Hi again everyone, welcome to blog post #2. It’s been over a week now since I started this new adventure (sorry for the delay!) and I was blown away by all the thoughtful and spirited responses from all of you. Family and friends from across the country reached out through the blog, via Facebook, email, phone and text and I was truly flattered as I had no idea how people would react. Rotten Tomatoes gave me an 86% freshness rating and I even got a call from President Obama…..OK, just kidding. Rotten Tomatoes did not rate my blog nor did I hear from Obama but word from NY was that Gov. Chris Christie stopped traffic on the GW Bridge just so he could read my first post. See what I did there Fallon and Kimmell friends? First bad joke, all downhill from here. I just fired myself.
One of the more consistent responses from many of you was about my writing, ‘I had no idea you were such a good writer’, ‘You can write?’ or ‘Who wrote this for you and how much did it cost?.’ Well the answer is yes, I wrote this, and I am not as crappy a writer as one might think! Though I was tempted to get a second opinion or two, no other human, not even my dog Lucy laid on eyes on this before I hit publish. Save for a couple or 3 grammatical errors, I hope that I was able to convey my situation with some humor and inspiration while updating everyone on my current status.
I also got a ton of responses around how my Doctor broke my news to me over the phone while I was driving. Many of you were shocked that had happened, my Mom had to read my blog to find out that one (sorry Mom!) and one friend even asked me if I had used ‘artistic license’ with that part of the story. I can promise you that every word I will write here is the full truth and nothing but that truth as I have nothing to hide or embellish……this is no hollywood story folks, this story is writing itself. To my friend’s credit, I did initially wonder why my Doctor would deliver a such a serious diagnosis over the phone and not in person. After hearing from 2 other recent C patients that were contacted this way, it makes more sense to me now. Doctors want to deliver this message right away as goal is get patients moving as quickly as they can toward treatment.
I mentioned ‘flashbacks’ in last week’s opening day blog and I will start to fulfill that promise ‘True Detective’ Style………is anyone watching this show? Dark but awesome and if you like Matthew McConaughey, you need to check it out. Saw ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ this weekend as well (Thanks CP for encouraging me to watch) and it was truly inspiring. ‘True Detective’ plays out as a series of flashbacks and flash forwards to the present time similar to how I will blog and share some of the moments that have occurred on this journey so far.
So let’s flashback to the week of January 13th when I first got my news. I found out that Monday I had cancer, but I was not told the extent of it and of course hoped it was minor and treatable. My pulmonologist, who had called to break it to me over the phone, had already set me up with an appointment with an oncologist at UCLA. For our blog purposes, we’ll call my oncologist Dr. Dan or Cuddly Bear because he looks like a Cuddly Bear in a non gay-way and recently told my parents that he considers us friends. Thinking out loud here people that I will probably not call him Cuddly Bear and stick with calling him Dr. Dan……Moving on, thanks.
I would soon find out that Dr. Dan was one of the finest oncologists in LA and it would be his job to break down my condition, explain my situation in detail and create a treatment plan. I set up the appt, then immediately called my brother and a couple of friends in NY and LA via conference call. My plan was to call my parents on Tuesday night after the oncology appointment so I knew exactly what I was dealing with and could explain it. For these type of appointments it is suggested to bring a family member or friend for support and since my family was all back east, one of my best buds, Larry Stern, volunteered to join me that Tuesday. That next afternoon before the appt, I had sat down with my dog Lucy to have a real talk with her. I told her that she was going to live to 15 years and that I would be there right by her side.
Larry met me at the Dr’s office which of course had a touch of seriousness to it. I had never been to an oncologist’s office and when I looked around I noticed a woman in the waiting room who was covering up the loss of her hair…..a site that I have become accustomed to these past few weeks. We were keeping it casual as I filled out my paperwork and respectfully joked about nonsense. They called my name, we walked into meet Dr. Dan and right away, I liked him. He was smart, spoke thoughtfully and after a few minutes, got right down to it. He told me that it was of his opinion that I had developed Stage 4 Lung Cancer and that it was inoperable and incurable. Then he started apologizing to me, reiterated that he was very sorry that he had to deliver this news. I asked him if he minded if I stood up, just like the phrase, this was not the type of news I wanted to take sitting down. The rest of the conversation was a bit of a blur, I was holding back a landslide of emotion as I could not believe the words being said to me, about me. I glanced out the small window in his office from time to time, contemplating jumping through it and getting the hell out of there. In my mind I had been given a death sentence and had no way out. I tried not to look at Larry but out of the corner of my eyes, I saw him. He was writing notes for me and he looked like he was in shock as well. Meanwhile, Dr. Dan continued to apologize to me, he must have done it 3-4 times. I woke up a bit in that moment and realized that though Dr. Dan had probably given this diagnosis to patients countless times in the past, it seemed genuinely difficult for him to deliver to me. I put my hand on Dr. Dan’s shoulder, I told him this must be hard for you and I thanked him for being so kind. I told my friend Dan Fogelman about this the next day over breakfast and he said ‘You consoled the Doctor while he was giving you the worst news in the world? Who does that?’
