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“You Beat Cancer By How You Live”

Stuart Scott, ESPN Sportscenter Anchor, said it right…”When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live and the manner in which you live.” Stuart has been battling Cancer since 2007. His speech at the ESPY’s resonated with me on many levels, inspired me and moved me………Thanks Stu.

People have asked how I am doing these past few months. It’s been up and down…..bottom line is cancer has reared its ugly head again but we have a plan and I’m ready for the next battle. This will be my ‘Empire Strikes Back’ blog post, similar to the trilogy, a bit darker than other episodes.

My battle officially started about 8 months ago, but I’ve been battling long before that and what I remind myself is that in this life there will be many victories won and lost. I’m learning that it’s how you live through these times is what will matter most. So is true of life, we’re all battling something, big or small, every day. And if we are not, let’s be thankful. We will all face death at some point, it’s what you do on this journey that determines how you are living or how you are dying.

Time To Fight, Again

When I found out my cancer was coming back, my doctor from Memorial Sloan Kettering so aptly stated that this will be a marathon not a sprint. I’ve run 2 marathons in my life inspired by my dad, 2 triathlons inspired by my brother and when I was a kid my mom would chase me around the house when I did not listen to her. I’m used to running. My father, the strongest and most disciplined man that I have ever known, has run 6 days a week through extremes of sun, sleet and snow for almost 30 years, no fail. I have watched him train and run in 13 marathons, finishing 26.2 miles in each race, his last one running side by side with me. So maybe I have an edge…..

Thus far my battle with cancer has been one of extremes. I landed quickly on a very serious diagnosis of Stage 4 Lung Cancer in January of 2014. Not a smoker, never having been exposed to any extreme environmental conditions or having any strong genetic link to lung cancer in my family, we still do not know why. What we did learn and could be a clue is that I have a genetic mutation, EGFR, which is a double edged sword in this story. The mutation is driving my cancer but it also has brought me alternate treatment options and experimental drugs while not a cure, have proven effective for me so far as well as with other patients that have this gene. The drug I have been on, is a chemotherapy drug called Tarceva, causes side effects like fatigue, nausea, skin and hair disorientation, it’s no picnic but works well and is not as much of the lifestyle hit that chemo brings. And when these experimental drugs work on patients, they can work really well. It worked so well for me, that the severe coughing and shortness of breath I had experienced in December, January and February were gone by late March enabling me to go back to work and resume most of my normal life. It worked so well that in late April, I received a negative pet scan showing no signs of cancer. Together we (my family, my friends, me, my doctors, God, The Universe, the drug…..not necessarily in this order) kicked my cancer’s ass and it gave me some time to breathe.

But now the drug has stopped working, much sooner than we thought. We were warned by our doctors that Tarceva was not a cure, that the average span of time that the drug worked on patients was 12-18 months. I got about 6 months, thank you Tarceva, it was short yet sweet.

Heads Under Water, But I’m Breathing Fine

Lyric above is from a John Legend song that a recent ex-girlfriend (yeah I’m dating again, that’s another blog and it’s good) tried to convince me was a song I’d like. I heard it again today, good song, good lyrics and that specific line stuck with me figuratively and literally.

We started seeing signs of progression in June. I have weekly doctor visits and blood tests and when my CEA tracker, a tumor marker in your blood, started rising in May, my doctor became worried. Here we go again…….Frequent doctor visits, cat scans, pet scans, biopsies, interview’s for clinical trials, support groups, trips to the City of Hope Hospital in LA, Memorial Sloan Kettering in NY, until it was determined that we have to switch treatments. I’ve started coughing again and my shortness of breath is back. My breathing capacity was measured at 31% just last week, back to the worst levels we saw in January. For some reason though, I have it under control. It’s not that bad, I still walk my dog, I pop about 5-6 different pills a day that alleviate some of the symptoms and I am working away, hanging out with my friends, traveling for work and leisure. Living.

