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Love and Basketball

You know me. I love basketball. Watching it (especially my beloved Duke Blue Devils), playing it, talking about it, even having dreams about it (where I inevitably miss easy shots and get frustrated and then wake up relieved that my bizarre shooting woes were not actually real life).

Basketball became even more important to me this week.

I’ve been getting radiation treatments since last Thursday (the picture on the right shows some of the radiation stickers that have been living on my chest since then). At the same time, I’ve been on my normal chemo regimen of every other Monday. So I am enduring the double whammy of chemo and radiation at the same time. I was warned that it could be tough, but it’s been pretty smooth sailing so far. Having said that, I haven’t been living at the gym quite as much as I’d like to lately. When we found out about my blood clots a few weeks back, I was told to avoid the gym for a week. Then, I had chemo so I skipped the gym another week. Then, I was working hard on The Wunder Project and running all around town with meetings and stuff so I didn’t go to the gym for another week.

Three weeks without a serious workout. Not cool. And not very good for me, either.

On Monday, I got an email about my O’Melveny team’s basketball game on Tuesday night. I was tempted. Very tempted. So I clicked “accept” and figured that this would be my first initiation into a solid workout after a long time off and after undergoing this chemo/radiation combination for several days. I knew I’d need to pace myself and that I’d get winded pretty quickly, but I was going to do it. Blood clots, chemo, radiation, and cancer be damned: I was going to play basketball.

Our game was at 9pm and I’d been up since 7am (I had an early morning radiation session). I’d had multiple meetings for The Wunder Project and had generally had a pretty full day, but when 8pm rolled around, I got into my jersey and laced up my Kobe Nikes (I call them “my Kobes”), and drove to the game.

Luckily, we had numbers. 9 players to be exact. So we had plenty of subs and we designed the game so that every 4-5 minutes, we’d get to take a rest on the bench. It was like fate had made sure that I could play without pushing myself to a ridiculous level. I was grateful to fate for that one.

Despite the 43 rounds of chemo, the three surgeries, and the four rounds of radiation, I was on the court for the opening tip. Minutes later, I made my first shot. A three pointer at the top of the key. It was strange, but the minute the ball left my hands I couldn’t think of anything except my sweet friend Annette. I had no idea if the ball was going to go in, but as it swished through the net, I kissed my wrist where her initials have been ever since the day she passed away. It’s like my girl helped me with that first shot. It was an incredible feeling, and I had to fight my emotions as I jogged down the court.

The rest of the game went well. I huffed and puffed, but I got through it and played about 28 minutes of the full 40 – 28 minutes of full court basketball. Not too bad. I wound up with 9 points on a couple of threes, a two, and a sad performance from the free throw line (1 of 4, ugh). Most importantly, our team won. It felt great to win, especially when I knew that cancer was the big loser.

Yesterday, I hit the basketball court again and played a little one-on-one with my buddy Stoney. I don’t need to mention that I beat him (let’s just chalk it up to the fact that he wasn’t playing tough defense on me (but, to be fair, I wasn’t playing tough defense on him, either)) because the most important thing was that I felt even stronger out on the court. And that was after a pretty solid weightlifting regimen of legs and biceps. My shooting was on, I was pretty agile on the boards, and keeping up the stamina to do both was near effortless. The beast is on her way back, and it feels great.

Here’s the thing about basketball. It’s a magical thing for me. Watching Duke Basketball fills my heart with pride, inspiration, and pure, unadulterated joy. And being on the court is my ultimate refuge – where I can clear my mind and just be one with the game. Where I can focus on my shots or my handles, work on new moves, and just enjoy the way the net looks when the ball swishes through it or the way the ball echoes as I dribble up and down an empty court. Radiation may be new, chemo plus radiation at the same time may be new, but squaring up and shooting the ball, holding my follow through and watching the ball go in the hoop, is as routine and comfortable to me as anything.

There is no cancer on the basketball court. And I love the game most for that.

