felt I needed to take on a bigger challenge. After finishing a race in Philly, I decided that next year I’m going to complete a full marathon. Of course, this didn’t come without trepidation as the thoughts of running 26 miles seemed crazy. This is when I told myself that you need to do this, you’ve been through bigger life hurdles than this. Flashbacks of being bedridden in the hospital staring at large bags of chemo only added more fuel to my decision. A week later I purchased my ticket and signed my fate into completing the race. A few months later I started my training which involved running throughout the week and long runs on the weekend. The day of the marathon finally came and I was nervous but kept telling myself that “you’ve been through worse”. The race eventually started and the first half of the marathon went well but by 15th mile, I started getting bad leg cramps which force me to pull over. Honestly, I was a little worried at this point especially with 11 more miles to go. But after massaging my legs and drinking some water, I got back up and resumed the race. Seeing the finish line in the distance, I started to see all the perseverance and strength I built both physically and mentally paid off. There were many points I questioned my commitment through this experience and in the way the past helped fuel the future. The constant thought of my fight through my cancer treatment kept me determined to finish my goal. Crossing the line, was a huge weight off my back and a sense of completion. I saw my friends waiting for me and excited for my finish of the race. Despite my legs feeling sore, I was able to go out that night and celebrate the accomplishment. It was an unforgettable day that proved my commitment to a goal and my drive to take on any challenge in my life.

Cancer Story

First Hospital Stay (of Many)

Continuing from the earlier post on August 10th, here is where my treatment begins and I’m faced with side effects of the chemotherapy. Following my diagnosis, I was transported to the nearest hospital which was in New Rochelle to begin treatment. It’s interesting but when I try to remember these memories, it’s hard for my mind to find them. However, what I do remember is lying in a hospital bed with tubes going in and out of me. The tubes were funneling into my chest where a port-a-cath had been implanted. For those folks who don’t know what a port-a-cath is, it’s a tube that runs out of a small incision in your chest to the main vein underneath your skin. They insert this for comfort purposes; fewer needle pricks. The situation was very surreal and not something that I knew how to react to. Luckily a lot of my family was there to support me as I began this treatment journey. I remember them asking me how I was feeling and just having an automated “OK” response to everything even though I was feeling uneasy about what laid ahead. My uncle was the last one to arrive and I’d always get excited whenever he was around. As a kid, we would go down to my uncle’s house in New Jersey and I’d remember having so much fun with them. This time, however, my uncle looked concerned as he stood at the head of my bed but trying not to show it.  Then the oncologist came into the room greeting everyone as she slowly walked up to my bed side to check my vitals. After finishing, she explained to everyone the road ahead for me which consisted of a few heavy rounds of chemotherapy and if all went well, moving into remission. As the doctor explained this, various drugs and procedures were being mentioned that I never heard of. One of the procedures which scared me the most was the mention of “spinal taps” which reminded me of the bone marrow procedure. As we’re listening, most of us were nodding our heads but none of us knew how Chemotherapy worked. Mainly, Chemotherapy is a combination of different chemo drugs that are delivered at scheduled intervals. We then learned that I was already given my first dosage of chemo to kick off my treatment. The big question I used to get asked all the time was “Do you feel it (chemo)?” And to be honest, you don’t really feel anything, immediately. I’d say the first time I felt chemotherapy’s effects was when I attempted to run down our walkway in the backyard. Being athletic and a fast runner as a kid, I was always proud of my speed. Now it was like starting an old car with bad brakes. My legs struggled to get going and when I tried slowing down, that didn’t seem to work out either. I nearly crashed into the garbage cans on the side of my house which saved me from hitting the ground. It was almost like I had no control of my body. The next side effect would be my hair loss. This started probably two to three weeks later after I noticed my hair on my pillow or in the shower; which freaked me out. Then by the second or third round of chemo, that’s where I started having numerous muscle aches, soreness all over and nausea. By this point, my body preferred sitting or lying down than playing outside with friends. Probably the toughest for me was nausea. I hardly noticed it initially but by this point, nausea was happening all the time forcing me not to eat and to throw up often. But I would recover when they put me on steroids which caused me to blow up with water weight and more importantly eat a lot. Eventually, I would leave the hospital and continue my treatment at home where I slowly adjusted back to normal. However, my next big challenge would be returning to school and friends after being away for more than a month! Imagine yourself in this situation and how you would react especially now coming back with no hair and dealing with cancer and resuming school again. To be continued….

Food

Health Conscious

 