I’m fine but the reality is that it’s getting worse. Luckily, I have a smart team of doctors who have a plan and the most amazing family and friends that continue to be my rock. My spirit has been shaken but not stirred and yes, I have begun to reconnect with something beyond me, something above me that gives me strength and determination to continue this fight.

Next

So what’s next? I have 2 options, clinical trial or chemotherapy. The clinical trial is called CO-1986 or the Clovis Drug and is available for patients who have the EGFR mutation and a new resistance mutation called T-790M. Luckily they have this trial available here in Los Angeles at UCLA and I visited with them about a month ago to interview, get me processed through the system and after one failed biopsy, had another one a couple of weeks ago where they took samples from my lung to test if I was a genetic match. There is about a 50% chance that I am a match for this new drug. Want more some more percentages and odds?  Well, I’ve got em!  If I qualify for this drug, it works in about 60% of patients, which is very good in this world. There are also side effects, 1 in 3 patients experience diabetic like symptoms. New picnic. We’ll know today if I am a match, if I am not, then we start chemotherapy this Friday. I am ready for either.

Last week, I took a tour of the chemo ward in my doctor’s office. Now let me tell you this was a barrel of laughs, good times! My doctor has a large office that circles around, I’ve glanced that way before, have seen mostly older people twice my age sitting down, attached to contraptions pumping something into their arms. Looking mostly relaxed, reading, sleeping. Very strange, something out of a movie, like people waiting to die. It reminded me of what purgatory might look like or Florida (I just insulted half my family).

If I can’t make you laugh here than I lose and the terrorists win. Truth is, I wish I never saw what I saw and I am lucky that I have not experienced chemo yet. What these people are going through, what I am going through. It’s not fair, no one deserves it. But like I said, we all have our battles, and I was meant to fight this one.

I strive to find the silver lining. If I win this next battle through a clinical trial or chemotherapy, I can continue the fight and start winning the war in this marathon. It’s a long road, it’s a new road, but it’s not my only road.

Cancer is not my life, it’s a part of my life that I have to deal with right now and whatever the outcome, like Stu, I will live, live, live, and fight like hell. Like Stu, I will not give up and if I ever feel like giving up, I will reach out to my friends and family and forces beyond me to help lift me up. Like Stu, I will get tired and I will need help. And when I get too tired to fight, I will lay down and rest and let someone else fight for me.

I Got This.

Stu at the ESPY’s…..Watch This

 

 

I got this 2

GREAT NEWS

Hey everyone, quick update as I got some great news this week. My Pet Scan came back negative, no evidence of cancer in my lung (99% gone) and no cancer in my hip or tailbone. Pretty much cancer free for now but still likely to come back one day, who knows….. This news is as good it as gets and about as extreme as it gets from where I started 3 months ago…..so let’s party.

What does this mean?  Well I had expected one of three things:

A) Improvement from the 75% decrease from 6 weeks ago

B) No improvement and stuck at 75%

C) Cancer had gotten more aggressive

Though I had hoped for it, I did not expect news this good. My doctor would not use words like ‘remission’ and said that it is very likely that the cancer will come back one day but he did say this is wonderful news and congratulated me on the way out. I will probably stay on Tarceva for the rest of my life, until it runs out on me or there is a better drug that comes along. I will continue to see my doctor monthly for blood tests and every 3 months for pet scans to make sure there is no downturn. This is a very big battle won for me.

My buddy Adam Goldstein (we call em Goldie) came along for this doctor appt and took this picture below of me and Dr. Lieber as he was walking us out. Goldie added a little message to the pic that I think sums it all up.

Lieber

Thank you so much for your support these last 3 months, more to come.

Get Busy Living or Get Busy Dying

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.

NYC

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.

