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Chemo Round 52, Golf, and My Dad

The last week was packed to the gills, and I'll admit that I've been a little slow on the blog postings, so here I go.

First, Chemo Round 52.

So we did a little tweaking to my chemo regimen as a result of that lymph node way back when (that is still shrinking thanks to radiation and chemo), my CEA tumor marker moving up and down in small increments during the last few months, and a desire to get on a regimen that can be more effective than the current one. It was a small modification, but I felt the difference. FOLFIRI, the backbone of my chemo regimen, remained the same, but we swapped out Avastin for the relatively new drug, Zaltrap. Avastin and I had a lovely run – over two and a half years – but I bid it adieu this week. Thanks for the cancer killing, Avastin. I’m not even mad that you gave me bloody noses every now and then. All part of the deal.

Dr. Lenz told me that Zaltrap’s side effects would be a little tougher than Avastin’s, but not much more. He was pretty dead-on with his prediction. I felt about 30% more tired, my headache was about 30% worse, and instead of bouncing back to about 85% on Thursday, I was closer to 50%. By Friday, I was at full speed and now I’m off to the races, as usual. Now, if this new drug combo set me back a bit, which is not easy to do, imagine what it’s doing to those straggler cancer cells. Total domination.

After I bounced back from this round of chemo, my schedule got kicked up several notches. I must have had half a dozen meetings on Friday – all for The Wunder Project or the Foundation and all very productive and exciting – and capped the night off by celebrating my dear friend Tracy’s birthday on the zen garden rooftop of a swanky hotel in Downtown L.A. Once I’m bounced back, there’s really no stopping me. Saturday was full to the brim with activity as well, since The WunderGlo Foundation hosted its first ever golf tournament. Our TEE OFF AGAINST CANCER golf tourney and banquet was a big success and a ton of fun. Because the people at Brookside Golf Club were so incredibly professional and efficient, this was the easiest event we’ve ever thrown. As a result, you know we’ll be back for our second annual next year. Good times!

And now, today is Father’s Day. I am beyond grateful to have such a great dad who always has my back, is always there to rub my back, and is always game for acting silly and crazy (which I do quite often). To celebrate him, we’re off to Santa Barbara today to take in a beautiful day.

When you’re surrounded with love and support like I am, every day is a beautiful day.

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there! Keep being awesome, dudes.

Fun Times at ASCO

Last Thursday, I hopped on a plane and took off to Chicago. The reason? One of the biggest cancer conferences in the world: the ASCO (which stands for American Society of Clinical Oncology) Annual Meeting. All of my oncologist buddies were going to be there, from USC and from abroad, and I was excited to learn more about cutting-edge research, support our docs as they spoke or presented their research, and meet with other colon cancer groups. I knew I'd have a full plate of activity but I was excited to clean my plate, one chomp at a time.

So far, it's been awesome. This is my first time to the ASCO Annual Meeting, and it's gigantic. Tens of thousands of people here. The conference is held at this convention center which feels like one of the biggest buildings I've ever been in...for real. The presentations have been quite interesting and I've been able to meet with my friends from other cancer organizations. Obviously, whenever Dr. Lenz and I are in the same place, it's a party so this has definitely been a fun and educational experience. My lawyer brain has to stretch a bit to understand some of the stuff that's being discussed, but it stretches and whenever I have a question, I just whisper it to Dr. Lenz and I get my answer. I'm sure the conclusions I'm drawing are pretty rough but I love immersing myself into the research side of things, especially since that's what The Wunder Project is all about. 

On Saturday night, USC Norris hosted a reception where I got to see two very important and very European members of The Wunder Project. The first was my boy Justin Stebbing, an extremely well-respected oncologist and researcher who practices in London. He serves on our Medical Advisory Board for the Project and he's devilishly funny. I met him back when I was in England in January, and it was so awesome to reunite. 

The second was Sabine Tejpar, one of the doctors on our "dream team" for The Wunder Project and a brilliant researcher and oncologist from Belgium. It was great to touch base with her and talk about our upcoming plans and the work we'll do together. Now I just need to raise the money and put these guys to work!

Dr. Lenz's schedule has been insane. From meeting to meeting to interview to dinner meeting to reception. Poor guy gets up at the crack of dawn and can't rest until around midnight. But hey, heavy hangs the crown when you're the king of colon cancer. We've been meeting up throughout the days and it's remarkable to me how many people are just itching to shake his hand and have a word with him. His sense of collaboration is so incredible that he's quite literally worked with people from all over the world. He is so dedicating to moving things forward, and it's so apparent during this conference. What an incredible guy, right? I know he's proud of me, but I am so deeply proud of him. That's my HJL. He speaks later on tonight and I will most certainly be the loudest person applauding him when he's done. It's a great feeling to know that your partner in crime -- and in killing cancer -- is a superstar.



