Thursday, June 8, 2017

Riding 100 miles for the past, present and future

They say that you should have an Elevator Pitch--a point that you would make to a captive audience that lasts the length of an elevator ride.  This makes me imagine folks in the business world lurking at a bank of elevators and carefully slipping in when an important ear should be leaving for the day, speech at the ready.

I am not sure that there are buildings tall enough (or elevators slow enough) to accommodate what I would want to say these days.  I might, however, be able to cover it over the course of a 100 mile bike ride. This is assuming, of course, that I could breathe enough to speak as I pedal uphill.

Tomorrow, I will be driving to West Point, NY.  On Saturday, Alex, Laurie and I will bike in support of Cancer Research Institute which funds immunotherapy studies and trials.  Biking 100 miles will not the biggest event of my week--it is currently ranking 4th--behind the devastating loss of my friend Gabby to metastatic breast cancer, the challenges of finding appropriate treatment for my son Brent's GVHD and the surgery that we are organizing to remove my daughter Lauren's latest cancer concern.  

Biking 100 miles will feel like a vacation.  

I do hope that it will be a 'working vacation,' and that I will have the opportunity to speak to researchers about the things that they are learning, because advances in immunotherapy would impact all three of the things that have dominated my time, emotion and attention this week. 

When life throws you challenges, rapid fire like this, it can be overwhelming. 

I grieved over the weekend for the loss of my friend, a mutant Auntie who knew my children well. Gabby remembered better than I did when 'library day' was for Olivia, and often greeted her after school through the wonder of FaceTime. I would chat with Gabby while I folded laundry, which transformed this mundane job into an engaging social event. She had a special relationship with Brent as a multiple cancer survivor and visited him both at MSKCC and in our home. Like Brent, Gabby frequently found herself in medical messes, and like Brent, she always seemed to find a way out. 

I cannot express how much Gabby brought to my life, in laughter which came easily, and random knowledge, which rivaled google. But beyond this, she had a grace and wisdom in how she faced her own life-one filled with cancer, but overflowing with love. She recognized that life is not measured in years, nor health, but rather in lives that are touched. As an example, she knew by name, nearly every person we met at MSKCC, from the nursing assistants to the elevator guy, teasingly dubbed "chief of vertical engineering"

"Has your son returned from his vacation?"  

"Do you have photos of the new baby?"  

I told her how remarkable this all was. (I am decent with remembering people's stories but horrible with retrieving their names).  She scoffed. "But, Amish, they are all so important. They care for me." And they clearly did, more than simply as their jobs required.  I know this with absolute certainty because some came to her room to check on her after they finished their work elsewhere in the hospital.

People were important to Gabby. And she treated them like the treasure that they are.  Even in hospital, even struggling, she always thought of others, which was the defining quality of her life. While nothing can be changed for Gabby, a better understanding of the immune system and advances in cancer treatment would benefit others, including our mutual mutant friends. In this way, I feel that biking the century ride honors Gabby's generous spirit.

I learned yesterday how to stick a 3/4 inch needle into my son's chest to access his mediport. For years, my personal measure of success was found in avoiding this particular nursing skill.  I will now be doing this procedure daily, in order to give Brent infusions from home.  I also navigated my way through several pharmacies this week in order to get the specialty medications that he needs. We are transitioning to a new adventure. 

It may sound like a complaint, but I consider it to be a blessing, to do this at home. (Brent sits cozily in our living room with his infusion dripping as I type this) He has had a ridiculous medical journey and his time at home is hard earned.  We never take it for granted. 

After facing three significant cancer diagnoses with Brent and the devastating side effects of treating them, I would gladly bike to support more effective and less toxic treatments. Biking 100 miles is a trifle, in the grand scheme of what life and cancer has required of my son and how both impact him today.

I took my daughter Lauren to meet her surgeon this afternoon, a hand me down from Brent's osteosarcoma days. Dr. Getty greeted us warmly, saying that he could not believe that it has been five years.  I told him that it was five cancers ago, if he wanted another measure of time.  He seems to bring out the snarkiest of humor in me.

Lauren is now fourteen years old, becoming a beautiful young lady.  While normal parents might talk to their children about the birds and the bees, a mutant sign of coming of age is learning to pick a surgical plan or evaluate treatment options. Today, my daughter asked good questions and signed assent for the first time.  

They grow up so fast. 

Lauren and I laughed in the car on the way home from this appointment about how I had bought a baby photo album for her, but as a third child, it was completely empty.  (I didn't even purchase an album for Olivia, our fourth.)  Lauren joked that instead we could fill her baby album with cancer memorabilia.  "Oh, look at that adorable adrenal tumor!  I remember that hospital gown..."  She certainly comes by the snark honestly.

Her surgery will be on Wednesday.  We welcome your prayers.  With any luck,she will not need any sort of additional treatment, but I am shopping for immunotherapy options if this growth proves to be malignant.  

Past, present and future.  This is why I ride.

Our team leaves tomorrow.  We each do what we can.  My sister Laurie, Alex and I will ride our bikes. Dan, Jamie, Brent, Lauren and Olivia will cheer us on. Thank you for doing what you can, whether it be encouraging our family, sharing our story, or donating to the cause by following this link:

As I ride, I will be thinking of Gabby's disease, unconquered by traditional chemotherapy, about Brent's current challenges, which are side effects despite the success of treating his cancer, and of Lauren's future challenges. I know that we can do better.

I will have 100 miles to think about how.    

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