Blake

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

photo-5photo 5photo 2-2photo 3photo 2photo 1-2

 

 

Deb’s Grandma

East dessert first....life is uncertain

 

Get Busy Living or Get Busy Dying (Shawshank Redemption)

Alive by Pearl Jam

 

 

 

Elysium

The night of my diagnosis, my D-Day as some Cancer patients call it, was Tuesday night, January 14th, 2014, almost 2 months ago today.  My  mass/tumor in my right lung was 3.8cm long, it was at Stage 4, the highest and worst stage of Cancer.  In an instant my life had changed. I was told that surgery was not an option. The best option to get rid of cancer was gone.  Basically I had 2-3 years to live.  While I listened to my Doctor give more details of the diagnosis, my mind drifted to a far off place.  Was this it?  Was is it all going to end in just a few years?  Just when I felt it was really starting to come together? This was not my story, there was more to do and I still had time to do it.  My career was blossoming, all of my friends I had worked with for years were becoming VP’s, SVP’s and CEO’s of startups and major companies, and I was hopefully on a similar path. I still had a dream that I would fall in love with the right girl, get married, have kids, retire early, travel the world and grow old with someone beside me on a rocking chair while we watched our grandkids play. I was grateful for what I had in life and what I had experienced, the wonderful people I had met and befriended along the way, the family I was born into, but I wanted more. I wanted my own family, I wanted the next part of my life to start. I wanted another 40 years.

After multiple conversations with friends who had gathered at my house that night, I settled into a chair next to one of the guys, Doug Triconi.  Doug is not a man of few words. He is, some might say, the Vince Vaughn of our crew. We don’t always understand him, but whatever he is spewing is usually very funny and quotable.  On this night, he did not have much to say.  Sitting near my fireplace, he turned to me, looked me in the eye, and admitted that he was in shock. He didn’t understand how or why this had happened to me and that he frankly did not know what to say.  I told him it was ok, that he didn’t have to say anything, that I was just happy to have him there.  But I did tell him that all I wanted right now was a chance to get my life back as it was before it had changed so suddenly.  All I was asking for was a chance and if given my chance I would dedicate my life to saving it as well as helping others.

A few minutes later Doug ran up to me, he had an idea “I got it, I know what you need.  You need to get your ticket.  Your ticket to Elysium.”, I immediately knew exactly what he was talking about. He was referencing the movie, ‘Elysium’, a film that came out in 2013 and is set in a futuristic world where the wealthy live on a man-made space station and the poor suffer on Earth.  Matt Damon’s character has fallen ill and his only cure is a ticket to Elysium.  That next day I got the call from my Doctor that I was a genetic match for this targeted drug called Tarceva.  Only 1 in 7 patients are genetically eligible for this drug and only 60-70% of these patients see successful results.  I got my ticket, I found my Elysium, I was ready to get to work.

Russ

I got back from Europe last Wednesday and though the trip was everything I had hoped, I had some problems with sleep and stress along the way.  I came back feeling enlightened by the people I had met, the things I had seen and the perspective I had gained but also felt physically and mentally drained as I touched down at LAX.  I had felt a tightness in my chest and was not sure what it was.  On the advice of my parents, we called my doctor (dr. dan) who wanted to see me right away the next day.  He took some tests and all looked good, but he was still concerned. Even though scans are not usually done for 2-3 months after treatment starts (mine had started 6 weeks ago), my doctor wanted to run a scan on my lung right away to make sure all was ok.  We scheduled a Cat Scan for that next day, Friday morning.  The problem with taking a scan too early is that you need to give the drug time to work, and after 6 weeks you might not see the improvement the patient wants or the doctor expects. But I had no choice, the doctor was concerned that we might have reversed our progress and, honestly, so was I.