An Epic Weekend and Chemo Round 51

Before I tell you about Chemo Round 51, I absolutely must recap the weekend before Chemo Round 51. It was certainly one for the books, and all the fun I had carried me on a wave of awesomeness into my next treatment.

On Saturday, I had my official celebration of completing 50 – as in 5-0 – rounds of chemo. I ran errands all around town, picking up food and drink , and got home just in time to hang the most important decorations (pictures of me taken before each round of chemo – 50 pictures to hang all over the house!). The night was a blast – I DJed a mini-set (all of my favorite hip hop jams which made it so fun), hung out with good friends, toured friends who hadn’t yet seen the house around my pad (and made them smell the leaves of my tomato, rosemary, and mint plants in my garden), and generally had a blast. The coolest part of the party had to be the photobooth my buddy/filmmaker extraordinaire Jordan set up. All of us took some pretty incredible pictures, and I got to get shots with all of my favorite people. You know what? I’ll add the pictures to the photo gallery here on the blog so you can check them all out. You can check them out here:

On Sunday, Jordan and I had some pretty sneaky plans for Will and my friend Stoney. Stoney’s birthday was on Sunday, and Will’s was just yesterday (the 24th), so we figured we’d plan something epic for both of them to enjoy. So that’s what we did. We blindfolded them and took them to Universal Citywalk, home of the iFly indoor skydiving facility. And we did indoor skydiving. After that, we grabbed some delicious sushi, then we grabbed some sinful candy at the gigantic candy store across the street, and after that, we watched 42 at the Imax theaters over at Citywalk. Then we went home, watched the DVD of our skydiving video, and looked through all the pictures. As you can see in the picture featured here, I wasn’t nervous or apprehensive during my indoor skydiving adventure: I was focused and poised. And we all had a blast.

Rolling into Norris on Monday morning was just a continuation of the fun. I had a blast showing Dr. Lenz our video from skydiving and infusion was nice and smooth. The rest of the week went fine – a pesky headache that came and went on Tuesday and Wednesday, then my trusty Thursday bounce back. I did what I could to stay hydrated, including getting fluids at Norris on Wednesday, and took it easy with plenty of naps. All in all, I emerged out of Round 51 unscathed, for which I am incredibly grateful.

I’ve got tons of work to do for The Wunder Project, so I’m sprinkling this Memorial Day weekend with plenty of fun but also plenty of focus. After all, cancer doesn’t take holiday weekends off, and neither do I.

Chemo Round 50

Well, I made it to and through Round 50, and I did it smoothly and successfully. I feel like the utter joy emanating from my room at Norris helped boost my body’s strength while I was infusing, and that positive energy that I felt from my family and friends continued to buoy me throughout the week. Honestly, it was one of the best rounds of chemo I’ve had, and I attribute that directly to all the love and support I was feeling. It’s a weird kind of excitement to barrel through one’s 50th round of chemo, but it’s excitement nonetheless.

To recap Monday’s chemo adventure: infusion went well, I had a blast with my crew (my parents, Will, and my friends Jordan, Stoney, and Dan, Dr. Lenz, Taline, and all my nurse buddies in the day hospital), and my bloodwork numbers are looking solid. After over two and a half years of almost non-stop treatment, it’s pretty clear that I am maintaining my health. My health is not declining. My body is strong and resilient…and after 50 rounds of chemo, 3 surgeries, and 10 rounds of radiation, that feels pretty great.

My time at Norris was made even more memorable because I was being followed around by three cameras. One belonged to Jordan, who created The Wunder Project video and is always on hand to catch important moments in my life. The other two belonged to my friend Adam, who is shooting a documentary called Pursuing Happiness. While I guzzled my chemo, I talked with Adam about my approach to beating the hell out of cancer and how my perspective on life has changed as a result of my diagnosis and everything that has followed.

