It’s been some time since I last posted. As with most of you, it was a busy holiday season filled with lots of fun, family and friends. The last time I wrote was right after a spirited card game. I started Cycle 3 that following Monday, December 17th. My red cell counts were really low, it was a borderline call to get treatment or defer for a few days. Deferring the treatment would disrupt our plans to go to Naples. After discussing our trip, the Doc decided to do the treatment and do a blood transfusion when I come back to complete my three day treatment on Wednesday. I’ve become very comfortable going out and about with my chemo shoulder bag. I get a few looks, but I think that’s fair. There’s an IV line running from the backpack, up my shirt, into my port.
Jordan came home on Monday also. He was in the middle of 4 weeks of ‘fun-employment’. He accepted a job with UBER Freight, and had turned in his notice giving him a month of freedom. So he decided to come spend a couple of weeks at home.
On Tuesday, we had a visit from my former college buddy, turned long time associate, and very long time friend, Dave Moise. Dave and his family live in China. He came back to the U.S. for a couple weeks to visit his family, friends and customers and scheduled a visit here in Dayton. This created the opportunity for me to gather a bunch of the team that worked with Dave from Lastar along with one of our fraternity brothers from IU. It was a great afternoon, I tried taking Dave on at ping pong, but Dave beat me with little effort. I’ll be looking for a rematch, sans the chemo bag :-).
Wednesday Jordan and I went to hang out at the treatment facility to get the blood transfusion once my chemo drip finished. I didn’t expect the transfusion to take 5+ hours. We spent most of that time playing backgammon. Getting that blood was awesome. Giving fresh blood to somebody that is anemic has a pretty quick impact, not to mention a huge psychological impact. The shortness of breath that I was experiencing went away. I was having difficulty walking up a flight of steps, so this transfusion helped a lot. My energy level improved quickly.
Thursday we took off for Naples. When we landed there, it was monsoon type rain. We got to the house and were happy to find that the house was exactly as we expected and a perfect fit for our family. There were no major activities planned, nothing to create stress. An opportunity for us to be able to be together and hopefully have some decent weather.
Our niece and nephew – Daniel, Pam, Ellison, Oliver and Henry Abromowitz, along with Daniel’s brother, Michael; drove over from the Palm Beach area to spend the day. It was great seeing them and celebrating Ellison’s birthday.
On Sunday, Susan and Nat Ritter drove in from their home in Bonita Springs for a visit. . It was great to finally get a chance to meet Susan. It was great spending a couple hours chatting, enhanced by being pool-side, in 70 degree sunshiny skies. The kids, all patients of Nat, enjoyed seeing Dr. Nat again and meeting Susan as well.
Later on Sunday, I really started not feeling so great. We were getting ready to head down what would turn out to be three days of un-chartered waters with my chemo side effects. I found new levels of GI discomfort. I had clearly fallen behind on my preventative efforts and was starting to swerve out of my ‘Gastro Lane’. Dr. Wolff and his Fellow, Dr. Williams have given me an arsenal of tools and the order in which to use them, depending on what side of the GI line I’m varying from – constipation or diarrhea. There is no specific protocol. Dr. Wolff starts this speech off the same way almost every appointment. ‘Look, these are your bowels. You have to find the formula that works for you. You need to find a way to keep your bowels in one lane.’ Great speech Doc, I hear you. At the same time, I am pretty certain that the anti-nausea drugs they give me intravenously when we start a cycle are akin to pouring quick drying concrete into my intestines. I am a great experiential learner – hit me once with a 2×4 and I usually understand not to do whatever caused that to happen :-). My learning curve for managing my GI matters has been slower, in great part due to not wanting to veer out of my lane. I struggled Sunday through Wednesday to get myself back into my lane. There were lots of good times bundled in with a lot of discomfort highlighted by what I describe as the hellish intersection where constipation and diarrhea duel it out through my intestines, creating spastic gastro discomfort. The pinnacle of these disrupted days came on Tuesday night. It was Christmas, and Thai was for dinner. I was not really able to think much about eating Thai. I sampled an item or two, I was gradually coming out from underneath this gastric nightmare, but not ready to commit to eating food. Jordan and Felice announced that I needed to get out and move around – get a walk, they said we’re all walking over to the Gelato place. I said ‘Hell yeah, now we’re talking. Gelato was something that sounded really good. Felice didn’t miss a frickin’ beat – ‘No Gelato for you’ – almost as if it was straight out of a Seinfeld episode. I said, ‘are you kidding me? Something finally sounds good and you say ‘no’, I mean you can’t ask a guy like me to walk to a Gelato place and not get Gelato.’ Cancer can’t keep a Shane away from Gelato. Seriously! She said ‘no, you haven’t really eaten in three days – gelato is not going to happen.’ So while cancer might not keep me away from Gelato – looks like Felice is able to! Of course, she was right, but it was a pretty deflating moment. I did the walk – it was a walk of shame, dismissed to a bench outside the Gelato store with my daughter’s dog – Nika. I did get a couple warm greetings from what I assume may have been elderly widows, admiring Nika. So I found out where the hot widows hang out!