Time Flies

The march of time is a pretty incredible thing. It’s not a new thought I’m having, I know. But when you measure your life by rounds of chemo or surgeries or a diagnosis date, you pay special attention to time and its progression. After surgery, for instance, each passing day is a victory – a day closer to discharge from the hospital or clearance to go back to the gym. After chemo, each passing hour represents the movement from feeling good to feeling off then back to feeling good again.

Anniversaries of important cancer-killing related milestones are my favorite.

Today is the two-year anniversary of my surgery with Dr. Sugarbaker, the 11 hour and 17 procedure surgery that took many organs and even more cancer (yes, that picture to the right is me). The surgery that left me with 13 tubes in my body when I woke up in the ICU. The surgery that began with a boatload of disease and ended with no visible sign of cancer. That surgery may not have rendered me “cured,” but it did give me a big head start on the disease when it was all but a certainty that cancer had its sights set on beating me in a blowout.

I remember waking up in the ICU, hours before they said I would. I immediately asked my mom if Dr. Sugarbaker had removed all of the visible disease and she said that he had. I couldn’t stop the tears from flowing down my cheeks and I held my hand up in a fist. Then I gave my mom a high five. I knew that the road to recovery would be hard, and I knew that the pathology report hadn’t come back and that things may not be as ideal as they could be, but I didn’t care. It didn’t matter to me. I don’t need an easy road to beating this disease – I just needed help to get my arms around it and to get ahead of it. And that’s exactly what I got.

The days passed at Washington Hospital Center, and my progress was steady. One of the proudest days of my life was when I was released from the hospital a full week before anyone said I’d get out. Later that night, I convinced a crew of friends and family to go to the movies with me. Two days later, we had a house party at my cousins’ house in Maryland, where we were staying. And the next day, I convinced my three nurses to drive me to Duke for a basketball game. I tried to take it easy during the game, but couldn’t help rising with each great play and screaming my heart out. I was screaming my heart out for my team, and also for myself.

Exactly two years ago, I went into battle with a brilliant surgeon, and he delivered. Dr. Sugarbaker gave me a great gift, and I’ve been pushing forward -- gaining momentum and never slowing down -- ever since that day.

Most of the time, the passage of time makes things easier. But sometimes, it doesn’t.

Today is also another anniversary. It has been a week since the beautiful memorial service of my dear friend, Annette, and it’s been over a month since she passed away.

The passing hours and days don’t help me miss her any less. I miss her constantly. As I progress with my life, my treatment and with The Wunder Project, I do feel her with me -- but even though I do, I still miss her. I wish I could talk to her about everything. I wish I could show her the funny Sharpie marker markings on my chest where the radiation techs have set me up for my daily doses. I wish I could tell her about my plans for The Wunder Project and brainstorm ideas with her. I wish I could give her a hug.

At her service, one of the officiating pastors spoke about something that resonated with me at the moment and still does today. The notion – the fact – that love is stronger than death. I believe in that. I believe that love is stronger than anything, really. Love is stronger than fear. Love is stronger than anger. Love is stronger than hopelessness. And yes, love is stronger than death. And so when I think of my sweet friend and my heart aches for her physical presence in my life, I remember the love. The love of our friendship and our shared bond as warriors, our laughter and our tears, and how we held hands tightly the last time we saw each other. I remember that love and the fact that nothing – not even cancer, and not even death -- can take that away from us. And then, I take a deep breath and keep pushing on, knowing that she's got my back and she always will, through every passing hour and every passing day.

Whether we like it or not, time marches on. Life continues to move forward. I make it a point to look back – to gain strength from what I’ve endured, to give thanks for the relationships that I’ve had, to savor the memories and to remember the love. But I’m not slowing down, and I'm not stopping.

Chemo Round 43 (and Radiation Rounds 1 and 2)

I know it’s been a while since I posted last, and I apologize for that. As always, the reason was not health-related but schedule-related (you know your buddy WunderGlo is always on the move). I’m here now, though, and it’s time to let you know how chemo round 43 and my first two rounds of radiation went. Spoiler alert (since I've made you wait long enough to hear from me): everything went well.

