Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Happy Anniversary

Hi everyone.  I know, it's been many moons since my last confession.  And of course, that's the point.

Today marks the one year anniversary of my bone marrow stem cell transplant at Mass. General.  This time last year, I was trying to get to sleep with the aid of some Atavan while listening to Josh Ritter on mp3 player.  Today, I may drink a little Bailey's to get to sleep while listening to Josh Ritter on mp3 player.  Potato.  Potahto.

First, for those of you who haven't seen me regularly, my health is terrific.  I just put my last post-transplant meds into the empty Livestrong shoe box I keep in my closet today.  

At my last doctor's appointment in early March, my oncologist said that he would never know that I had cancer from looking at my blood work or examining me.  I'm biking 400-500 miles a month again, and my power on the bike is back to what it was before diagnosis.

If you think that I'm not knocking on wood with one hand while typing with the other, you don't know me.  As I noted when I last wrote here back in May of last year, this experience has made me profoundly aware of one enduring lesson: Life is temporary.  There are no guarantees that the lymphoma won't come back or that it won't send along some unwelcome cousin.  There are no guarantees about so much in life, however, that I can no more dwell on this than I can on the fragility of employment and financial solvency for so many of my friends or the endless litany of risks that adolescence presents for my two boys.

To be honest, the past twelve months of "survivorship," as they call it in the Cancer business, have been far more challenging than the six months of treatment that preceded them.  Having just watched the first 8 episodes of the HBO miniseries, "The Pacific," I can't help but once again analogize my experience to war.  Treatment was World War II, with a clearly defined enemy and a lot of brave allies in the foxhole with me.  Survivorship is like the post-war period: messy and mistake-prone, with moments of joy and plenty of regrets.  In other words, survivorship is life, with all that that entails.

Yesterday, I had the good fortune of spending the day cheering on my brother-in-law, Phil, as he once again ran the Boston Marathon.  Last year, he ran it on the day of my transplant and dedicated his run to me and to his good friend, Mark, who is fighting Multiple Myeloma.  

Yesterday, Mark, who is 7 months out from his bone marrow transplant, his son, Connor, and I biked the length of the course, looking for places to catch a glimpse of Phil.  We never did find him, but I have to say that for me, and I imagine for Mark as well, that wasn't the point.  We covered 39 miles on our bikes, me on my expensive carbon racing bike and Mark on his heavy rental.  Neither of us was wheezing because our red cell counts were low.  No one had to worry about falling off the bike with a low platelet count.

These victories weren't conscious, but I felt them in my bones all day long.  I was alive and climbing the hills by Hellenic College as I angled back to Kenmore Square in a way that was unthinkable 365 days ago.

There are so many people to thank for being where I am today.  I have to start with my amazing wife, Kathleen, who has endured so much with me in two and half years of marriage.  I can't believe we haven't been married 15 years for all that we've endured, but believe me, I love her like the day I met her.

I also want to once again thank my amazing nurses at Mass. General, Liz and Laura, who still stay in touch on Facebook, and my team at Newton-Wellesley's cancer center--especially Katie, Beth, and Dr. Wisch.  As so much nonsense swirled through the public discourse about healthcare this year, all I could think about were these amazing people who came into my life and helped me heal and in so doing, changed me for the better.  How lucky was I to live in Boston and have an employer subsidized Blue Cross PPO plan?  How many people out there did not have the choices that I was so lucky to have?

And finally, I want to thank all of you for reading and for cheering me on.  Believe me, I have felt your love and support profoundly, and I hope I have passed that good spirit on to my fellow cancer fighters who need some good vibes.  If I can work out the logistics of summer camp pickups, I will be spending the first weekend of August riding the Pan Mass Challenge, a 185 mile bike ride to raise money for cancer research.  I see it both as a celebration of my journey back and as a thank you to all who suffered and sacrificed so that a treatment for Mantle Cell Lymphoma could be found.  Stay tuned for ways to help cheer me on in this next endeavor (and yes, have your credit cards ready!).

I'll leave you with this amazing song from Regina Spektor, "Laughing With God, which was the theme song of the past year and half.