I had mentioned before the Dr. appt that if the news was bad, I would probably feel better if our group of friends gathered at my house as my immediate family would not be near. By the time I got home, my LA friends had assembled in my living room. I called my brother from the Dr’s office immediately to let him know and had him call my parents as another call was too much for me to bear at that moment. They had not expected this, cancer had been ruled out earlier by my team of doctors and we had thought this was just a bad infection. I regrouped, called my friends Josh and Danny to let them know and spread the word to our NY crew. The Dr. wanted to take more blood tests to test for any mutations, signs of hope for other drug treatments that I could possibly be eligible for, so I went directly to the basement of the hospital to get my blood tests done. About an hour had gone by since my brother had called my parents and as I got into my car to head home, I felt they needed to hear from me. None of these calls were easy, but this one was the hardest. As I mentioned in my first blog post, all I could do was apologize to my mom and dad. This is every parent’s nightmare and they did not deserve it. As much as I did not it want it for myself, I wanted it less for them. My mom stopped me right away, and sympathetically said with strength ‘You don’t have to apologize. Our family will band together and you will beat this.’
My brother and parents booked plane tickets that night. Knowing they were on their way and friends gathering at my house already started to raise my spirits. Most of my friends had not even known that I was sick, so once everyone got there, we sat in my living room and I recanted the last 2 months for them. The house was silent as I told my story, it had affected us all. I looked around the room, thankful that I had such smart and great friends in my life. After a while, we all had a drink and toasted to me and my health. We then watched DVR recordings of ‘Rocky’ and ‘Rocky 2’ which I conveniently had available. Watching Rocky battle back from being an underdog to a champion somehow just felt right for this night. I was now the underdog and all I wanted was a chance to win. This was my biggest frustration, I said it over and over again that night. Just give me one chance, one sliver of hope and I will do all I can to beat this.
‘If You Want To Eat a Donut, Eat a Donut!’
The next day, I was having breakfast with a friend and I got a call from my doctor who told me I had tested positive for the EGFR mutation and I was eligible for Tarceva………this was my chance, this was my shot. Dr. Dan had said this was the first piece of good news he had gotten about my case and sounded excited. After 4 weeks on Tarceva plus a new diet and clean living, I feel like a new man again. My cough is now completeIy gone, my breathing is almost at 100% and I even ran 2 miles last week with my friends from NY who were visiting. I felt like I could run 5 more.
I have met with 3 other leading Lung Cancer oncologists that Dr. Dan and others have referred me to over these past 4 weeks at Cedars-Sinai, City of Hope and UC Davis in Sacramento. I will also meet with another leading lung cancer oncologist at Sloan Kettering in March. They all tell me that my mutation is the most sensitive to Tarceva, meaning Tarceva works most effectively with it and if I have to get Stage 4 Lung Cancer, this is the situation and treatment I want. Tarceva is highly effective for an average 12-18 months on most patients but could last 2 years + with me. I have recently heard that one patient has been on Tarceva for over 13 years and is living a very full and normal life. If my cancer becomes immune to the Tarceva, chemo is an option as well as all of the other experimental cancer treatments that are being utilized today and approved by the FDA about every 6 months.
I am heading to Europe on Tuesday for a week thanks to my friend Dan who is filming a pilot for ABC in a town outside of London. My family and I were invited to see ‘The Book of Mormon’ ‘Ellen’ and ‘Jimmy Kimmell’. My NY friends, 8 of them, flew out last weekend to spend time with me, took me whale watching and even made up tee shirts to honor me. I am so grateful for these experiences these past few weeks and though they were challenging at times due to my health, they lifted my spirits and started to prepare me for normal life again.
My company, SessionM, has been more than generous to let me take this time off to make sure my treatment is working and to regain my health. I will return to work on March 3rd with a vengeance and some new perspective in my life. I feel better every day and should continue to feel great these next few years until I have to deal with the next stage of this battle or until I beat this. Thanks to my nutritionist and family/good friends, I am fortifying my body with the right foods…… I’ve given up coffee, sugar, carbs and alcohol, save a glass of red wine here or there. One of my doctors told me that she liked what I was doing with nutrition, but that if I wanted to eat a donut, I should eat a donut! Great advice for us all as even in my situation it is sometimes healthier to give yourself what you think you need.
Till Next Time…
I’ll leave you with a couple of videos below, both odd and funny. First video is of one of my favorite lines from ‘Dumb and Dumber’ which is the title of this week’s blog post and sums up my situation in a humorous way. The second video is a special message from Xavier McDaniel aka X-Man. My friend Evan was thoughtful enough to purchase a customized video message for me from a great company called Thuzio (enjoy the shameless plug, Jared!). For those of you who do not know who X-Man is, Xavier was an NBA All Star for the Seattle Supersonics and Knicks in the 80s/90s and as he amazingly quotes in the video, also appeared in the movie ‘Singles’. Now its obvious that Evan wrote this script for Xavier to read to me and that X-Man may want to re-up on those acting/speech lessons but it is another testament to the creativity and love coming my way……Thanks for reading and till next time, I Got This.
‘Dumb and Dumber’
Xavier McDaniel Video Message