I’ve become a professional as of late at getting blood drawn, sitting inside odd contraptions for Chest X rays, CT scans, Pet Scans, Brain Scans……..Name a blood test or scan and I’ve done it these past 3 months.  When the technician, Russ, asked me if I had done a Cat Scan with an Iodine intake before, I told him yes, about a month ago and it went fine.  His response was ‘Good, because I have not’.  I looked at him and quickly figured out he was joking.  The last thing a patient with a serious diagnosis like this needs is someone who does not know what they are doing. I liked this guy, my kind of guy.  Russ.  I had known 2 Russ’s in my life.  One was my first friend and best friend growing up, we’ll call him NY Russ.  NY Russ and I met when we were about 4 years old, growing up on the same floor in a 23 story apartment building in Brooklyn.  He was 6 months older than me, a seniority at that age which is an eternity. He taught me a lot about life, sports, girls, etc.  The 2nd Russ is LA Russ, a former NYer like myself, a Yankee fan, and a pretty good basketball player (we went at it under the boards for years). He’s as good as it gets, a great father and husband, and has become a great friend to me over the past few years in Los Angeles. He has been there for me, even though he recently lost his father, after a long battle with cancer, late last year. I’ve had good experience with Russ’s and though I would not know Russ the technician for very long, he was in good standing already.

The Scan started and Russ the Technician shot the Iodine into the the IV.  He told me I would feel a warm sensation and to let me know if I felt anything else.  Everything was going fine until the scan was over and I stood up.  Russ looked at me and said:

Russ the Technician:  Are you ok?  You are turning very red

Me: Hmmm yeah, I don’t feel so great. I feel very hot, about 1,000 degrees

Russ the Technician: Your eyeballs are red, they look they’re on fire

Me:  Yeah.  I can’t breathe.

We were both calm, there was no panic but there was obviously something wrong.  Somehow over the past month I had developed an allergy to Iodine and that allergy had kicked in.  This was an imaging center not a Dr’s office so they were not fully equipped or prepared for an emergency. They rushed me into another room where 2 nurses followed and the radiologist joined us. Through the IV, they pumped some Benadryl into my arm and slowly, after about 5-10 minutes I started to breathe normally again, my color came back and all was ok.  My parents were in the waiting room this whole time wondering what was going on and when a nurse asked me if they could come in, I said no.  They had already seen enough and did not need to see this.  When I finally came to, I asked the nurse to bring them in.  I told them what happened but that I was ok, and it was only an allergic reaction.  The nurse told me that she had only seen someone break out in hives and had not seen this reaction; and that I had turned as red as a beet.

Small Victories

When the radiologist came back in to the room to check on me I told him I was ok and I asked if the scans had come back yet.  He had said that he usually confers with the doctor first but considering what I had just gone through he would give me a sneak preview.

Radiologist: Your scans look very good

Me: How good?

Radioligist:  Very good.  We’re talking 75% good.

Me: What does 75% good mean?

Radiologist: The mass/tumor in your lung has shrunk 75%

My Mom: (Said nothing but smiled ear to ear and slowly turned her head toward me)

My Dad: Wow!

I had lunch with my friend Nicole Butte this week.  Not only is she one of the most accomplished women in the world of Digital Marketing having been a director and VP at Sony Pictures, New Line Cinema and Focus Features, but she is also a recent breast cancer survivor.  As I am new to this game, Nicole was nice enough to meet me for lunch, tell me her story, offer advice, and be a friend.  She has a blog as well, it’s excellent and is called ‘I will Be Fierce’. Of the many amazing things I took away from lunch with Nicole was an expression that she advised me to heed during this process……’Small Victories’ .  Small victories will not happen often in this battle but when they do, see them for what they are and let them in.

I should have jumped in the air like Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods after a game winning shot or 30 foot putt, but I did not.  I knew the drug was working but had not idea how well.  The last few weeks had taught me more than ever to take things in stride and to not expect too much from anything or anyone…..a lesson I sometimes get right but still get wrong more often than I should. I did not expect this news and honestly, as grateful as I knew I should be, I did not trust it. Though I was happy and wanted to return that wide eyed smile right back to my mother, I could not look her in the eye without the fear of welling up.  How was this was happening?  To go from the news of a few weeks ago: that my lung was infested with cancer, surgery was not an option, and it had spread to my hip and tailbone to now having it reduced by 75% after 6 weeks of being on this wonder drug was hard for me to believe.

