Friday, May 23, 2008

Blog Retired

"Parting is such sweet sorrow."

- Shakepeare, Romeo & Juliet

With more than a little hope, I am optimistically closing out this blog. It's purpose was to document my cancer fight, to provide honesty and information to those who have to fight this disease in the future . . . and to keep my support network in the loop on my progress.

In closing this blog, I am taking the leap of faith that cancer is behind me. It's not a certainty, but by closing this blog, I am making a statement that I believe I'm cured and ready to get back to living.

There have been a number of other cancer patients who contacted me and found this blog helpful. This brings a tear to my eye, well that and thinking about those who will find this blog in the future. To those, you are not alone and you can win your fight! God loves you, regardless of how you feel about Him. Embrace life, even if it's upside down for a while. I know what you're going through and what you will go through, and my heart goes out to you. If you stay positive and hopeful, you always have a chance. Surround yourself with loved ones and remember your job is "to just get through it". If you have questions or need to talk, please contact me.

To those new folks I've come to know, please stay in touch. I am grateful for your posts, your interest, and your positive support.

To reach me via email, my handle is savagecole57. I'm at So my

Monday, May 19, 2008

Spring Has Sprung (a leak)

"With the rich and mighty, always a little patience."
- Spanish proverb

The quote above has almost nothing to do with me. I'm certainly not rich and mighty would be a stretch. The patience bit, ok. But the quote is a line from the play that I just directed The Philadelphia Story.

Throughout rehearsal, there were many times I could not speak. Beeds and then Josh spoke for me. They read my directorial notes to the cast from Meaks' laptop that I borrowed. The cast was patient while I coughed and went mute in the middle of feedback. When I needed to leave rehearsal because I was exhausted, they understood and worked on without me.

The show was pretty good at the end of the day, and definitely a helpful and rehabilative step in my recovery.

Work has gone well, although I've moved temporarily to a part-time schedule. My management and Human Resources team have been very supportive and understanding. They are giving me just the right amount of work to keep me engaged and bring me up to speed without exhausting and burning me out. It's so good to get into the office and feel productive again, and the human contact with friendly faces is gold.

My car is on the road and I've put a few hundred miles on it already. Sure it turns head and puts smiles (and looks of fear) on other people's faces, but that is nothing compared to what it does for me. The car's deep rumbling engine and powerful responsiveness is really bringing me back from cancer mentality. I can't help but forget the troubles of my cancer fight when I'm behind the wheel of that mystical machine and the terrifying pleasure that driving it brings works wonders for me.

My 38th birthday was Friday, and Kristina organized a nice party for me. Friends, members of my cast, and my family got together for beer and appetizers. I had my first few sips of beer in about 8 months. Didn't taste great, but I've always been more of a whiskey man anyway. That . . . I'm afraid . . . is something I will have to look forward to.

All of my happiness and optimism is tempered by concern for others still very much in their fights. I know I'm not out of the woods yet, but others I know are having rough times. The beautiful Lorelei in Canada has learned that her cancer has spread to multiple lymph nodes in her neck and under her arms. Another hero I know recently passed in his struggle, and my mom's friend's son is moving to a cell-replacement trial for his multiple-met cancer. I smile and live for these folks, and pray and think good thoughts for them. I know from my fight how rough things can get, and how important it is to take what pleasure you can from life despite pain and fear. That's not just true of cancer patients, you know.

Spring Has Sprung

"With the rich and mighty, always a little patience."
- Spanish Proverb

Monday, April 21, 2008

Return to Work

In my job at Prudential, I've heard or used the phrase "return to work" hundreds or thousands of times. I have a whole different perspective on those three simple words right now.

For quite some time I've been looking forward to getting back to the office. I love my home, but spending any more time there during the day would drive me crazy and I wanted to feel productive and dynamic again. Work gives me that.

When I returned to the office, I found big changes that have occurred. Familiar faces have left the company or our division, including our President Ed Baird. Changes everywhere have taken place including big changes within my own division. Plus my office was moved. So right now, in my second day, I'm reacclimating myself.

My voice has held out better than I thought, but I do have moments where I can't speak . . . which is awkward and difficult. My hearing has not been a problem at all yet, but with my first conference call I'll know better where we are there.

The main thing I'm working on now is seeing whether or not my body can take full-time hours or needs to come back on a part-time basis for the first month or so. Being me, instead of starting slow, I'm trying to do full-time hours this week. If I can't do it, then I figured I would adjust then. I just didn't want to come back part-time without trying to go full-time first.

