In October of 2018 I was diagnosed with an aggressive, Stage 3 Lymphoma. Chemotherapy started by December of that same year. It was a winding path toward that discovery. Luckily for me, a good friend had the identical diagnosis three years before me and had made a full recovery. He even received the exact same treatment I was scheduled to start. The treatment had been experimental when he underwent the program, funded by research through the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
I’m an outgoing guy. Never short of words. LOL Knowing that, Mike came after me to run this Man of the Year campaign right from the start. Maybe even before my chemotherapy began.
I pushed him off for a long time. First, I really wanted to get a handle on my own health and see what life with Chemo was all about.
Second, talking about “my journey” or “my suffering” is way outside, not my comfort zone particularly, but I would say, my “interest” zone. The way I’ve always seen it, everyone on the planet is suffering. It’s part of the human experience. Not one single individual has ever gotten to avoid the crushing burden that is existence. That said, I would never want to focus on the suffering I’ve endured to be the recipient of anyone’s sympathy, nor would I want to distract attention away from the suffering of other’s to focus on mine individually. I just didn’t think that to be right or helpful.
I’m the silent suffering type. But again, not because I’m fearful of being seen as vulnerable. Of course I’m vulnerable. I’m the same creature you are. Until I accepted the nomination to run this year, most of the people I know personally and professionally had no idea I was even in this battle.
Now, over the past year, my wife and I have had two friend’s children diagnosed with Leukemia. One, 10 years old, didn’t make it. The other, 7 or 8 years old, is still fighting hard.
This development is really what pushed me to make this journey this year.
Every dollar raised is potentially another life saved.
If you have the ability, please donate at the link below. Even if you don’t have that ability today, please consider sharing this article, my story, and allow more people the opportunity to give.
LLS has invested nearly 1.3 Billion in cutting-edge research. Every 3 minutes someone is diagnosed with a blood cancer. Leukemia is the #1 most diagnosed form of childhood cancer.
LLS has funded 55 of the 65 FDA approved treatments since 2017. Blood cancer research leads to treatment advances for many other cancers and diseases.
Thank you so much for your support and please don’t hesitate to reach out to me!
For anyone that wants to hear it, or maybe can relate, or perhaps concerned about their own experiences or symptoms, here’s the rest of my story……..
There’s hardly a human left who hasn’t been touched by cancer.
My Mom fought breast cancer in the late 90s. It took my Dad when I was just 26, brain tumors. I still think of him every day. My wife almost lost her Mother to colon cancer when she was a teenager. We still talk about that quite a bit, it was obviously a traumatic experience for her at such a young age.
Here I am, 46 years old. Wrapping up with my third battle with cancer of my own. On paper anyway.
I say that because my first experience with cancer was a melanoma diagnosis in my early 30s. Doctor took out a chunk of meat and I moved on with my life. Years later I even laughed when going in to a new Dentist and she commented, “oh, I see you’re a cancer survivor”……
Not long after that, failing time after time again to get approved for life insurance due to that diagnosis, I was trying to recall the name of the dermatologist to put on my insurance application and low and behold, I find out the guy’s in jail for committing millions of dollars’ worth of insurance fraud.
It seemed obvious right away. My Dad had melanoma. (that’s what metastasized into brain tumors and killed him) This guy saw that on my paperwork and instantly knew the insurance company wouldn’t question the diagnosis since it’s “in the family history.” Carved out a chunk of me that I wouldn’t miss and billed away. The only real loss for me was the lack of access to life insurance. Which is not a trivial thing.
Not long after that I had a scab, just inside my ear that simply wouldn’t heal. For months. It would fall off. I would feel relieved, especially going out everyday to visit with potential clients. Just to come right back within a week or so.
Finally, at the urging of my wife (isn’t that always the case for us idiot men? LOL), I went to see a different dermatologist. Basil cell carcinoma. My Mom gets these she told me. I also read somewhere that people are generally prone to Basil or Melanoma, but not usually both. That’s not a professional medical opinion right there, just something I read somewhere and puts more credence in my mind that I was perfectly swindled by the chap up in Chicago.