But this was great news.  Better than we had expected. This was not just a small victory but a strong, early victory.  When my oncologist called me later to double confirm this, he said….’This is dramatic, dramatic improvement’.  We asked what this meant?  Could we get to 100%? He had told us that it could get to 100%, NED as they call it (No Evidence of Disease), but that is rare and there is a good chance that at some point, could be years down the road, that the Tarceva will stop working on me and the Cancer will come back. Until that day, if it ever comes, I have a plan. It’s around nutrition, positive thinking and enjoying my life.  Because the truth is, as my good friend Marina Levin said to me today, we all have our day.

I’ve been back at work for 2 weeks now and I’m enjoying it.  I’m working out, walking my dog, socializing with friends and living about as normal as I ever was.  With one exception, I continue to feel more ‘alive’ every day as I head right back into the fray of normal life.  Though my life has been a 10 as of late and at times in the past, I’m trying to keep it at 5 right now (thank you Christina Reisenweber).

I head to NY next week to visit Memorial Sloan Kettering and meet with the head of the Lung Cancer department, as I will continue to seek out the best medical advice and opinions I can.  I’m looking forward to seeing my family in NY and attending my niece Gabby’s 1st birthday. I’m looking forward to working out of my company’s NY office and seeing friends for a Happy Hour fundraiser in NY that will raise money for a foundation we are starting, to fund cancer research. I’m looking forward to going to my good friend Josh’s wedding up in Bear Mountain and breakdancing like it’s 2014.

I’m looking forward and I Got This.

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‘Failure is Not An Option’

Hello mates…….flying back from London as I write blog post #3 and boy are my arms tired! Thanks for reminding me of that one Ari Bluman, I know you love shameless plugs and you are now officially on my late night blog writing team.

Inspirational Figures

It was quite a week, thanks to my buddy Dan who organized the trip and got me out to Europe. First stop was in Bristol, England, a quaint little town about an hour outside of London where Dan was filming his pilot ‘Galavant’ for ABC. I met a few unlikely and inspirational figures on this journey that stuck with me and my first encounter occurred that first night in Bristol at the cast and crew party for the show. Among some of the actors and crew I hung out with that night was British actor and Hall of Fame professional european football player, Vinnie Jones. In America, you might know Vinny Jones from such movies as ‘Snatch’ and ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’, in Europe he also known as one of the most intimidating and best footballers of all time. Vinnie is a tough, straightforward kind of guy with a great sense of humor so of course we hit it off right away. He didn’t drink and I had to order a special meal from the waitress……….we both looked at each other curiously about that but ignored it.  What I found out later was that Vinnie had a good reason for not drinking. Vinnie’s wife Tanya was a heart transplant survivor at the age of 21. He met her shorty after her life changing event, married her and she had convinced him to change his ways, to live a healthier life and leave his hard partying days of drinking in the past. They’ve been married for 20 years and he calls her ‘his inspiration’.   

Heart disease and Cancer are the #1 and #2 causes of death in the United States and Cancer is projected to pass Heart Disease as the #1 cause of death by 2020. Their are many studies that prove that both can be curbed and sometimes cured by nutrition. The next night, Dan introduced me to the director of his pilot, Chris Koch. I have met Chris before but was looking forward to sitting down to dinner with him. He shared his story with me, an amazing one. Basically about 3 years ago, Chris, a healthy guy in his 40s, was feeling strange and having pain in his right arm. What he did not realize was he was about to have a massive heart attack and probably die. If not for the quick actions of his neighbor who suggested he go to the hospital and a paramedic, who got him there quickly, he would not have survived. This event as you can imagine literally woke Chris up, he changed his diet and lifestyle in various ways and with heavy odds against him is now in complete turnaround with no signs of heart disease.

