Archive: February, 2013
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.
So, this is it. The final dose of Yervoy – the last dose of anything – for my trial was Wednesday afternoon. After those last 90 mL flushed through, we have no more medical procedures (well, aside from blood draws, which at this point are like chewing gum, if gum stuck you in the arm with a sharp point). No more treatments, no more next steps, or challenges to prepare for. Nothing… just waiting, praying, and in a week, scanning my body to see if/how well this worked, at least preliminarily.
It feels odd, having no more upcoming battles. Knowing there was always something to look forward to or prepare for made it easy to methodically progress through each phase of the treatment. I said many times that I have it the easiest, knowing what I need to do or get through next. Now, I am living in the vague world of “gotta wait and see what happens.”
This morning felt different, almost like Christmas Eve, the morning of a big game, or packing the night before going on vacation. We went to a quick morning mass, dropped the kids off with Jen’s parents for an overnight stay, and headed towards Tampa. It was... energetic.
Since the last several posts all offered way more T.J. and cancer information than you ever wanted to know, today I’ll go in a different direction. Having attended my second wedding in eight days (congrats Brandon and Christine!!), I gave the same medical updates to a completely new group of people – somehow, no one in the two weddings overlapped even though both couples have strong Jersey roots (OK, well, one had Dutch roots by way of Northern VA, details, details…).
Many of our friends at Sunday night’s festivities share several common bonds besides the Delaware Valley. Almost all have lived here in South FL at one point. We each have good and unprintable stories about being out with Brandon (and his brother Brian, who left all kinds of good material out of an otherwise touching best man speech). And many of us are involved in A Prom To Remember. What’s that? Glad you asked…
Brandon Opre, newly married groom and, not surprisingly, another transplanted NJ native, started a charity for children affected by cancer called “A Prom To Remember” four years ago. He was inspired by a teenager in San Diego with terminal cancer whose “wish” was to make it to his prom before cancer took that opportunity from him. Brandon began the charity in Fort Lauderdale to give teens in South Florida the ultimate Prom experience every May.
"To me, there are three things that we all should do every day, we do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh; you should laugh every day. Number two is think; you should spend some time in thought. And number three is, you should have your emotions move to tears, could it be happiness or joy. But think about it, if you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day, that’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re gonna have something special." - Jim Valvano, ESPY Speech, March 3, 1999
This weekend the Sharpe family, minus Josie, took a quick trip to Philadelphia for a wedding. Not just any wedding; this was one of my best friends marrying my cousin. I didn’t exactly set them up – they came together on their own, albeit after the memorial service for my grandmother (and Josie’s namesake).Hardly the normal “and they lived happily ever after” narrative’s beginning.
I lived with Ninja (don’t ask) after we both graduated from CMU, and Jessica was a second cousin in name only – her and her sister Steph were the only close female relatives on my Mom’s side, and they were always just part of our normal family routine. Our Italian side (like many in the area) was never very good at discerning details like “type of cousin” anyways - we’re all just relatives. Show me a Delaware Valley Italian family member, and I’ll show you someone who has more cousins, aunts, and uncles then they can count.
I have been a family physician since 2003. In those nine years, despite thousands of patients, I had never diagnosed one case of testicular cancer – that was until October 3, 2011, when I diagnosed myself.
As physicians, we are required to pass a board examination every eight years to remain board certified. In the weeks preceding my exam, I learned a friend was diagnosed at 28 with stage 1b testicular cancer (localized to the teste, but showing invasion into local blood vessels). During my board review, I started to pay more attention to the signs, symptoms, and treatments of testicular cancer – and this likely saved my life.
My board exam was on Saturday morning, October 1. Friday night, after my pregnant wife and two small children finally fell asleep, I had some quiet time to review my notes. I decided a good night’s sleep was more important than additional studying.
Well, it’s downhill from here – at least that’s how it feels. It won’t be that easy, for sure. I still have one remaining treatment -Yervoy dose four. Dose three was this past Wednesday, and went off without a hitch. Dose four is scheduled for February 20th, and then, like Porky Pig says, “That’s all, Folks!”
It’s not quite all, though, folks. First, the Yervoy has side effects, so there are plenty of things left that COULD happen – and this is outside the normal side effects like fatigue. Second, I am still sort of recovering from the Chemo/TIL/IL2, so cumulatively I am still “down” and recovering in general.
Side note – the whole losing hair with chemo thing kicked in, which I thought would be irrelevant for someone whose crown hasn’t seen significant turf since Al Gore and Dubya were winning primaries. I didn’t anticipate sporadic goatee hairs falling out, making facial hair comical and leading to being clean shaven for only the second time in 11 years. It was less “massive hair loss” and more “small, random facial hair loss, along with no hair growing back in.” Which means all the hair that got removed (aka violently pulled off) from various sticky pads and patches at Moffitt the last few weeks has yet to return. The chest hair is a patchwork of bald spots; the only good thing is I haven’t shaved in over a week.