Thursday, May 28, 2009


Hi everyone: I owe you a long posting after a long silence. And that's part of the problem, I've been putting off this post for so long because (a) there's so much to say and I don't quite know where to start and (b) I have an almost superstitious aversion to celebrating too much for fear of jinxing it.

I went in for my weekly oil change and tire rotation with Dr. Spitzer and the pit crew at MGH's Bone Marrow Transplant center today. My white blood cell count has continued it's steady climb from 3.7 at the beginning of the month to 5.6 today, well out of the neutropenic zone that I was in coming out of transplant. All food restrictions were lifted last week, and I'm down to just three pills a day now, not the 10 to 15 that were part of my routine over the last few months. Today, I was given the green light to return to work on Monday.

I'm coming back ONE MONTH ahead of schedule. When I told Dr. Spitzer that I'd biked 105 miles and run 8 in the past week, he shook his head and said, "That's just unprecedented."

I know and appreciate how lucky I've been through all of this, particularly this last stretch since going into MGH to have my stem cells harvested at the end of March. At every turn, I've exceeded the doctors' expectations. Blame it on me being ultra-competitive, credit it to me being in good shape going into this, or, my preference, recognize that this is a cruel and capricious disease that I've been fighting, and I have been damned lucky to get the better of it.

Wayman Tisdale was not so lucky. The former college and Olympic basketball great died of bone cancer two weeks ago at 44, with a great attitude and in great shape. I opened my alma mater's alumni magazine last week to discover that a member of this year's senior class was not so lucky, dying just three weeks after being diagnosed with leukemia. Kat Eckman was an extraordinary young woman who gave the world a life's worth of blessings in 21 years.

I know it won't surprise you that I read Lance Armstrong's It's Not About The Bike cover-to-cover in about two days back when it came out. It may surprise you that from diagnosis until tonight, I've been unable to take that book down and crack it open. Nor could I read any of the other cancer books out there or wade onto the cancer blogs and read the stories of other fighters like me. Partially, it was just too painful to read other people's accounts, because somehow they made me admit how terrifying all of this was. If I only wrote and read my own story, it could be anything I decided it would be, and you know, I decided it was mostly going to be funny.

But I did pull down Lance's book tonight, because there was a quote in there that stuck with me as I heard people tell me that I got through this because of my attitude and my strength and my fitness:
Good, strong people get cancer, and they do all the right things to beat it, and they still die. That is the essential truth you learn. People die. And after you learn it, all other matters seem irrelevant. They just seem small.
Armstrong went on to write:
I don't know why I'm still alive. I can only guess. I have a tough constitution, and my profession taught me how to compete against long odds and obstacles. I like to train hard and I like to race hard. That helped. It was a good start, but it certainly wasn't the determining factor. I can't help feeling that my survival was more a matter of blind luck.
I'm glad I had a good attitude and that I made the people around me laugh with me. And I'm glad that I willed myself to get on the bike even on days when I felt like crap and could only spin at low resistance while I watched Sport Center. Did it help me get to the other side in such great shape? Like Lance, I doubt it. But what I do know is that the attitude let me get through this more on my terms than on cancer's terms, and that made all the difference.

I'm by no means out of the woods with this, and I will never use words like survivor or cure. One doesn't survive life; one lives it, and cancer is part of my life now. I have to say that returning to life after battling death is an entirely new sort of challenge. I have some sense of what it must feel like for soldiers returning to peacetime society after war. Perhaps there will be something worth saying about all of that.
We'll see how much more blogging I have in me over the next few months. In the meantime, there's a lawn to be mowed, a nonprofit organization to be led, and a few new bike routes to try out.


Mary said...

Back when I used to spend lots of time visiting people in hospitals, I was fond of saying that major illness clearly shows us the in-the-moment place we're always in. You've said it better. Love to you and your gang--

Mark Alston-Follansbee said...

"biked 105 miles and run 8 in the past week" -- you're sick

SMP said...

Uh, actually, NOT sick! :)

Kristin said...

Steve - that's amazing. I just went looking today to see you you'd posted more news and coincidentally you had. Your blog is my best reading over the course of a given week or month and I'm so glad you're writing it - and doing so well. Kristin

Wendy S. Harpham, MD said...

