The Facts of Life…

The Facts of Life…

So, I realize it has been about a week since I’ve given an update on my condition (that starts with the letter ‘c’, I prefer using that term now). And I’m struggling getting started with this ‘essay’ (take note, this post is much more like a novel — you’ve been warned!)…but when faced with similar tasks in college, I always seemed to do my best work by procrastinating until the last night. And usually quite late on that last night.

And while I’m facing no deadline (treatment optimism), the truth is that I feel guilty in not responding to the many people that have sent me private messages asking how I am feeling and how they can help. For example, former Prairie Ridge High School athlete and future innovative high school administrator Jessica Sturm has checked in on me multiple times over the last few weeks, only to be left constantly reloading her Facebook page waiting for a response (kidding, I hope). So many people, including my rockCindy Traskaski Rick have told me that everyone understands…and that in no way should I feel guilty. In my head I ask, “How do I accept the generosity and inspiration from so many people, never respond in appreciation, and still feel good about myself (The oxford comma is something I will bite, scratch, and punch for — see what I did there?).

So as a former science teacher whose chromosomal preference for English went to his sister Suzanne Rick Warren, I usually covered up my lack of writing skills by using creativity. The truth is that I watch more tv than read books…so, today I choose to use the theme song from 80’s sitcom hit — The Facts of Life! For all of my former students and players that were born after 1988 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gGS56qJ0xIw – and for those that are old enough to have significant memory loss or if technology is not your ‘thing’, copy and paste the URL (that web address thingee) into a new window if you want to hear the song.

“You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have, the facts of life (refrain)”.

So, let’s start with the good. After meeting with multiple oncologists throughout the Chicagoland area over the last three weeks, we’ve found our team. They are AMAZING and are focused on a positive mindset, which was one of my requirements. They have extensive experience with metastatic melanoma and they cared enough to ask me about my daughters (not many places we went did that) during our initial consultation (The very first thing my oncologist said to me during our initial consultation: “We are going to beat this and my goal is to have you walk your daughters down the aisle”). I cried. A lot. To be honest, I just cried when I typed that last sentence…it was an extremely positive memory.

For my hip hop audience or anyone that has ever seen a Fast and Furious movie, my oncologists are my “ride or die”. Sorry, I needed a way to switch emotions in order to finish this post. Mission Accomplished!

They saw me at my worst and they treated me as if I was their own family member, checking in on me multiple times. Additionally, my oncology team sent my biopsied lymph node in to test for a genetic mutation that makes me eligible for ‘targeted theraphy’ (research BRAF mutation and targeted therapy if you’re interested in the technical stuff). I’ve never been so happy to find out that I’m a freak (my word, not theirs). Coincidentally, my life is starting to mimic that of the movie Deadpool. We’ll see how long that lasts.

Back to more good stuff: I’ve started my first series of targeted therapy treatments and I’ve had tremendous positive results towards the ‘condition’. Most of my symptoms (detectable lymph nodes by sight/touch, wheezing, coughing uncontrollably, extreme weight loss, sleeping 16 hours a day) related to cancer (there, I said it) have gone away. And even the four visible lymph nodes in my neck have shrunk significantly (three are no longer detectable by vision or touch, and the largest one that forced me to the doctor in the first place has shrunk by 80%).

Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve shared the full extensiveness of my cancer on Facebook yet (that’s not necessarily a ‘good’, but it is a ‘fact of (my) life’). The cancer was originally detected in my neck, lungs, liver, and throughout both my spine and pelvis (For Cindy and I, the extensiveness of how much cancer has spread throughout bone is the most disturbing). Refocusing on the good, the brain MRI came back clean and most other organs/tissues didn’t show any signs of cancer. That’s good and I’ll take it (refer back to the song).

The ‘bad’ is obviously a relative term. Most people would say to themself, “Self…winner, winner, chicken dinner!” credit to Mathew Matt Timmermanfor the ‘self’ part. You’re being greedy by even considering anything after the paragraphs above could be ‘bad’! I’ve already mentioned the treatment as targeted therapy, which is simply taking a series to two different medications (8 pills a day from one bottle, 3 pills of the other). I know, right — that should’ve been explained in the good section. I have extensive, incurable 4th stage metastatic melanoma and all I have to do is take pills to make it go ‘away’ (shrink is a more accurate term…I like how it was described in a YouTube clip I watched, where they described it as the cancer masses melt away like ice cubes).

So, here’s the rub. Both pills only work because of the mutation and they are effective by disrupting the protein that the cancer cells feed on to grow (the cancer’s metabolic enzyme chain — can you tell I’ve done a lot of research since diagnosis). In other words, the drugs stop the cancer cells from attacking healthy cells, which is good. I’ve been on the first pill for about 10 days longer than the second pill — with the first, no significant side effects and positive results as outlined in the ‘good’ paragraphs. The second pill, well, that’s a different story.

I started taking the second pill on Friday, June 17. The next day I took my lovely wife out for dinner for her birthday and I felt GREAT! More encouraging, I felt exactly like I did months before my diagnosis. I’m going to make an effort (too late?) to keep the rest of this short. After all, it’s not fun talking about the bad stuff. Over the next few days, I had a series of severe reactions to the second medication — joint weakness that turned into significant joint pain, blurred vision, violent shaking (chills), severe fevers (topping out at 103.6), night sweats, a rash on my legs, multiple bumps on my body that are sensitive to the touch (like bruises), and muscle pain (as if I had the most intense workout after months of being lazy). You know how they read the list of potential side effects at the end of every drug commercial…yeah, I hit the jackpot and seemingly had all of them.

In short, I was miserable. Don’t get me wrong, I’d still take the side effects associated with the medication over the symptoms associated with my malignant masses. I was told to stop taking the second medication immediately and that in 48 hours I should start seeing a noticeable change in my symptoms — 60 hours in and I’m still experiencing most of those side effects. I see my oncology team tomorrow and I’m hoping I experience significant improvement after that…time will tell.

So, I’m left with the facts of life…
Good – I’m optimistic that my cancer cells are actually “melting”.
Bad – The same drugs that will potentially save me are causing pain.

I liked the quote that Adam Paul sent me (the picture associated with this post). “When the Root is Deep — There is no Reason to Fear the Wind” — my roots, represented by the love and support of everyone that has reached out to me since my diagnosis, have never been stronger. Like the initial conversation I had with my oncologist, I’m WILL beat cancer and I WILL walk both Evelyn and Harper down the aisle — and I hope they don’t get married until they’re 35 (especially since they won’t be allowed to date until they’re 28). I’m strong, I have a positive mindset, and I have a support system that can move mountains. If cancer were personified, it should be shaking in its boots.– you messed with the wrong family. Revenge is going to be pretty sweet.

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