Oh, one none work-related thing of note popped up. I was on the American Cancer Society's Cancer Surivor forums a couple days ago. I saw something that took a lot of pressure off me. It's very common for head/neck survivors not to be able to eat for even 9 months to a year following treatment. Here I've been beating myself up because it's a little over 2 months and I'm not eating yet. So, what I'm going through is very normal and I don't need to feel like I'm not doing enough. When I can get this PEG tube out of my stomach, and get to eating real food again . . . that will be incredible. I'm smiling just thinking about what the future holds for me.

Finally, I wanted to let people know that I've gained a little wait back and am at 180 (still about 30-40 pounds below pre-treatment wait). I look about the same size I did when I got out of college. And my hair is really coming in now. It's getting thicker and longer already. Soon I'll look like a hippy.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

No Longer Cancer Patient . . . Cancer Survivor

First of all, I apologize for not posting for quite some time. There has been a lot going on and as superstitious as it sounds, I did not want to tempt fate by posting anything until I met with my doctors, etc.

Tomorrow I am scheduled to return to work, and I'm excited to be going back. My excitement is tempered by my concerns about my voice and hearing. I still have trouble speaking, but I am speaking again. My hearing is also affected, to the point where the doctor says I have the hearing of a 70-year old. In time, some hearing loss may be recovered. At the one year point, if no improvement is achieved . . . it's hearing aid time. I can live with that. I'm just worried about the near future and being able to hear people during conference calls, etc. Listening and talking are crucial parts of my job, and I always want to be the best.

The results of a recent PET scan for cancer found some nodules in my lungs that could be cancer. The lungs are a common spot for nasopharynx cancer to metasisize (spread) to after treatment, so I was concerned. Dr. Weinstein ordered a CT followup and meeting with top doc pulmonary specialist Sturman at Penn.

My CT was done and last week I meet with Dr. Weinstein again. He scoped my nose/throat, which is a slightly uncomfortable process . . . but I have worried about possible recurrence of my nasopharynx tumor and this was a way to take a look. He said everything looked great up there. He also reviewed the CT and PET and thought there was probably nothing to worry about, but to still see Dr. Sturman. This was a tremendous relief, but not the greatest feeling I got out of that visit. You see, I saw Dr. Weinstein key the word "remission" into the computer.

I was till nervous about the possible lung spread, especially with the heavy cough I had developed. So, this morning when I met with Dr. Sherman (chemo doc) and Dr. Sturman (pulmonary), I was keeping my fingers crossed. The other key piece of information that I wanted from Dr. Sherman was the result of my EBV test. You may recall me mentioning that post-treatment EBV levels are more predictive of cancer recurrence than PET or CT or MRI. Elevated levels after treatment, even with apparently clean PET/CT/MRI tend to lead to a recurrence and/or spread of the cancer. Whereas, normal levels do not.

Dr. Sherman checked me out and it was good to see him again. He said my EBV levels were so low they were undetectable . . . AMAZING news. It reminded me of the old show Cheers when Norm greets the beer tap repair guy with the phrase: "If only we lived in a culture where men could kiss men without shame." Awesome news. He followed it up by saying that my PET/CT results in the chest were nothing to worry about. So, I left Dr. Sherman's office feeling very good.

So, then I headed over to Dr. Sturman to see what he thought about the lung tests, etc. Dr. Sturman was extremely professional. A great doctor. He talked about my situation asking many questions, and listening to my lungs very carefully. He said everything sounded normal and took me to view my CT scans. He noted that there were three suspicious spots on my lungs. The first he said showed signs of inflammatory scarring, and almost definitely was not cancer. The second he said was a cluster at the bottom of my lungs that showed every sign of being drainage and not cancer. The third he said he really didn't think was cancer but was less easy to completely dismiss. He said it was very unlikely to be cancer, but the only way to know for sure would be surgical resection which he thought was unwarranted. Instead, he said we'd monitor it next time we saw each other . . . in 6 months. This tack seemed more of a thoroughness move than any concern of actual cancer on his part.

I don't want to pull a George Bush "Mission Accomplished" here, but everything points to me having beaten cancer. God, Kristina, my mom, and everyone who cared and prayed for me worked wonders! Now it's time to really live again.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Big Day

Hello, everyone!

My SLOW recovery tends to progress SLOWLY, but I am getting better. I have learned that this is the toughest time in the process for many survivors/patients mentally . . . because you've done all you can with the treatments and you're waiting for the all clear and for your body to shake off 6 months or so of physical abuse.

