In September of 2008, I began feeling easily fatigued and light-headed. I thought it was perhaps a blood sugar problem, but tests indicated otherwise.
Eventually, a gastroenterologist performed an upper endoscopy. When I awakened from the procedure, I was shown a photo of a tumor located in the wall of my stomach where the esophagus connects to the stomach. It had its own blood supply.
Pathology determined I had a GIST (gastrointestinal stromal tumor), a fairly rare cancer.
In October, surgery was performed and the tumor was removed.
Six weeks later, I began taking a targeted chemotherapy pill (Gleevec) on a nightly basis with its accompanying side effects. For me, I had nausea, diarrhea, severe muscle cramps, dry heaves, hypopigmentation (skin color lightening), and teary and puffy eyes. Over time, I determined by trial and error which foods and drinks worked best to lessen the severity of the side effects.
In April, another type of cancer was found in my bladder. For the first time I cried and started to feel my situation was hopeless. I felt like I was a cancer-making machine. I shook it off a few days later because it’s not my way to dwell on the negative.
By the end of January 2010, I was able to stop chemo after 13 months and my life returned to normal.
Unfortunately, on December 16, 2010, I began to have great pain and was unable to bend at the waist. An ambulance transported me to the hospital where a CT scan showed innumerable tumors. My cancer had metastasized. Surgery was recommended but we were told I would not survive.
I was moved to ICU, and my wife and I said our final goodbyes. She contacted family and friends. Then we got practical, discussing bills and household matters.
Once we thought about the whole surgery deal, though, we realized it would be best to consult with oncologists before rushing to cut me open again. The oncologists we consulted said that we should put off surgery and try bombarding the tumors with chemo first. We liked that idea much better than certain death.
Over two years later, the tumors are still there but the chemo is keeping them suppressed. Research says that the first line chemo fails in 50% of cases after two years, so I have been understandably anxious with every new CT scan or PET scan.
Until just recently, I’ve lived with the knowledge that when the first line drug fails, it has meant I have about 24 weeks or so left to live. Bummer.
A few days ago, though, it was announced that a third line drug had been approved which has been shown to add a median of 4.8 months of life (3.9 months on average). Though that does not sound like a lot, it relaxes me to know I could still hang around 10 or more months after the drug I’m on fails. Perspective.
I’m neither an optimist nor a pessimist, but a realist. I hope for a longer life but don’t expect it.
Writing and experiencing reactions to my first novel serve as a welcome distraction from my worries. Hopefully I’ll have enough time to finish a second novel, and maybe even see how readers respond to it. I’m just trying to make the most of the time I have left.