The trip ended up being awesome overall. My situation disrupted things more than I would have cared for, but the kids and Felice all managed to have a great time. Along with the house being a great fit, it had an awesome pool and was just feet away from the couch that I would often nap on with a wall of windows so I could see what was going on. I was out by the pool a lot – in the shade playing backgammon with one of the kids and watching Sid play in the pool and hot tub. All of the laughter that was created with Sid, all of the backgammon, the outings that I went on, the movies watched, the time together far outweighed the discomfort. We were able to do a beach walk or two, took the golf cart on a couple of tours of all of the awesome estates that line the Naples beach.
Jumping forward to New Year’s Eve Day and what better thing to do than go get chemo to usher in the New Year. This time my white counts were low. Low enough that it was borderline whether to treat or not. Doc agreed to proceed and added Neulasta to the protocol. You’ve likely seen the Neulasta commercials – or fast forwarded through them :-). Jordan wanted to hang in town to be with me at chemo for a while. He put the finishing touches on the total ass-whipping for our Fall Ball backgammon Series. He is the grand champ for now. He took off early in the afternoon to get back to Chicago in time for his New Years Eve plans. It was wonderful for him to take two weeks and hang with us – bonus time! Both Felice and I got a big lift from his visit. He was helpful with things that both of us wanted to get done around the house and we watched a ton of sports. We value all the time that we had with all of the kids over the holidays. Our family definitely has a higher sense of the value of the times that we are together.
I came home from chemo and crashed hard. I woke up and didn’t know if I could stay awake if we went to our friends house for dinner. We decided we would go and stay until I needed to leave. We ended up staying beyond midnight. When it was time for desert there was Gelato – I said ‘Hell Yeah’ I quickly remembered that I had just had chemo and can’t eat or touch anything cold for at least 5 days. No Gelato for me – again! We had a great time with great friends. I couldn’t think of a better way to begin 2019.
Tuesday was the first day of 2019 – January 1st. What do you do on the 1st day of 2019 – go to Jack, a casino located downtown in Cincinnati. Hell yes, there aren’t a lot of things I enjoy more than playing black jack. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that security wanted to analyze my chemo bag :-). The black jack was fun and I left a winner, so great way to start off the year!
I finished up the cycle on Wednesday and was equipped with my Neulasta device. It basically releases an injection through a patch type device, 27 hours after my chemo is complete. This helps to boost my white blood cell count to strengthen my immune system, reducing the potential for infection. This cycle, Felice was paying particular attention to diet – mine! We agreed that I would try and force myself to eat foods that were better for my digestive system. It’s hard. My taste buds are impacted. I crave foods that are more likely to be disruptive, but after finding out how combative my GI tract is during Cycle 3, we worked hard to manage my diet and keep my bowels in one lane. It is tough, but the combination of change of diet and increased focus on preventative management created a much smoother Cycle 4. I had my sleepy Friday last week, but felt really well during this cycle. In fact, I have felt excellent much of this cycle. There are about 4 days of the cycle that are wild cards with regards to how I might feel. On Saturday, Felice decided that it was time to flip the tables and become the patient. She was drinking her morning tea and made some type of movement that caused her back to spasm and was experiencing that awful, debilitating back pain. She was flat on her back all day Saturday. Fortunately, she improved quickly, as she was concerned she would not be able to travel with me to Houston on Monday. For the record, I did a pretty good job taking care of her, but it can not begin to compare with the care that she provides me.
On the way to Houston, I decided to read a book I had been intending to read for some time. Anschel’s Story, written by Renate Frydman. Renate is the mother of several of our friends. Her book is about her late-husband, Charlie’s story as a holocaust survivor. Felice read it right away when it had been given to us. I haven’t been reading much, and was really hesitant to read a book about the holocaust, more interested in lighter content. I knew Charlie Frydman (Anschel) , the subject of the book for years before he passed away suddenly. I knew he was a survivor of the Holocaust. Wow – I had no idea that I would be so inspired by Anschel’s story. Anschel was just a young boy when forced to jump into survival mode as the German’s began creating havoc in Poland. The story shares the determination that Anschel had to survive. He used instincts, bravery, determination, perseverance on his path to survival; an ordeal that lasted several years. He survived and thrived and eventually made his way to America, and met Renate. They married, and raised a great family, while Charlie went on to build a thriving generational business with his father-in-law, Bert. I learned so much about Charlie’s survival strength that applies to my current circumstances. Renate does an excellent job sharing Anschel’s story. I highly recommend reading it and while it’s a great read for all, I definitely suggest the book to anybody that is facing a life challenge. It’s amazing how much you can learn from a young boy that is confronting insurmountable odds over a period of years – years that consumed his early and mid teens. He would not give up, he was entirely focussed on surviving, he used every possible resource and relied on pure gut and instincts in situations where he had no choice but to believe in the decision he made and commit to that decision. I’m glad to have read his story, and also glad that I knew the man behind the story.