And, in case you want to know, here’s how my perspective has changed. Things that annoy or upset some or even most people just don’t really affect me. I don’t live in a world with daily aggravations or annoyances. These things just don’t register with me. The big things still hurt me, obviously: losing a loved one, seeing someone I love being hurt, seeing injustice and brutality in the world. Of course, I still care deeply about those things and I work my butt off to make them right as much as I can. But the lesser things – the traffic jams, the rude people you may bump into (or, more likely, bump into you), a little leak in skylight portion of my roof. Yeah, I don’t really care. So my blood pressure rarely goes up, I’m generally pretty chilled out, and because of that, I’m relaxed enough to appreciate the beauty around me even if that beauty is in the shape of seeing a person laugh or sing in their car as I’m bumper to bumper on the 101 Freeway.

I bounced back from chemo relatively quickly this time around, fully resuming my normally-scheduled activities by Thursday. I am always grateful by my body’s ability to tolerate this aggressive regimen. I guess my old bag of bones wants to survive as much as my mind and spirit do. And that’s a blessing, and one that I’m constantly aware of and for which I am deeply grateful. Moving on to the next frontier: Round 51!

My Mom

It’s Mother’s Day, and that means it’s our special moment to thank our mommas for all the great things they’ve done for us and for all the love. We all tell our moms that they are the best, and they are. They propelled us to be the people we are, they love and support us endlessly, and they are our go-to person in times of both struggle and joy. Before I update you on Chemo Round 50 or talk any more about what’s going on with me, I want to tell you some things about my mom.

My mom has been my hero since the moment I could breathe. Quite literally, while I was in the womb, my mom – 20 years old at the time – had the foresight and wherewithal to read to me. A 20 year old, reading Shakespeare to her unborn baby. She talked to me, too. She told me how much I was loved and how I was going to be so special – she talked to me all the time. She played classical music for me, and probably threw in a little Elton John in there, too. Most of all, she knew in her heart that her baby was going to be a force to be reckoned with, someone amazing, and she treated me like the most precious thing in the world even before I was born. And I think I felt that love and that fierce belief in me even before I emerged from her womb and met this world. I was ready to go right from the get-go because I already had a warrior in my corner.

It’s one thing to have your mom support you, or help you when you need it. But to know that someone so deeply believes in your ability to be anything, to do anything, to accomplish anything…man, that’s a shot in the arm. And I’ve never felt anything but my mom’s absolutely unbending and unyielding belief in me as a human being.

My mom taught me how to read when I was three years old. Can you imagine that? A 23 year old, working full time, busting her butt to make ends meet, frickin’ teaching a three year old vowels and consonants and all the rest. And she taught me well. I became a reading machine. I became a top student later that year when my mom put me in preschool, and I continued to have a leg up in my studies because of her vision and leadership. Understand that nobody in my family had gone to college, and here was my mom, forced to drop out of college on account of me, emphasizing education and supplementing my schooling. We went to the library every single weekend. She’d get one book and I’d get about 20. We’d tear through them on Friday and Saturday nights. Instead of hitting the club and finding a babysitter for me, my mom hung out with me. She’d crank the 80s music, have dance parties with me, and then settle us down to read and read and read. When I asked my mom one of those “why?” questions about the world, she’d take at least 10 minutes to fully explain the answer. She’d play songs for me and explain the lyrics and the meaning of the songs. With subtlety, so I could figure it out myself, she told me to pay attention to how many women CEOs and women doctors and women U.S. Presidents there were. She taught me about money and how to break a 20 with 4 5s or 20 1s. She did all of this before I got to Kindergarten. Before Kindergarten! It’s no frickin’ wonder I’m so damn smart. My mom did that.

As I grew up, my mom continued to be my best friend. I never had a “rebellious” period in my life, because why the hell would I? My mom was the most open, honest, fun, and supportive sidekick I could ever have. I had no intention of straying from the things she had taught me. My mom believed in me and I believed in my mom. She pushed me to get into club volleyball in high school, so I could hone my skills and potentially market myself to colleges as a student-athlete. Where the hell did she even get that brilliant idea? I remember my first try-out for club volleyball, when I slinked into the gym at Harvard-Westlake (a pretty fancy prep school where my club team practiced) and looked back at my mom and said, “Come on, mom! Do I have to?” My mom said some version of “hell yes,” and about 20 minutes later, I was the happiest kid in L.A., mixing it up with my future teammates and knowing that I belonged. My volleyball career, which spanned from the time I was 13 until the end of high school (I decided I wouldn’t walk on for a team in college although best believe your girl had a few schools interested in her), was one of the more rewarding and character-building things I’d done in my young life – tons of practicing, tape watching and strategizing, and balancing my commitment to the sport with my schoolwork. And I wouldn’t have had that career had it not been for my mom, identifying my talent and pushing me to do more with it.