When Irish Eyes are Smiling

From Bristol, we took a quick 1 hour flight to Dublin, Ireland. What a city……a pub on every corner, and these people are as happy as pigs in shit. Their happiness may or not be because they are drinking daily but hey life is hard and sometimes you just need a pint. They speak English but we could not understand half the words they said.

Right away we toured the city, saw one of the oldest churches in Dublin, Christchurch, and settled into an old pub. The scene was right out of Central Casting, we were clearly the only out of towers in there. Picture a few older irish gentlemen at the bar, sitting next to each other yet by themselves. At the end of the bar is the town drunk who is being cut off by the bartender as he asks for another pint while the pint he is drinking is still full. We sat down at a table, ordered some Guiness and as the beer started to kick in, could not help but feel the excitement of being in a far off land that was not our own. Fascinated by the town drunk, we wondered about his life. Did he do this every day? Was he happy? Did he have a family?  Did he lose them? Was he drinking to forget or was it much simpler. Maybe this was all he ever wanted or needed at the end of the day, his bar and his pints of beer. Maybe life was just that simple for him and instead of feeling sorry for him, we should have realized that he was the happiest guy in there. Or maybe not.

From our corner table of the pub, we observed these local irish folk and tried to figure out their lives. We eventually got back to ourselves and asked ‘what was on our bucket lists?’ What do we want and what do we still have to work out in life? We eventually talked about my situation and how similar to Chris, it has awoken me again. Recently, before and even after my diagnosis, I had been feeling a little stuck in some parts of my life, job career, relationships, all the good stuff that we all worry about. There’s a quote from the movie ‘Her’ that struck me, here it is below.

‘Sometimes I think I’ve felt everything I’m ever gonna feel……and from here on out I’m not gonna feel anything new. Just lesser versions of things I’ve already felt.’

This described perfectly how I had been feeling about certain things in my life over the past few months. But all the sudden, since my news I feel everything again, more and more every day. I have been delivered a diagnosis that few people have beaten and on average proves fatal after a few years. Ironically, I feel more alive than ever than I have felt in a long time.

Music has always been an escape for me. Sometimes to work through an issue, I’ll jump in my car, drive up the PCH and blast some tunes. When this first happened, I could not concentrate on the daily things in life as I had before.  Walking my dog, having a conversation with a friend, watching my favorite show, etc. Getting into my car, turning up the volume to a great song was the only thing that I could truly enjoy.  It was my only escape, it would re-energize me and helped keep me positive. My music tastes vary……..I love reggae and listen to it all day at a low volume while I work, it’s my white noise and keeps me focused while making me feel like I am also on vacation. I love 90s hip hop, 80s music, Indie, Classic Rock, Classical Music, Enya (really?), I could go on. Though such an overused word these days, I call it eclectic. I know my stuff but I’ll admit that I also tend to also like what’s on the radio. They call this Top 40, catchy pop music that is overplayed daily in your car, in restaurants, at bars/clubs, at airports.  Eventually you cannot get away from it and love to hate it. Let’s say I have more of a tolerance, some say enjoyment than most of my peers to top 40, hence the nickname given to me in college, Top 40 Alex, T40 or TFA for short. And there’s a song out right now by One Republic, many would say a top 40 band, that says states exactly how I have been feeling these days. The song is called ‘Counting Stars’, a couple of lyrics below

‘Everything that kills me, makes me alive’

‘Everything that drowns me, makes me want to fly’

It all made sense when I first heard this song a few months back and makes even more sense now. When you’re hurting you’re more alive. When you get hit, your reaction is to take stock and defend yourself by putting together a plan of action, whether that is within a split second or more long term depending on each situation. When you get hit hard, you are forced to take a look at everything. That’s what’s happening with me right now. I’m looking at my past, my present and my future. I’m taking at a look at some of the choices I’ve made and reassessing for the future. I’m taking stock of this condition, gonna do all I can to understand it, beat the hell out of it and prove statistics wrong. Meanwhile I’m taking more ownership of who I am and what I want to continue to be……or not to be. This my friends, is a good thing.