I exchanged text messages a few times with Rocky recently and he shared that Megan was continuing to regain strength. To those of you who are reading for the first time, I’ve shared much of Megan’s story and introduced Rocky in previous posts. Many of the issues that kept her uncomfortable and in the ICU for the better part of 7 weeks have cleared up. She has her scans on Monday and I am praying for her to have positive results. Megan’s strength and courage are a tremendous source of inspiration. She truly is a BadAss. I’m so happy that she has rebounded so strongly and that she and Rocky were able to get away to their favorite vacation spot. Rocky shared the photo below. Does this BadAss woman look like she was in the ICU for 7 weeks less than 2 months ago? Seriously! If Megan isn’t an inspiration to anybody dealing with serious challenges, who is? Please join me in praying for her continued recovery and positive results in her upcoming scans!
I had my scans on Tuesday and met with the Doc on Wednesday. The news is good! Everything is shrinking, everything that is active is becoming less active, the protocol is working. We’re continuing on with the treatments, starting again on Monday. I’m better prepared to combat the side effects after having a pretty successful and relatively uneventful cycle 4. I experienced no fevers, no chills, no pain, no nausea, few side effects during cycle 4. While my GI Tract caused some minor discomfort during a couple days of the cycle, those side effects were minimal compared to the hell that was unleashed for a few days during cycle 3.
Now, it’s 4 more cycles before we go back to Houston in the middle of March. We’re inserting a week between two of the upcoming cycles to permit for a couple trips that we are going to take. A week here and there will do wonders for us. We’ll be doing our travel on the bonus weeks, so I will likely feel really good during those times. As I was talking with the Doc about it and we were discussing that bonus week, I said ‘those feel good days feel so good’. Both he and the Dr. Williams looked at each other and smiled, as if to acknowledge that they were seeing some of the benefits of their work – when patients are responding and enjoying feeling good. Almost as if they were in the moment with me. Now I need to remember to remain in the moment. I mentioned earlier that I am a pretty good experiential learner. I talk about appreciating the present, but I’ve never had a great understanding of what it means to be ‘in the moment’. It’s a simple concept, but I’ve struggled to be able to define exactly what it means. I recently received an email from Bruce Feldman. Bruce sends me an email every week, providing support, words of comfort and sharing prayers and good thoughts. He hasn’t missed a week since I was diagnosed – every Friday, there is an email from him. This week he talked about how happy he was to see that I was able to compartmentalize my situation and was able to be in the moment when we were at Jack, playing black jack. He was right. I was ‘in the moment’. I was consumed by the game, paying attention to the cards, to the bets, to everything going on at the black jack table – I wasn’t thinking about anything else and definitely wasn’t thinking about cancer. That appears to be a pretty solid bench mark of what ‘in the moment’ means. Thanks Bruce for helping me define ‘in the moment’.
So, going back to the news I had just received. I sent out a few text messages to family and close friends. How does one celebrate hearing some good news? I’m not drinking, I’m avoiding a lot of foods. I can tell you – after fasting on Tuesday for my scans – I finally was able to get Felice to let me have some ice cream! While it wasn’t the Gelato that I had been so brutally denied, it was damn good! But we needed to do something to celebrate the great news. It wasn’t too hard for us to figure out what to do. We landed in Cincinnati, hopped in the car and went straight to Lindi and Adam’s house to catch Sid for bath and bed time! That’s the best way we could figure out how to celebrate – in the moment!
So now I’m back riding on the roller coaster. Felice is keeping it real, happy for the news, but trying to stay off the coaster. My good friend Howard Abromowitz always reminds me that this is a two step forward, one step back challenge. Sometimes we take many steps back, sometimes we go sideways, and I have to deal with those disappointments – and when you hear bad news, it is always a disappointment and it hurts. When I hear good news – when I have an oncologist look me in the eyes and say – ‘relax, there is nothing but good news today,’ I’m hopping on that coaster ride. It’s the same attitude as how good those good days feel – that good news gives so much hope, provides so much encouragement to keep on with the fight that I think it’s really important to use that fuel and ride it hard.
This is a bit of a break-through, having a protocol finally produce visible signs that it is working. We don’t know how long it will work, how much relief it will provide or for how long and don’t know if it will prevent and new activity from presenting itself. So for today, what we have is the knowledge that the protocol is working and I am continuing to get a little healthier with each cycle. That’s what we know now. As much as I would like to be able to KNOW that if we did a certain number of treatments that it might get me into remission and that Gelato will flow freely for all; that’s not the way this is played. We continue to move along the process with the hope that I’ll continue to move more steps forward than I do backwards, but most importantly, I have to find as many opportunities as possible to be in the moment and love the memories that we create today, because none of us know what tomorrow brings.
Felice and I remain so thankful for all of the love, support, acts of kindness, and genuine caring that so many of you have provided over the last year. We wish all of you a happy, HEALTHY and memory-filled 2019. Appreciate those that you love, live in the moment and make it a point to enjoy a little gelato along the way!
I’ll be back in touch.
Love, Mike. #CancerSucks #ShaneStrong #Megansabadass #CintronStrong