Your incredible progress toward wellness is wonderful news. May it continue.

As a physician, from the moment of my diagnosis in 1990 I knew that some people do everything right, and they die. So I, too, feel incredibly lucky, having landed on the good side of bad statistics.

For me, I don't expect to find an answer to "Why me? Why did I get to survive?" no matter how long I live. The only question I ask myself is, "What now?"

I feel an obligation to my unexpected survival. Every day I try to fulfill that obligation using the valuable lessons from my unwanted illness to help others.

Best wishes on your return to work.
With hope, Wendy

Anonymous said...

You continue to amaze and inspire, so please don't stop blogging. I have friends come up to me on a regular basis and tell me how much your writing means to them. I just learned a neighbor was diagnosed with Lymphoma and one of my friends sent them your blog. The ripple effects continue.
I can't WAIT to see you in July in RI. Lots of hugging and kissing. The non-germy kind I promise, but I didn't think I would even get to see you by July with the restrictions.
Love Darcie
PS Thanks for the bday gift for ITunes. You are so sweet to remember with everything else. xoxo to Kath.

Blaze said...

For all of us (some more than others), every day on the right side of the grass is a bonus.

Anonymous said...

Hey Steve, delighted that things are going so well. Is it too late to enter the movie title competition suggested on your earlier blog? Some ideas that spring to mind are:
Pixar movie about the fish: "Finding Chemo", or
"Neutrophil Metal Jacket" or "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Atavan".

Looks like the title that best sums up your last few months is "Defiance". Good luck, hope your good health continues and you finally get that trip to England....

Ali (Kath's English Chum)

Anonymous said...


Great post and continued luck.


SMP said...

Thanks all for your lovely comments. Wendy you hit the nail on the head with the not why but what now question. Here's hoping we both continue to strive to get the answer right. And Ali, the contest window may have closed but those are the funniest damn fake movie titles this side of porno. I think Prisoner of Atavan deserves some sort of special award.

Hugs to all,


Anonymous said...

Open invitation to you and your readers to participate in the Being Cancer Book Club. This month we are discussing “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch. “...the lecture he gave ... was about the importance of overcoming obstacles, of enabling the dreams of others, of seizing every moment (because “time is all you have…and you may find one day that you have less than you think”). It was a summation of everything Randy had come to believe. It was about living.”
Monday is Book Club day; Tuesday Guest Blog and Friday Cancer News Roundup.
Also check out Cancer Blog Links containing almost 200 blog links and Cancer Resources with 230 referenced sites, both divided into disease categories.
Please accept this invitation to join our growing cancer blogging community at
Take care, Dennis

Anonymous said...

Darcie is a friend of mine from school. I have been following your progress and praying for you. Be assured that I will continue as you live each day to the fullest.
Peggy DeGance :)

Nora Mann said...

Steve, it is great to hear your current story, status, good humor, wisdom,and perspective (now don't go gettin' [more of ]a swelled head) I'm delighted that you'll have what looks to be a good summer with your boys and family and wish you continued success, strength, peace and love..

KBWells said...

With the Hamilon Review hitting mailboxes today you will now be deluged by 'ex er not really ever that kind of friends' who are now grown up girls hoping for the best possible outcome in your current conquest! Your blog is terrific and I am not at all surprised by the courage and 'can do' attitude you have. You've always had it and now it really really matters! Yes, this is your moment, you turn to be courageous and lead!.. you are a champ and an inspiration and guess what, we have a few things in common after all these years in a timely way - no hair, the ability to survive weeks on just shakes and bland chicken sandwiches, a secret project to log the actual number of IVs over the past year, atavan, too many doctors to mention, funny jokes about hospital stays and other bizarro patients, and on and on, and on. You have lifted my spirits and reminded me to keep going. Best to you and your wonderful family, KBWells

SMP said...

Kathy: I was so moved and touched by your note. I obviously need to post an update here, but enough about me. Please let me know how to get in touch with you. If there's anything I can do, other than offering hope that sometimes we win these battles, please, please let me know.


Gretchen said...

thanks for keeping us informed, every night we say bedtime prayers with Sadie and we always include "and we say a special prayer for Steve Pratt, that he may be healthy..." - yes to her you are not just steve but Steve Pratt
glad to hear we can celebrate your health

腰痠 said...