Thursday, September 3, 2015

The final scans to find out if Patient #1 is cancer-free

It sounds obvious, but just thinking about "why I need to be here", it was easy to become tunnel-visioned into "for my children." Thinking of how my life impacts others is the part easily overlooked when you feel the responsibility of parenthood.

The final scans to find out if Patient #1 is cancer-free

After his colon surgery earlier in the treatment, TJ recovered with Jen by his side.
After his colon surgery earlier in the treatment, TJ recovered with Jen by his side.

A big week lies ahead for the Sharpes.  It’s the tropical music fest in Tampa all weekend, the Phillies-Blue Jays play at Bright House Networks field Sunday afternoon (bleeping Joe Carter), and the Strawberry Festival is in Plant City on Monday.  Oh yea, and we get a couple of scans at Moffitt and find out Friday morning the status of multiple tumors, and what the following weeks, months, and years will hold.  Good thing we were able to fit those scans in with the rest of the weekend’s activities.

Our whole family feels good about Friday.  I even got a positive impression from Dr. Weber when we met with him at the end of January.  Physically and mentally, I feel better every day; that has to mean something, right?  We even planned a mini-celebration dinner from a local Indian Rocks Beach pizza place, aptly named T.J.’s (no wonder we picked it as our good luck restaurant after each procedure), jinxes be damned.  Jen and I are ready for the thirty minute meeting that will alter our lives, yet again. 

I mentioned in an earlier post about how I need to be here for my children, and inadvertently downgraded the importance of being here for other family members, particularly Jen.  Rereading it, I probably should have made it a separate blog entry instead of trying to cram extra material into an already-long post. The effect of cancer on caretakers – spouses, parents, children, relatives, and friends – is enormous and often overlooked (and will be the subject of a future post).  What I failed to mention before was that I was viewing “needs” as dependents, not unlike those you put on your 1040. 

Missing from that logical mindset are the moments that become memories, cement friendships, and make families – like the ones we have planned post-scans this weekend.  You cannot remove one piece of the equation and expect the others to carry on in support of those most affected (i.e. Josie and Tommy) without dealing with it themselves.  It sounds obvious, but just thinking about “why I need to be here”, it was easy to become tunnel-visioned into “for my children.”  Thinking of how my life impacts others is the part easily overlooked when you feel the responsibility of parenthood. 

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Jen could handle anything thrown at her – heck, she’s proving that right now.  She could get by.  She would be OK in the long run.  But… she needs her partner in this.  She needs her husband; needs a Daddy to work alongside Mommy; needs to have someone there to hold her hand when she needs strength, lend an ear when she needs to vent, provide a shoulder when tears are necessary. 

Raising a child is a tough job; bringing up two by yourself while working has to be damn near impossible.  A coworker was in a similar situation after her second child was born and her husband was diagnosed with cancer; this was years ago before many treatment breakthroughs.  She was widowed with two young children, and raised them herself while working full time.  She is now happily a grandmother, but was one of the first to reach out to me when I was diagnosed to ask how Jen was, knowing the emotions that go with being the overlooked partner. Any time I talk or email with her, I am reminded of how difficult life would be on my wife without having me by her side.  Jen needs me as much as Tommy and Josie do.

So, in a way, I suppose we are all optimistic out of necessity as much as anything else.  Yea, a part of me is scared, and a part of Jen is, too.  We both know this is not a layup – more like a Jordan-from-the-foul-line dunk – but the odds that seemed so stacked against us in September feel mitigated by continued little victories.  It has not been easy, but most success stories aren’t, and they are filled not with big-bang moments but small, almost unnoticed achievements along the way. 

One day, you look around and realize that all those steps have led you up towards the top of the mountain.  Even if we have yet to reach the peak, I have great confidence that the metaphorical clouds will dissipate Friday morning and we will see the end of our climb in sight.  If you have been to the top of the mountain – figurative or literal – then you know the satisfaction from looking back at the path taken is as great as the feeling of achievement of reaching that milestone.  I know how far I have come already – so does family, friends, and half of the Delaware Valley. Friday, we all find out how close to that peak I am.

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About this blog
T.J. Sharpe is sharing his fight against Stage 4 Melanoma. A South Jersey native and Bishop Eustace graduate, he currently lives in Fort Lauderdale, FL with his wife Jennifer and children Josie and Tommy. He was Patient #1 in a clinical trial at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa as the first person worldwide to use this sequence of treatments to fight melanoma, and is currently in a second clinical trial at Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale receiving Merck’s anti-PD-1 drug Lambrolizumab

The Patient #1 blog will update the progress of T.J.'s fight against cancer, and also touch on many cancer-related topics.

Follow T.J. on Twitter and Facebook. Reach T.J. at

T.J. Sharpe
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