For those of you who don?t know me, my name is Bryan and I am a two-time cancer survivor. ?Or should I say ?WE? are two-time?cancer survivors. ?For those of you who want the Cliffs Notes, the pic below [thanks Matt Parker] does a pretty good job ? I like to think of myself as a smiley blur of?LiveStrong.
And now for the unabridged version:
On February 26, 2007 my life was changed forever. ?After several months of feeling under the weather, unexplained weight loss, and fatigue I went to the doctor for the 4th time and upon getting a chest x-ray and CT scan they discovered a nine centimeter tumor sitting above my left lung and a small cyst on my kidney [foreshadowing]. ?After a biopsy on March 1st and a subsequent bone marrow?biopsy?I was diagnosed with stage 2 of an agressive form of non-Hodgkins lymphoma. ?Agressive in this case was a ?good? thing ? it meant that if the tumor grew fast it could shrink fast. ?Dr. Dunder [our oncologist] told us that he was going to get me through this ? there just was not going to be a magic pill that would make it go away. ?We were going to have to fight ? enduring six cycles of chemotherapy and then localized radiation at the site [since the mass was discovered in an early stage they could directly radiate the area after chemo had destroyed the tumor to ensure that every cell was dead].
So the cycles were a mixed bag of nausea, cravings [at certain points I could not get enough Tater Tots or Natural f’ing Cheetos!], steroid swelling, vomiting, laughing, crying, raging [did I mention the steroids?], sleeping, insomnia, and loving. ?Loving both the life I now knew was temporal and the people that had chosen to share it with me. ?When it comes to?relationships?cancer is black and white ? it either tears them apart or forges a stronger bond. ?I am fortunate to have experienced the latter with the majority of my relationships, both during and post treatment. ?Chances are if you?re reading this you are?curious?as to, ?What makes this guy tick?? ? well this it. ?I love creating and growing relationships ? I am by no means an expert but I try put myself out there as much as possible. ?However, I am a quality, not quantity guy. ?The pictures below are a filmstrip of my chemo cycles ? the first pic was the day I was diagnosed and I lost my hair by the end of cycle 1. ?Did I mention I smile a lot?
A clean scan?following?four-and-a-half months of chemo gave way to 17 days of radiation. ?Although I had a sore throat at points during the treatment I was just so excited to be outside, riding my bike, going for runs ? pretty much overdoing everything. ?To this day Dr. Warlick [my radiation oncologist] believes that I went for ?light walks? after work ? I was racing around on my bike every chance I could get!
And now for the reason we even have this blog ? the bike. ?After chemo had ended in mid-July of 2007, my wife Jen and I went out and cheered on the riders in the?24 Hours of Booty?charity ride ? a 24 hour cycling event that takes its name from the very bike-friendly three mile loop it uses. ?I remember tearing up saying to Jen, ?I am so frustrated I can?t do this. [At this point I was struggling to walk a three mile loop] Jen replied, ?You will? next year.? ?This is Jen in a nutshell ? timely, thoughtful and [unlike me] TO THE POINT!
And so after healing up through the fall, we took a wonderful trip to San Francisco and Napa Valley for Thanksgiving ? I was giving thanks for many things, especially for the most impressive caregiver team in the world led by Jen, Barbara [Mom], Terry [Dad], Courtney [Sister], Jeff [Dad-in-law], Laurel [Mom-in-law], and Laurie [Sister-in-law]. ?It was there I reiterated to my Dad just how seriously I took his question during chemo cycle 2 [by far my low point emotionally and physically]. ?He had asked, ?If you could do anything when this was over what would it be?? and I had replied, ?Climb Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.? ?Well that spring the Shields family, along with my sherpa [both physically and metaphorically]?Tom brought me to the base of Half Dome. ?Dad and Jen went with me over Quarter Dome and it was there they could take me no further ? this may seem overly dramatic but they are both really afraid of heights. ?And so I climbed to the summit of Half Dome and was greeted by the most incredible rush of adrenaline and the greatest silence I could ever imagine. ?There were times during the treatment I could not get up a flight of stairs and now I was at 8,000+ feet ? I teared up, thanked God for this moment and just?listened?to the silence.