I went through a procedure called Mohs surgery. Surely named after the person who invented it. This is where they essentially burn off layers of skin repeatedly. Test, burn, test burn until the testing shows no signs of cancer. It really wasn’t that bad, except that it was in such in inconvenient spot. Literally, just inside my left ear. Strange.
The wrapping fell off a couple days later and the sight was ghastly. The make up artists that work The Walking Dead would have been jealous. You could see right inside. It was frightening. LOL
In time, new skin grew and now, I thought, I won’t laugh anymore when someone states that I’m a cancer survivor.
That experience was somewhere around 2012. We had just relocated back to Cincinnati. Had just had our youngest child. Our little guy, he’s going on 9 now. Sara Lee had just gone out of business. (I was certain I would be working there until I retired) I was suddenly on my path toward entrepreneurship.
I figured my little cancer experience was well behind me.
Later that year I had built an elevated garden for my wife in the back yard out of large railroad ties. Most of my adult life has been centered on heavy weightlifting so I didn’t really think the project was overly strenuous. However, during that weekend, Summer of 2012, I noticed a decent sized lump in my right groin.
My immediate reaction was that I must have pulled something. Seemed to me to be a hernia. I had never had a hernia. This must be what they feel like. Off to the Doctor again. My regular Doctor, the only one I’ve ever had as an adult. I point that out now because he just retired earlier this year and it feels a little disorienting now being without a general practitioner who you have a relationship with and who you trust.
He felt my “hernia” and immediately said it was a swollen lymph node. He went on to explain the lymph system, it’s function and given the size of the swollen node, it probably wasn’t something to be overly concerned about. Keep an eye on it and if it doesn’t go away on its own, or if it gets bigger we’ll investigate further.
At the same time, I also informed him of some recent cognitive changes. Really had been preceding the previous few years. Going back probably to 2009. Initially started with headaches and trouble concentrating. I used to plow through 900 page economics books on weekends, but was suddenly having a hard time making my way through simple articles.
Idiotically at that time I actually had the thought, “maybe my brain has reached some level of capacity.” LOL
I told him that one of my unique “gifts” in life had always been mental math. I was that weirdo in the room that could calculate anything in his head instantly. No calculators could beat me, fingers couldn’t move fast enough. My Dad and I used to drive down the highway and throw 4- and 5-digit multiplication problems at one another to see who could get the answer quicker. Yes, apparently, I got this skill from him.
That gift, was gone. Just vanished. It was one of my defining qualities. I realize now that it’s not the computational skill that’s missing. It’s memory. When you would present me with two 4-digit numbers and ask me to multiply them in my head I would solve the problem left to right instead of the way you would tackle the problem on paper, right to left. I would be solving the problem as I’m stating the answer to you. To do this, you have to keep quite a few rotating and inter-related numbers moving around in your mind. I can’t do that now.
The swollen node did recede. Not completely, I could always find it in there, but it was small and that improvement was enough for me to push it to the back of my mind and focus on the more pressing issues that life presents. Fatherhood. Being a loving Spouse. Building a business.
Over time the node would come and go and then, one day, I felt nodes on the left side of my groin. I’m not certain, but maybe this was 2014 or 2015? They were small too. In addition, at this time, I really began having trouble sleeping. Very strange things were happening cognitively. I would have very bizarre sensations when attempting to fall asleep and often times, just simply wouldn’t sleep at all.
I’ve witnessed very bizarre things, completely awake, symbols, even moving animations along the walls and ceilings. Yes, while very much awake. No, I do absolutely no drugs. I experimented recently with ingestibles. Never doing that again. I’ll share that story some other day. I even woke one night to witness every inch of everything around me covered in code. I even got up, went to the restroom and got right up close to the code covering the white molding on the toilet room door. It wasn’t binary or like the Matrix or anything. It was more symbolic, almost like hieroglyph. More Aztec than Egyptian. Just for comparison, not saying it actually was Aztec. LOL
I remained awake well over 90 minutes before I eventually dozed back off. I absolutely was not dreaming. Remember it as clearly and vividly as any other waking memory.