Goodbye Ireland, Hello London

Next day we hit the Guinness Factory and watched a rugby match between Ireland and England in another classic pub, this time a bit wilder of an atmosphere. It was like watching an NFL playoff football game, the pub was packed and scene was electric. Ireland lost a close match but it was great to see the strong rivalry played out between these two neighboring countries with controversial pasts.

Dan left a day before to head back to Bristol, so I had Sunday and Monday to myself in Dublin. I decided to take it easy, walk around town and get a massage at the hotel spa.  The masseuse was great but at the end of the massage as she was walking me back to the lobby, she asked me what was going on with my chest as she had felt a big tightness there. I couldn’t believe it. Of course I did not let her know about my condition but she knew there was something wrong and it made me wake up again.  Here I am in Europe, 5,000 miles away from home, traveling through 3 cities like there is nothing wrong with me literally one month after I have been given a debilitating diagnosis.  Was I crazy?

I got in the cab to the airport to catch my flight to London for the last leg of my trip. The cab driver and I started chatting about this and that. He eventually asked me what brought me here, and I decided to tell him what I did not think I would tell anyone during my travels.  That I had recently been diagnosed with a serious form of cancer, had come out to visit a friend and get some perspective. He was taken aback and immediately told me I had a great spirit and he would never have thought anything was wrong with me. He told me about a trip he once took to America, the Kennedy Space Center in Washington DC.  There was a souvenir that had stood out to him as we was ending his tour and walking through the gift shop, a fridge magnet that read ‘Failure is Not An Option’, also the title of this week’s blog. That souvenir sits on Liam’s fridge today, he looks at it every morning before he goes to work and it pushes him to face the day with determination and a smile no matter how bad things are.  I met many people on this trip, Liam Kirwan, cab driver from Dublin, was the only person I told of my condition. And I was very glad I did.

As I got into London, I got a message on Instagram, an app I hardly use but should.  An old work friend, Marc Bonfeld, had gone for a run, took a picture of himself and tagged it ‘Inspired @alexhanan’.  I messaged Marc, thanking him, and he told me had one of his best runs in months.  That he had shaved 2 minutes off his normal time thinking about me and the news I had shared with him the night before.  Sometimes it’s the small things, thank you for sharing Marc.

There are stories out there, inspirational stories of people beating the odds, people getting up every day when they feel no hope but refusing to quit.  They are all around us and I plan on being one of them.  Until next time, I Got This.

Vinnie Jones

Gregg DeGuire

My Irish Cab Driver, Liam Kirwan

IMG_2002

‘Counting Stars’

‘So you’re telling me there’s a chance!’

Bloggin Out

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.

‘Yo Adrian!’

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

‘Somewhere I Heard That Life Is A Test’

Hello everyone, welcome to my blog. Never in a hundred years did I think I would ever have a blog, but since my news and the overwhelming outpouring of love from all of you, I figured this was the easiest way to communicate moving forward. I’m also secretly a really good writer so trust me as you are about to be amazed.  But seriously folks,  I’ve never done this before, not easy to bare your soul in this way publicly but I think it will be a good thing for me and all of you who are now in my corner.  You’ll notice the tag line above is ‘I Got This’, an expression my brother, friends, even co-workers have said that I use often and what we hope will be a good rallying cry for what I am now up against.

Most of you are already in the know about my situation, but for those who may be hearing this for the first time I will get right to the point.  Almost 4 weeks ago, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung Cancer.  It was a great shock to me, my family and friends.  I like to think of myself as a moderately healthy person, I exercise when I can and eat fairly well.  On top of that I am not a smoker and I am on the younger side for this type of prognosis.  I had developed a bad cough and severe shortness of breath in late November and after multiple tests, doctor visits and antibiotics in December, my Dr.’s could not figure out what was wrong with me.  NYE had came and went, my birthday the week after and January had begun on a high note. I was driving back from a client meeting when I got one of those calls that I’ll never forget………’You Have Cancer’. I literally almost drove off the road. Hey Doc, a little piece of advice, next time you give someone this type of news, tell them to pull over.  Thanks pal.