My previous post was a serious one and so I thought would keep this one lighter. In this post, I’m discussing something that resulted from the treatment that I went through and how it affected the way I look at food and diet. Throughout parts of my treatment, I had to take steroids, not for muscle growth, but to promote blood counts after rounds of chemotherapy. The upside to taking steroids was that my immunity would become stronger which would allow me to go out in public. The unfortunate side-effect was having to endure a strict diet of no salt or sugar while on it. I always remember this being so tough especially at my age (7 – 8 years old) and being told I can’t have any sugar or salt while friends ate pizza, chips, basically whatever they wanted. Even going to the grocery store was an adventure reading all the nutrition facts of the food we’d purchase. The acceptable guideline I had to follow was 50 mg or less of sodium and 0 grams of sugar. If one day I decided to violate this diet it would result in some serious life-long condition like becoming a diabetic so I had to take this seriously. However, the silver lining to all of this was that I learned an essential practice that I use to this day, which is food nutrition. It’s made me more food conscious and aware of what I put in my body. This led me to consider various diets that ensured better health. Yet finding the right diet was challenging especially when you read headlines like “Eat more Protein”, “Remove Gluten” or “Avoid Carbs”. It’s an ongoing challenge to find middle ground on what the best diet is to follow. Plus, if you’re like me you stumble into some diet and hope that it will make you feel better or deliver some additional benefits like more muscle or energy. Or even better watch those documentaries that show up on Netflix or Amazon, which complicates it even more. Having seen several of them it’s hard not to completely change one’s diet immediately. Most documentaries examined farming practices or where your food comes from but there were two that really changed the way I look at food. Those two documentaries were What the Health, and Forks over Knives. These two documentaries looked at the correlations of eating meat, dairy and sugar and its effect on our health, and how it’s benefiting health organizations like (i.e. ACS, AHA) and the Pharmaceutical business. Sounds crazy and some of it seemed unbelievable at times. Without getting too much into ‘the weeds’, the outcome or suggestion was to follow a vegetarian almost vegan diet which to me sounded crazy. For a guy who loved having a good juicy steak for dinner, this was tough news to hear. Now, most would say don’t take these documentaries too seriously and I’d agree with them to a point. After watching Fork over Knives, it became apparent, almost alarming how meat consumption and cancer are so closely linked. This documentary (as opposed to What the Health) presented a lot more research and testing on how meat and dairy can lead to cancer. For a guy who takes diet very seriously and had a history with cancer, it only added wood to the fire. As you probably guessed, this led me into following a vegetarian diet which is tough but I found ways to manage it. Having been on the diet for more than a month I have noticed some notable health benefits including more energy and weight loss. The biggest benefit which I didn’t realize until recently was fewer stomach aches. I used to get awful stomach aches usually after dinner and around bedtime that would keep me up at night. Since on the diet, I haven’t noticed this problem at all!  Additionally, I discovered some awesome alternatives out there which make it easy for a meat lover like myself to transition over. Now, I’m not suggesting you immediately change your diet and become a vegetarian or vegan. Hell, from time to time I still slip in some meat. Overall the message of this post is the importance of knowing what you eat and how it makes you feel. For me, eating and nutrition were something I had to follow with treatment, but now it’s a way of life.

Cancer Story

Diagnosis Day

I still remember it like it was yesterday. I was eight years old and wasn’t sure what was wrong with me but knew it was something. Only weighing 72 pounds, pale to almost ghostly looking, hardly eating and getting aches in my legs whenever I moved them. I’d tell myself maybe it’s a bad flu, what’s worse than that? At my age, the idea of a fatal disease (like cancer) didn’t come to mind. My parents noticed the issue too, my father decided to arrange an office visit with our family doctor. After evaluating me, my doctor decided to get blood work done right away. I was then told to go wait in the waiting room while my parents were taken into a separate room with the doctor. Following the meeting, I overheard my parents being told to go see another doctor and to head there immediately. My parents concerned that I might be asked to draw blood again decided to give me a break in between and to get me some food. We finally reached the next doctor and another dreadful round of blood work was drawn. Our doctor came into the examination room with my blood results in her hand then mentioning she needed to perform one more test called a bone marrow pull. It sounded scary especially when “bone” was in the name. None of us knew what was in store for me but all I remember was that it was the most painful experience ever. Think of injection that goes further than skin level and is actually pinching your bone. Yea exactly. It was painful as hell and for some reason, it seemed like it took forever. Once it was done, I was really hoping this day would end. In the waiting room again, my parents were in the other room talking with the doctor. They came out and I could tell that it wasn’t good especially seeing my mom’s face and my father consoling her. Since I didn’t know what cancer was I didn’t know how to react when I was told that was what I had. In the days following I was given more explanation, as well as the name of cancer I had; Leukemia. Treatment began a week later and I got to spend some quality time in the hospital. Not sure what to expect, I went into treatment with optimism and hope that I would get through this; no matter what. More details to come on my treatment and my experience through it all.

Uncategorized

The mission statement

Welcome to my site and its first post!

Alright here we go… Looking forward to making it big in the blogging world. Deciding on what to blog about was a big decision but I needed to find a bigger purpose in my life and an outlet to share my experiences. Initially I thought I should talk about my work in digital marketing and offer opinions about current trends. Yet feedback I received from others was to build a site around a story or something that impacted my life and to stay away from giving opinions. Especially since opinions are everywhere these days and it would be nice to stray away from that and focus on a story instead. To write a worthwhile blog, I had to think really hard about my life and a unique story that would be worth telling. It didn’t take long for me to finalize my decision after that. I knew that if I were to write about my life it would have to be my fight with cancer. Not an easy subject for me to talk about especially when some of my close friends don’t even know I’ve been through it. A deep subject for sure however when conferring with friends and family it further solidified the narrative of this site than talking tech. So my plan is to discuss my experiences with cancer and how it’s affected my life today by providing it with more purpose. The goal of this blog is not to have you leaving depressed and feeling sad but having a brighter outlook for life like I do. Personally it’s made me more aware of the value of life and how to take on any challenge head on.

My experience is certainly not unique as there are many of those who have fought the same fight. This is also probably not the only blog out there that talks about this subject either but it is my own experience and how my life has been impacted. Looking forward to sharing it and hearing your thoughts…