Hi everyone, apologies for the delay in blog posts. Yes it has been more than a month since I last wrote, “WTF!” I have heard from many of you these past few weeks asking me how I am (thank you) and inquiring about the latest blog post. I love this blog, appreciate your enthusiasm for it so I will continue to write. I have written little things along the way these past few weeks but for some reason I was not ready to write again. Instead, I have been living. And after what I’ve dealt with these past 5 months, I’ll take that.
The night I found out I had Lung Cancer I did not know the extent of it. So to get my mind off things, I decided to go to the movies with a couple of friends. We went to a local cineplex in Marina del Rey where waiters serve food directly to your seats, have very comfortable chairs and make you feel like you are in your living room eating a cheeseburger while watching a DVD….You know what I’m talking about. Though people rave about these theaters, I have never fully enjoyed them. Watching a movie for me has always been sort of a religious experience as it’s one of the few places in the world where I can fully escape. The cool air, the silence, the smell of popcorn, the cinematic experience… a place where your mind can hit pause, go on an adventure, enter a new world and forget for 2 hours what is going on in your own life. But this night I could not escape. Maybe it was the waiters serving calamari to the people sitting next to me. Maybe it was the moveable seats that I could not stop playing with. Or maybe it was just the heaviness of what was happening.
In any case, it did not feel right and after about 45 minutes I knew I did not want to be there. I turned to my friends and told them I was leaving. They asked if they could go with me but I insisted I wanted to be on my own the rest of the night. I proceeded to walk 3-4 miles home, probably not the smartest thing to do when you are coughing uncontrollably and short of breath, but I did not care. The late evening air felt good and I felt alive. Yes, I now had Cancer and I knew my life was about to change. However good or bad the news was to be tomorrow, I had no interest in watching other people’s lives on a big screen, I had to get busy living mine.
And in a sense, that’s what I have been doing these past few weeks. Traveling to London and Dublin, going back to work, home to NYC for a week, and getting back to life in Los Angeles as normally as I can. To paraphrase a good friend of mine, if you have seen me as of late you would never think I have Cancer. It was so intense when this all started, everyone rallied to my side. And then the medication started working, and luckily worked very well. My cough started to subside in February, I could breathe again when walking up the stairs, the color came back to my face, I gained back the 10-15 pounds I had lost and within 6 weeks of treatment, the Cancer had shrunk by 75%. Amazing. Everyone, including me, started to forget a little bit; like nothing had changed and all was back to normal. But of course I know things have changed, things will never be the same. And I look at that mostly as a good thing.
My first trip back to NY was a good one. 1st stop was my niece Gabriela’s 1st Birthday party in Brooklyn. Was great to see family and friends and of course Gabby growing up so quickly. She has a smile that lights up the room, her mother’s beauty and her father’s sense of humor. When I am around her, it is my constant goal to make her smile and when she does, it feels like a small victory. I’ll remind her years from now that her smile helped me during this time, that her laughter gave me these small victories of joy.
After the weekend, I headed to NY where I would spend the week at my friend Paul and Deb’s apartment on the Upper West Side. They were on vacation that week with their kids and Paul and Deb were generous enough to let me stay at their awesome apartment near Central Park. Paul had one ask of me besides not wrecking their place….take care of their fish named Louie. On my first morning in the apt as I was feeding Louie, I noticed a sign in the kitchen which said ‘Eat dessert first……Life is Uncertain’. I liked this a lot, not only because I really liked dessert but because of the ‘live for now’ type of attitude that this phrase exudes. I asked Deb about the sign in her kitchen and she told me that her Grandmother, who was a very inspiring person and had reinvented herself several times after many hardships, had created the calligraphy herself and had it hanging in her own kitchen. It was an omen for my trip.
My next important stop in between working and seeing friends and family, was to meet with Dr. Mark Kris, head of Lung Cancer at Sloan Kettering. My doctor in LA, Dr. Dan had told me that Dr. Kris, Dr. Gandara of UC Davis, Dr. Natale of Cedars-Sinai and Dr. Reckamp of City of Hope were 4 of the finest lung cancer specialists in the world and I was about to close the loop on seeing them all. Dr. Kris and Dr. Gandara were leading the way in lung cancer treatment and that when the pharma companies tested new drugs, these were the 2 doctors they called first. I was, of course, nervous to meet him, hoping he would take me seriously and that he would consider me a patient of his after our meeting.
The doctor appt took about 3 hours. I met with three of his physician assistants who would take my blood, my vitals and ask me 100 questions about my experience, all as prep for the big guy. Finally Dr. Kris came in to meet us and it was worth the wait. My family and one of my best friends growing up in Brooklyn, Dan Rootenberg, sat in on the appointment and we were all impressed. This man was so smart you could see his brain working as he spoke. He told me he was glad I had come to NY to meet him and that I was doing very well. He basically told us to ride my drug, Tarceva out as long as I could. And if and when, in a few years or more from now, the drug stopped working, to give him a call. He told us that there were 5 new lung cancer drugs coming out this year and more treatments would be available every year. There was still no cure, but it felt like we were moving in the right direction. He told me to stop going to doctor appts and to starting living my life again. I agreed.
Next stop in NY was a party/fundraiser that two great friends, Deb and Ari Bluman would throw for me hosted at another friend, Jim Loughran’s bar on the Lower East Side. It was a special night. Friends I grew up with and knew since the age of 10 were there, high school friends, college friends, NYC work friends, LA friends who happened to be in NY and of course my family. My cousin Stephanie flew in from San Francisco just to be there. The CEO of our company flew in from Boston last minute as he had just found out about it the day before. Over 100 people showed up and we raised over $7,000 that night to start my foundation, Alex’s Army, which we hope will raise thousands more to find a cure for Lung Cancer.
I’m very close with my friends and their families in Los Angeles. My good friends in LA, Deb and Russ have a daughter named Blake who I’ve watched grow up for the past 6 years. The other day, I got something in the mail from Blake that I wanted to share with all of you. It was a story book that she created called ‘Alex and the Kids’. The first page was a goofy and amazingly life like picture of me, with the headline, ‘This is Alex’. The 2nd page had pictures of all of my friends kids (8 of them) and my dog Lucy, with the headline ‘These are the kids who love Alex!’ Next page was a picture of Blake, with the caption, ‘And we have a secret. ‘We have magic that can make you feel better and make you laugh. We love you and we are always with you’. I read the story book to my Mom the other day and she fell silent on the other end of the phone.
Tom Brokaw was recently diagnosed with Cancer and his statement about it resonated with me. “With the exceptional support of my family, medical team and friends, I am very optimistic about the future and look forward to continuing my life, my work and adventures still to come,” he said. “I remain the luckiest guy I know.” I feel the same, right now I am the luckiest guy I know.
I have a big day this Wednesday, April 23rd. I’ll go in for a Pet Scan, the first body scan since I was diagnosed in January. The scan will look at my entire body and measure the amount of cancer in my lung as well as the cancer in my hip and tailbone. My doctor thinks that the news will continue to be fabulous as it has been in my recovery so far. I have to believe that it will and that I Got This.
Alex and the Kids
Get Busy Living or Get Busy Dying (Shawshank Redemption)
Alive by Pearl Jam