Man Up to Cancer empowers men — and the people who love them — to face cancer with open hearts and warrior spirits. ‘Manning Up’ means going through this together, and avoiding isolation. I invite you to explore the site!
My Cancer Tiger Sleeps
On Monday, for the first time since my cancer diagnosis two years ago, I took a full breath.
That morning, I had gone through the familiar routine of the MRI machine, then the CT machine, to create images of the tumors in my liver and abdomen.
I called the imaging facility around 4 p.m. My results were ready.
Six months into the treatment I’m counting on to save my life, I was about to find out if my immunotherapy was working, or if my cancer was progressing. Resisting the urge to vomit, I walked into the imaging center to pick up a printout of my reports. I took the papers out into the parking lot, so my wife and I could read them together.
Those were the words that jumped off the pages. The tumor in my liver has not grown in the past three months. Neither has the tumor near my stomach, or the multiple tiny spots of cancer in my abdomen. No new spots, and nothing grew.
The immunotherapy is working.
Through tears of relief and joy, we read the reports over and over, to make sure we weren’t missing something. After so much bad news, you worry that maybe the radiologist made a mistake. Maybe these “great news” reports were meant for some other patient.
Nope. This good news belonged to me. It belonged to our whole family.
Imagine a tiger stalking you, keeping you on the run, forcing you to endure one painful obstacle after another as you try to find safety. I’ve been running without rest for two years. Four surgeries, chemotherapy, immunotherapy. Trying to figure out how to stay alive while adjusting to a new normal as a husband and father.
I don’t know what’s going to happen three months from now, a year from now, or beyond. But at least for now, my cancer tiger is sleeping.
We called our girls, Sage, 14, and Elsie, 12. They have handled this whole cancer experience with incredible grace, resilience, and stregth. Still, the burden on them is huge. We keep them informed on the basics about my diagnosis and treatments. They understand the weight of scans.
I had promised Sage that if the scans were good, we would get cake. She has a wicked sweet tooth. She’s also very tactical with her requests. How could I deny this one?
So we ended up stopping at the grocery store. On Monday night, we had an extended family dinner with my father, aunt, uncle, and cousin, and then we ate cake.
When you are immersed in “cancerland,” sharing good news can bring mixed feelings. I’ve built so many friendships — in real life and in my virtual communities such as Colontown — over the past few years. You get to know, love, and support one another in a way that only cancer patients can understand.
So when you share good news online, you do so with the painful understanding that many others are getting bad news. Many of my friends are still waiting for a breakthrough, something that will give them a moment like the one we had Monday.
Earlier in my own cancer journey, I thought this meant we shouldn’t celebrate publicly. But I learned something from my friends in Colontown. When one of us has good scans, achieves NED (No Evidence of Disease), or celebrates a milestone in survivorship, we want to hear about it and cheer about it.
We also recognize that good news provides hope to patients and caregivers, from those who are newly diagnosed, to those who have been in the fight for years.
My friends are all heart.
So, what’s next? The deep breaths will continue. I will continue with my immunotherapy treatment, and will probably have scans again in May or June. For patients like me who respond to immunotherapy, the responses are often long-lasting, and can even lead to cure. Obviously I hope to be in that category. But for now, I’m just grateful the disease isn’t spreading.
I’m going to keep finding my voice as a patient advocate, especially with my project to help men avoid isolation throughout their cancer journeys.
Most of all, I will focus on the time I have with Sarah and the girls. For April vacation, we are going to drive around the Southwest with some dear friends and their daughters. I can’t wait to see the Grand Canyon with all of them.
In this journey, there is nothing more precious than the gift of time.