Chemo, as always, went smoothly. I am back on Oxaliplatin, which gave me a little bit of trouble around Chemo Round 7 (oh, the good old days of single digit chemo rounds!!) with a bit of an allergic reaction, but this time, I had no such reaction. I got hit with a little dose of Benadryl as one of my pre-meds (to make sure I didn’t have an allergic reaction to the Oxali) and slept through a good part of chemo this time around. Even though I had gotten my FOLFIRI infusions down to a science, I knew that wading back into the world of FOLFOX would take a little patience and more time to rest. I was absolutely cruising through my rounds of FOLFIRI – working, working out, hydrating, and bouncing back quickly – and now, I need to listen to my body, take my time, and figure out the best way to sail through my FOLFOX regimen.

In general, the round went quite well. I felt great on Monday and Tuesday (which was a good thing, since we had an event for the upcoming Wunder Project at O’Melveny on Tuesday). On Wednesday, I felt fine in the morning and then fatigue and general grossness set in during the afternoon and evening. It wasn’t too bad, though – I just really didn’t want to eat or drink anything. So I slept. Like a rock.

Thursday was better, and by yesterday, I was back to my old tricks. I always remembered that FOLFOX took its hit on Wednesday and Thursday, while FOLFIRI weighed on me on Tuesday and Wednesday. Either way, I’m 100% come Friday, and then I can’t be stopped on the days after that. Interesting things you learn when you’re a chemo veteran like me.

And radiation. Man, radiation was a breeze. So far, I’ve had two rounds – on Thursday and Friday – and it’s been pretty fun. I just relax on this moving board thing, listen to the chilled out music the tech has on (Hawaiian music on Thursday, some relaxed pop music on Friday), and wait as the techs arrange my body correctly, write on my chest with multi-colored Sharpies, and skip out of the room just before the radiation machine gives me my dose. The actual dosage time takes 40 seconds – 20 seconds with the machine focusing its main laser beam on my chest, then 20 seconds with it shooting at me through my back. No pain, no discomfort, no side effects. I hear I might get a little fatigued as treatment goes on, but we all know that my fatigue is a normal person’s normal, so I’m not nervous.

My new treatment regimen is going great. I’m feeling strong, keeping very busy with The Wunder Project, and quite sure that the cancer in my body had a very tough time this week. And that’s the way we like it.

Change is the Only Constant

Before I begin, please take a deep breath. Yes, this post is health-related. I remain the tough, strong, fit, and great-feeling WunderGlo. So don’t freak out, alright? Freaking out is not helpful and it’s also not necessary.

Ok, here we go.

Last Thursday, I had a CT scan. All went fine in terms of getting the scan itself – the tech found my vein immediately, the barium drink was chilled and as delicious as it could ever be, and I was in and out quickly and efficiently.

Dr. Lenz got the results on Friday, and I found about them on Saturday (I found out on Saturday only because we were already planning on hanging out, not because things were that pressing and/or serious - don’t let your mind wander, ok?). All in all, it was a good scan -- the disease in my belly is more or less stable, there aren’t any tumors on any organs or anything like that, there is no spread of disease to the bones, and there’s no new primary cancer like breast or liver cancer or something like that. So that's all good news.

And now, for the bad news (and, for the record, I don't consider any of this bad news). Despite my current chemo cocktail working very well for 15 months (which is a very long and successful run for a second line of treatment), a few cancer cells escaped from chemo's control and latched on to a lymph node that had not previously been diseased. Generally, we don't really freak out about a few diseased lymph nodes here and there (this is fairly small potatoes considering the circumstances of a Stage IV patient), but this lymph node is in an unfortunate location. It's right near a major blood vessel in my chest. Its location, combined with the fact that I'm on blood thinner medication (because I have some blood clots that we're monitoring) could lead to a bad result if the lymph node were to grow and damage or erode that vessel. If that happened, I could bleed to death. And nobody wants me to bleed to death.