Going to Duke University was always my dream, one that started because my mom followed Duke basketball and had me in front of the TV when they won their National Championships in 1991 and 1992. But going to Duke also posed serious financial challenges for my parents. They made too much money to qualify for financial aid but not enough to make paying tuition comfortable, so we were sort of in a pickle. Tuition, travel, and living expenses were going to make the next four years really tough on my parents if I was, in fact, going to attend my dream school. My dad, quite reasonably, was concerned. We were pretty sure that I could get an academic scholarship at a handful of schools, but not a school that saw as many incredible candidates as Duke did. My mom cleared things up for me quickly. She promised me that if I got into Duke, I’d go there. She said she didn’t care what she had to do to get me there and keep me there. She said she’d sell the house and live in an apartment. She said she’d get another job. She said she’d sell a bunch of her stuff. Lovingly, selflessly, and fiercely loyal to her little cub, my mom was adamant that I would live my dreams. And I did. My mom and dad worked their butts off, supplementing their income with some nice overtime cash, and they made it work. Without my mom’s unhesitating leadership, it may not have happened. Without her stalwart and unbending desire to make my life as great as humanly possible, it probably wouldn’t have been. Every beautiful memory at Duke, every friendship, every triumph at my gorgeous alma mater can be directly attributed to my mom. I am a Blue Devil because of my mom, and that’s one hell of a gift.

I’ve told this story before but I’ll tell it again. The night before I was diagnosed, my mom asked me what I’d do or think if I had Stage IV colon cancer. We were assured by my doctors that it likely wouldn’t be Stage IV, but my mom had the vision and preparedness to think of having that potentially difficult discussion with me. It wasn’t a difficult discussion, though. I told her without blinking that, if my diagnosis was Stage IV, I’d beat the disease. I believed in myself with the same unshakeable certainty that my mom had demonstrated throughout my entire life. This was the moment where my mom’s strength showed stronger than ever in me. I told her that I’d beat it. The next day, when my surgeon met with my parents and Will, and tearfully recounted all the cancer he’d seen and projected that I’d almost certainly be dead in two years, almost everyone in that room crumbled. My dad was a mess. Will was a mess. My surgeon was a mess. But my mom was most certainly not. She continued to take notes feverishly, not missing a detail because she knew that these details would be relayed to other medical experts in hopes of finding a treatment path for me. She didn’t cry in that moment, and moments later, she grabbed my dad by the shirt and spoke like a harsh coach to him. She told him to go to the bathroom, get his tears out, and come out strong. She then addressed my group of 25 or so family and friends, telling them about what the doctor said but assuring them that I said I’d beat the disease and that they had better get on the positivity train or else they weren’t coming with us. She told them that if any of them thought they’d cry when they saw me in the recovery room, they were not to come in the room. She called my colleagues at O’Melveny and my friends from all around and told them that if they wanted to pity me or cry at my bedside, they’d be kicked out of the hospital…by her. To be honest, I think she scared some people. But that’s my best friend. She had my back before she had any idea what an ass-kicking I’d give cancer. She heard the odds and she didn’t flinch. She believed in me, and in the moment when not believing in me and believing in the statistics quite frankly made more sense. She believed in me, and she believes in me. Throughout every round of chemo, she is by my side with bags of food and pillows and anything else I could possibly want. If I can’t get to the grocery store before a round of chemo, I can guarantee that my fridge will be stocked with everything I could ever want because my mom is on the job.

She stayed up all night with me in the hospital in the days following my Sugarbaker surgery, and walked with my freshly scarred body through the halls of Good Samaritan Hospital, Washington Hospital Center, and Keck Hospital of USC. She has looked every surgeon in the eye and listened to every tough prognosis they’ve given, fiercely taking notes and knowing, in her heart, that whatever doom and gloom they might be saying isn’t actually going to happen because her girl won’t quit. She has lived in a pretty scary world over the last two and a half years, the world in which one’s only child is facing and fighting a deadly diagnosis, and she’s emerged tougher, stronger, and more resolute because of it.

She is the strongest person I know. The smartest person I know. The most loving person I know. The most loyal person I know. The most fun-loving person I know. She is solid, she is beautiful, and she is the biggest hero and champion of my life. I am who I am only because of her. She is my mom, and I am the luckiest person in the world because of that.

Happy Mother’s Day, Momma. I am quite certain I’ve made you cry with this blog post and that pleases me endlessly. Looking forward to having a fun-filled day with you today. I love you with all of my heart. Thanks for being my ride or die best friend and my all-time road dawg.
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