My brother and parents flew out to Los Angeles right away to be with me, while my closest LA friends gathered by my side and friends from NY rallied from afar.  Over the next week I received more news that my cancer had metastasized.  It had spread from my lung to my hip and tailbone and was confirmed to be inoperable and at Stage 4.  How about some good news?  I was due and finally got some.  I tested as a genetic match for a targeted drug called Tarceva, a highly successful treatment that works for 70% of lung cancer patients.  I started the Tarceva drug right away and though I have some side effects, a rash on my face and body plus fatigue, it is a small price to pay (thank you DK) if this works.   And more good news, is that it already seems to be working.  My cough, non-stop and intolerable for the past 2 months, is almost gone and my breathing capacity which at one point was measured as low as 30% has improved and should be back to 100% in another month or two. Tarceva is not a cure, the average patient in my situation is only expected to live 3-4 years from diagnosis.  As you can see this has been a roller coaster but with every twist and turn, my family and I are somehow lifted by the kind words of a friend ‘You are not average’  Thanks LS, DW, DF, JL, PA for this and everything.  ‘You are the exception’ Thanks AG, JDW, DR, BC, JRS……too many to name just yet but you are all the friends that I could not get through this without.

I have been inundated with texts, phone calls, emails, cards, gifts and offers to visit.  I can’t say enough about how lucky I am to have all of you in my life as how you have raised my spirits and kept me motivated these past few weeks.  My brother Dean, Mom, Dad, family, friends near and far, you know you are……..Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

This is just the beginning and I am getting stronger every day.  Where things looked bleak a couple of weeks ago, we are starting to think there is more hope than I can imagine for my future.  So this will be the first of a few or many blog posts that I will use to update you all on my status and goings on.  I even joked about a series of flashbacks that I will write to take you through the first few weeks that have led up to today.  But I promise this will not be too serious as that is just not me.  This is a big part of my life now but still just a part of my life.  The blog will represent my fight but also represent who I am and have always been.  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll unsubscribe or you might even get inspired and learn something.  I don’t want this to happen to anyone else so while I do my own work to beat this and find out how this happened to me, I want to educate others to make sure it does not happen to them.

So as soon as my brother got to LA, he moved into my spare bedroom and we literally spent every minute together over the next few weeks.  He became my caretaker when I needed it, which was early and often, my planner, my nutritionist, my driver when I could not, my friend, my everything.  We were both consumed by this and after talking about it for too long one afternoon, I asked if we could take a ‘Cancer Break’, we both laughed and started talking about football.  So we’ll take cancer breaks here too.

My Dad pulled me aside the other day and said ‘Cancer is Tough, But You are Tougher’.  My mom looks me in the eye often and says with certainty, ‘You are going to beat this, I can feel it’. Telling my parents what I had was the hardest thing I had to do and in fact, I made my brother do it at first.   When I called them an hour later that night, all I could do was apologize to them for this news.  They were both strong and have been throughout this process.  I believe the words they say above and I believe I can get through this.

So I will leave you with lyrics below and the title of my first ever blog post from my new favorite song, ‘The Man’, by Aloe Blacc.  I have been playing this song all week, I love it and its sort of become my anthem as of late.  The words inspire and motivate me and they might do the same for you.  So watch the video below and turn up the volume.

And thanks for the love everyone…….I Got This.

‘Somewhere I Heard that Life Is a Test, I’ve Been Though The Worst But I Still Give My Best,

This is My World,

Stand Up Now and Face The Sun, Won’t Hide My Tail  Or Turn and Run

It’s Time To Do What Must Be Done”