So here’s the plan. On or around the 28th, I will begin a very short-term, very focused stint of radiation to burn out that lymph node in my chest. I will get these radiation treatments every day for 10 days in a row (minus the weekends) and then, that'll be it. That lymph node will be a distant memory and the most pressing of my health issues will have been handled. At the same time (as in, on the 28th), I'll start a new chemo regimen that isn't actually that new -- I'll be back on FOLFOX, which was my first chemo drug (our testing shows conclusively that my tumors are still sensitive to FOLFOX). Word on the street is radiation and chemo at the same time makes chemo that much more effective, so we're really throwing both barrels at this disease. I've been assured that the radiation won't really make me sick and I’ll keep my hair, so that's all pretty cool. Chemo will continue to be bi-weekly, and I'm confident that we will get this sucker disease back under control so I can go about business as usual. If this chemo cocktail doesn't work as well as we'd like, I have another back-up option. If that back-up doesn't work, we have another back-up. And I'm sure that, if we were hard pressed, we could find some more back-ups.

Please trust and believe that I am in the best hands possible with my beloved Dr. Lenz, and that he wants to save my life just as much as all of you want me to live. Together, we’ve got this.

Bottom line: I'm not worried. I'm excited for this new treatment regimen, and I feel that this is going to not only keep my disease stable, but kill what little there is left of it in my body.

My work with The WunderGlo Foundation and on The Wunder Project will not stop and none of my scheduled activities will change. I know now, more than ever, that I need to do this work. And I will do this work, no matter what challenges -- physical or otherwise -- I have to overcome to do it.

Before I knew exactly what my scans said, I emailed Lenz and said "FYI, whatever this is, it's not going to stop me or our work with The Wunder Project." He agreed completely, saying that it only makes what we're doing more important. That couldn't be truer.

So take heart, WunderGlo supporters, we are still on track and we are still beating the hell out of cancer. Dr. Lenz will do it with his brilliant mind, I will do it with my tough body and tougher mind, and you will all help me with your strength, support, and positivity.

I almost feel bad for this lymph node. Almost.

Oh, and instead of chemo today (since we're pushing it to the 28th), I'm going to Disneyland.

Chemo Round 42 (and a little bit of England and Ireland)

After 11 wonderful days of running around London, then Dublin, then London, then Bath, then London again, we landed at 1am at LAX on Monday morning. After taking the Super Shuttle back to my parents’ house, then loading up my car, I was in bed at 3am. And by 11:30am, I was back at Norris, ready to beat cancer’s ass after an invigorating, post-Christmas-and-just-in-time-for-New-Year’s-Eve, transatlantic adventure.

You know I’m not a big fan of down time.

Chemo Round 42 went very well. At first, I was a little bummed because Dr. Lenz was already at LAX awaiting his flight to Singapore by the time I got to Norris. You know I love to start off my cancer-killing chemo days with a powwow with my guy, so when he’s not around I’ve got a tiny little sad face. But I bucked up, had a great time with Taline (Dr. Lenz’s nurse practitioner), found that I didn’t gain one pound while on vacation, and also found that my blood work and vitals and everything else were looking solid.

I rested in my bed for a bit, but spent most of my infusion time plotting and planning for my big project for 2013. I have been relentless with my pursuit of this goal and the preparation it takes to make our public launch that much more explosive and successful. So yes, after flying back from England and while guzzling up chemo, I worked.

And then, the Dreamliner plane gave me a gift. After a myriad of travel-related issues, Dr. Lenz gave up on flying on Monday. And even though he told me he was going home from LAX, he actually came back to Norris first. Even though it was a pain in the neck and a travel nightmare for him, I got my wish – good times with Dr. Lenz on a chemo Monday.

The rest of the round went well. Our little concoction of slightly different pre-meds and a liter of fluids on Monday and Wednesday has spelled success for me. I was up and running by Thursday and was out and about from 11am until 10pm.

Christmas celebrations, the trip to Europe, and chemo round 42 combined for a whirlwind three weeks.

But, as you know, that’s how I like it.

Oh yeah, and my CEA is still stable. Cancer isn’t moving a muscle. Instead, I’m the one running wild…and loving every moment.
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