Returning we began preparing for the?24 Hours of Booty. ?This year they were going to have a ?Survivors Lap? to start the event ? honoring all of those who have battled and are battling cancer. ?This Lap was a fundamental shift in the way I saw survivorship ? it changed my perspective. ?Survivorship was not about me, it was not singular ? it was about the relationships. ?Survivorship was never feeling alone. ?So after riding 200 miles ? sharing laughs and tears ? Jen and I decided to start ?+ one?. ?It?s motivation comes from all of you ? it?s a past, present, and future ?Thank You? for being there and a reminder that you are never alone.
After receiving my one year cancer free scan in August of 2008 I began to notice that the emotional battle of survivorship?was?and is much tougher than I thought. ?During chemo and?radiation?I was?actively?participating in my treatment ? the doctors and nurses were?giving?me various drugs that would knock me down, I would get back up, get knocked down, get back up and so on for six cycles. ?One year later I looked like the old Bryan but I did not feel like the old Bryan. ?Jen encouraged me to share with others and share I did ? and after opening up about anxieties, frustrations, etc. that larger perspective came back to the forefront of my daily life.
After another wonderful?24 Hours of Booty, 220 miles of riding, I was given my two year cancer free scan in August of 2009. ?Only this time we were to consult with my Urologist as the primary. ?Dr. Peretsman was waiting patiently on the sidelines while we dealt with the much more urgent matter of the lymphoma but now that we had the treatment further in our rearview mirror it was time to get a better handle on the cyst on my kidney. ?After a renal CT scan it was diagnosed as a renal cell carcinoma ? so small that it would never have been detected on its own symptoms. ?After the frustration/anxiety of having ?another? cancer subsided, Jen reminded me that this had been there all along ? we had been watching it the entire time. ?The tumor was nothing new, it was just that now it was a priority. ?The renal cyst was so small that we had to wait to see if it grew before we could even take it out and at the size that it was, the ?cure? rate was as statistically close to 100% as possible. ?When tumors like these become?symptomatic?on their own they are much larger and treatment is much more difficult. ?I would never trade my experience and the perspective gained for anything ? we would not have found the renal tumor without looking for the lymphoma but I?ll stop short of thanking the little f#%cker.
I have the privilege of being a professor as my day job so we decided that we would wait on the surgery until winter break. ?In the meantime I continued on with my plans of running the 2009 Chicago Marathon in October and on December 14th I truly became cancer free. ?Waiting for the surgery and the anxieties that crept in and out of my head really took a toll on Jen. ?I would say that she is incredible but that would be an insult because she is so much more amazing than words could describe ? lord knows I?ll die trying though. ?The greatest gift she gave me during all of this is the gift of perspective ? from day one she has challenged me to get beyond myself. ?She knows when to switch from coddling to challenging and where did her challenge post surgery put me? back on the bike.
I do not want to downplay the surgery. ?They had to move one of my ribs to get at the tumor and I?ve got a 10-1/2? scar to remind me of the event. ?[If I never have another catheter inserted into me it will be too soon!] ?But the major lesson learned with battle number two is ? patience. ?I had to be patient for the surgery after the diagnosis and I had to be patient with my recovery. ?I had gone from running 26.2 miles in October to the mobility of Frankenstein [thanks Nick] in January. ?But thanks to the support of wonderful friends and family, all of those cherished relationships, I slowly but surely came back to health. ?Many thanks to Matt Parker for pulling me along on so many rides during the springtime ? your humility is only outdone by your heart. ?And by the time?24 Hours of Booty?came around in 2010 I was ready for another 200 miles, to share my story of hope with more people, and most importantly, to be thankful for all of those relationships.
?+ one? is not about me. ?It?s not about Jen. ?It?s not about any one person. ?It?s about all of us. ?My story is your story. ?I don?t hold the copyright on suffering or on joy. ?I am here for your ups and downs? and rest assured I will always be your ?+ one.?
survivor | agent of change