Eventually, even though I tried to convince myself otherwise, I began feeling lumps in my neck. At this point I scheduled an appointment with a surgeon who my wife has used and she knew well. He dug in aggressively in my neck, groin, underarms. Low and behold, he found lumps in my underarms as well.
He didn’t panic. Neither did I. Once again, like my family doctor, he commented on how small the nodes were and there was probably no reason to panic. So I didn’t.
In December of 2017 we moved into our new home we had been building. Another very distracting ordeal that kept my mind squarely off meandering lumps.
Late in the Winter of 2018 or maybe early Spring I got out back to our property line and removed an old, rusty barbed wire fence left there by the builder. I knew our little dude would be playing in the woods behind our house and wanted that hazard gone.
As usual with me and woods, I contracted quite a bit of poison ivy. Off to the doctor I went, and he naturally gave me a steroid. Almost as if by magic, when I took that steroid, not only did my poison ivy clear up, but all my lumps just melted away. Groin. Arm pits. Neck. All gone. It was awesome.
I remember thinking, “well, that’s solved.” I was so relieved.
Sure enough, by the end of that Summer. Everything was back. Worse even, I think. I could track a large trail of lumps progressing down the left side of my groin. The big old faithful one on the right side. All through my neck. Naturally, I hadn’t said much of any of this to anyone.
Once the Fall arrived in 2018, still not sleeping at all for years now, I began to notice lumps in my cheeks. Not only could you feel these, but you could see them easily.
I finally had to confess to my Wife. There was clearly something being missed all these years. She took me to her ENT specialist. Really good guy. He checked me out and ran a needle point biopsy on an easy to access node in my neck. The results came back clear. That was cool.
He wasn’t convinced. Given that I’m a disabled Vet he pressed me to seek further testing at the VA, just in light of cost, etc.
I took him up on it and started to integrate myself into the VA system. Their ENT specialist performed a very similar biopsy. Also, negative.
She was also unconvinced given all the symptoms and she recommended that I allow her to surgically remove one of the nodes completely so they could test it more thoroughly.
Once complete that’s where the official diagnosis came in. Aggressive, Stage 3, B Cell Follicular Lymphoma. Hopefully I got all that right?
My wife still makes fun of me. She was sitting across the desk from me in our home office when the call came with the diagnosis. Apparently, I was completely expressionless and simply asked what was next and thanked her for her call. In many ways, I already knew, so I don’t think it really shocked me much.
Chemo started within a couple weeks. Six months of chemotherapy followed by two more years of bi-monthly Immunotherapy.
By month two all the lumps were gone. Plus, the chemo makes you so tired I was finally sleeping again. That was nice.
We’re now two quick Immuno sessions away from completing this saga. With any luck they can remove this stupid port from my chest. I don’t like it being there.
It’s hard to complain. I don’t think the chemo is nearly as taxing as it was just ten years ago. Many of the amazing advances in cancer treatment has come directly from organizations that I’m representing in this fundraiser. I tremendously appreciate all those who came before me to organize and raise capital toward these treatments and cures.
Not everyone has the happy ending my family and I had. It’s important that we continue our journey to better understand these diseases and develop the best treatments possible.
My journey is not over. My cancer was a result of toxic exposure while serving my 13 years in the military. There are other issues, neurologically, that resulted from that exposure that I’m still trying to navigate. However, at least the cancer itself has been beaten back and that’s one enormous weight lifted off so many shoulders.
Should my story or sharing my experience help any individual out there then it was worth sharing. I know so many are having a much more difficult time than I am.
I have the capacity to network and get this message out and if that helps to uncover the next iteration in advanced cancer treatment then this exercise in paying it forward was not only worth it but was necessary.
Thanks to all for reading and, if you were able, for donating and sharing!