I've noticed my loved ones around me have been more impatient lately for me to get better. It's so easy for me to forget how this is not just my battle and struggle. Everyone else has so much at stake, and it's natural for them to want to see results too. It's also natural for them to go to the source of those results (me) and be selfish or impatient for me to get better. Of course, nobody wants me better, eating and living than me. Unlike everyone around me, I've been trapped here the whole time. I don't get breaks to visit friends or family, to have a nice meal to get away from it, etc. For me, this IS life. The point is, I understand everyone's love and wanting me to get better . . . but it's hard enough for me to be understanding, patient and calm with my body when I don't have outside negative pressure.

Everyday, I want to get up and be able to grab a bagel and cream cheese, a mocha latte and head to work where I see friends and feel productive. I want to meet up after work for drinks or dinner with friends and then head out to meet Kristina, where we go to a movie, etc. A lot of nights I have dreams about eating food, being at work, and getting my old life back. Then I wake up. It's hard as hell to fight the disappointment and depression, and that gets compounded when the people I love are obviously hurt/inconvenienced by my condition.

This is a part of the strength that is coming with the process though. I've got to be strong enough to fight through all of this, and not get down.

Tomorrow morning, I have my PET/CT scan at 11am ET. It's the test where they see if there's any cancer cells in my body. There are often false positives, meaning the test says you have cancer when you don't. There are almost no false negatives, so if the test comes back negative it's good news. If it comes back positve, I'm not going to fall apart.

In the mean time, I'm battling through the last stages of a little bout with the flu. Everyone around me has had it, just about. It's a little funny to me. Everyone talks about how awful it is, and how they "pray for death", etc. I suffered through it for a few days and thought, this is a piece of cake. Nausea, fatigue, congestion, a little vomiting? Welcome to my world. hehehe. I'm a survivor now, and the flu doesn't phase me.

Monday, March 17, 2008

"Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real."

- Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses

In just two short weeks, I am due to be back at work. Given the fact that I'm barely speaking right now and not eating, I'm a little worried about being ready to go back to work. Mentally and emotionally, I've been ready (even eager) to get back to my work. Physically, I'm in great shape to sit at a desk and computer all day. It's what I've been doing, in fact training for, these last few weeks. However, the power of speech without vomiting is pretty critical to what I do. So, I'm hoping to really get some serious recovery going on that front in the next two weeks.

Two weeks. It seems so little time in the grand scheme of 6 months out of the office . . . but I know how this recover business is. Any morning I could wake up and feel well enough to try soup or food. Although right now my throat is full and my nose very congested, this could change. I am hopeful that in the next two weeks I'll be ready to go. It does worry me a bit, but I will do my best. Prayer and determination should get me ready to return.

One thing that troubles me is that my nose is perpetually congested . . . which is a symptom of nasopharynx cancer. Did the radiation nuke the primary site or is there residual that remains? Is it on the rebound and determined to finish what it started? In a few weeks, I meet with Dr. Weinstein and Dr. Sherman again to get answers to this question.

Like Dr. Bar Ad (my radiologist), Dr. Sherman will be leaving Penn. This summer he'll be going to Sloan-Kettering in New York, a world-renowned cancer hospital. It's good knowing that my doctor is so well regarded that he can secure a position at one of the best cancer hospitals in the country.

At this point, getting ready for a return to work, I look back at how far I've come and what I've been through. I still have a ways to go before life returns to anything resembling normal, but the most gruesome parts of the battle are hopefully behind me. I think of the long weeks of radiation, the 6 different chemo treatments, scores of trips to the hospital for fluid and tests, and those lovely emergency room visits. Looking back at it all, it's very easy to forget what I've been through . . . even though it was such a struggle while I was going through it. It's truly amazing what the human psyche can do in forgetting past pain.

What I cannot forget is the love and strength I had around me through this battle. I remember so clearly how surreal it was to hear that I had advanced cancer, and thinking I was going to die. The calls that I made to my mom, my wife, my friend Brian, and to my boss Alada remain so vivid to me. The drives to University City with dad and with mom for treatment are indelible. Mom's smiles and Kristina's constant and tender support will always be with me. The kind words from those on this blog, Nancy's cards, Shelly's visits, emails, texts, and the caring look in friends' eyes, these are all treasures that I've collected during this difficult time. With the love of so many, I've gotten through it.