Monday, March 30, 2015

Why Everyone on the Planet Should Read or Watch ‘Emperor of All Maladies’

I speak at George Mason University every semester. Professor K invites me to share my story with students in her men’s health and human sexuality classes. My memoir is now part of the curriculum for the men’s health class, and Professor K’s students were required to read it and submit questions for when I visited two weeks ago.

Are you still friends with your friends from the book, like Worm?

Absolutely! Though Worm moved to Leesburg which is an hour away and may as well be in a different state.

Is your left ball still big?

Yep! I have a hydrocele that doesn’t affect me. It’s just there.

How do you feel about cancer now?

Cancer has killed some of my friends and recurred in others. Some friends are living with it forever. For some, there is no treatment. These friends despise every aspect of cancer.

I am nearly 12 years cancer-free from my second cancer. Despite the odds against this, I am very healthy and don’t have debilitating late effects that require daily attention. I am free to spend my time however I want. I feel fortunate for this. Every morning I look at my tattoo in the mirror and say a prayer giving thanks. Cancer has given me a different perspective and I can’t imagine not having that.

Do you think your parents played a role in your survival?

Yes. So did the amazing doctors and nurses, who are so good at their jobs because they have to be, because their margin for error is sometimes zero. And so did the people who paved the way for the treatments I received.

The mascot of the astrological sign, Cancer, is the crab

I read the Pulitzer-Prize-winning book The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer three years ago. Emperor tracks the history of cancer in people since the Egyptians first recorded it thousands of years ago. Cancer has always developed in people.

Emperor explains the beginning of modern cancer treatment including when scientists discovered that radiation kills cancer cells but they didn’t understand that healthy tissue could only tolerate so much radiation. This led to total destruction. Emperor details the beginning of treatment for children with leukemia. Since all the kids would die anyway—by bleeding out through orifices or other horrific ways—doctors could try different treatments on them. Those doctors and patients and their families sacrificed lives to reach viable and successful treatment we see today, including five-year survival rates at about 90 percent for some forms of leukemia.

Emperor taught me about the chemotherapy drugs I received and how they were discovered, and about my cancers and how the cells evaded my immune system. Cancer cells are so remarkable that I wonder how anyone can be healthy and cancer-free 12 years later.

One of my favorite organizations is the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. I am proud to participate with LLS, which I started doing last year through Man & Woman of the Year and will continue indefinitely. I even love its motto Someday is Today, a hopeful statement that together we can find a cure soon.

I’ll keep hoping with LLS because hopefulness is one of humanity’s greatest assets. I’ll also keep consuming pounds of vegetables, eating foods with a low glycemic index, and restricting my calories because these are supposedly among my best assets for preventing cancer. Even if part of me thinks cancer will never go away in people and the difference between having cancer and not having it is almost entirely random.

Last week I was invited to the sneak peak of Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies, a film spanning three nights based on the book, on PBS beginning tonight at 9 p.m. ET. The sneak peak began with the narrator saying, “More will die from cancer over the next two years than died in combat in all the wars the United States has ever fought, combined.”

Cancer is the supreme king of disease as millions of people fight to escape its rule, and The Emperor of All Maladies tells this story. The book is among the best I’ve read and the film, presented by Ken Burns, promises to be eye-opening.


Do you worry about getting cancer again?

No. I live a healthy lifestyle and am forever striving to better myself. If something catastrophic were to happen then I’d know I did everything that I could. I live without regrets.

Leia Mais…

Friday, March 20, 2015

It is Madness Balancing the Adult and Child in Me

“March Madness is the only time when I feel like a kid again.” – my brother, JD

Watching University of Virginia beat Memphis Tigers in Raleigh during the 2014 NCAA March Madness Final Four tournament
Hamburgers' friends, Hamburgers and me at 2014 March Madness 
in Raleigh, NC, to see University of Virginia crush Memphis
I don’t normally watch much television but I make it up during the NCAA March Madness tournament—during my teens and twenties, I would watch nearly all 48 hours of its first weekend of games. And that doesn’t even include time to complete my bracket. The tournament doubled as one of my favorite pastimes and as a symbol of joy and hope when I went through cancer treatment at 17 years old.

As I aged and became more professional, productive and ambitious, my inner child faded. I completed my bracket using strictly analytics and economic principles and not any gut instincts. My fading inner child reached a frightening level the year I worked through the first Thursday and Friday of the tournament.

And then I read The Little Prince in which its little character reminded me that adults are odd and far too focused on numbers and goals; too focused on small things and not the big picture; too unwilling to adventure. It was time to take back the child in me.

During this pay period prior to today, I worked extra hours, including all day yesterday when I also took time to visit George Mason University to speak to students. That was my sacrifice for today, when I am off work and absolve myself from being an adult. I have even corrupted friends who will join me, and from 12:30 p.m. onward we will be March Madnessing at Crystal City Sports Pub.

Maybe I am both an irresponsible child and sucky adult. I accept that. Besides, if the University of Virginia wins the Final Four then my adult will take my child to the bar and dance the Horah. That is not creepy coming from me because my bone marrow is only 11 years old, though you probably shouldn’t say it in public.

Here’s to being a kid again. Wahoowa.

Leia Mais…

Thursday, March 5, 2015

A Calorie-Restricting, Coffee-Addict's Love Affair With Irish Coffee

My friends dropped their Irish cream and whiskey shots into Guinness and gulped as quickly as they could before their drinks curdled. Most succeeded, but Downtown wasn’t so lucky. I laughed at him, disgusted at the thought of Downtown’s drink. My decade-long allergy to milk—one of my genetic acquisitions from my bone marrow donor—saved me from having to try Irish Car Bombs and offending my palate (and the Irish).

My immune system isn’t quite a teenager, and it outgrew my milk and peanut allergies like the child it is. Last year I self-experimented on my milk allergy and called victory after chugging 26 ounces without reacting. Months ago I duplicated that experiment with peanuts until I ate 66, which has the same number of calories as I’ve consumed this whole day as of 3 p.m. (Kiddies, don’t try this at home. Leave it to the professional idiots like me.)

I assumed I would make up for my lost milk years with so many enormous milkshakes, and bowls of banana pudding and ice cream that I would cause a new milk allergy. At the least I would finish each of my cheat meals with a milk product.

love that I no longer have food restrictions and I indulge sometimes, but it turns out that I mostly drink milk just as a weight training supplement. And I can’t imagine ending my cheat meals on anything besides candy, for which just writing the word spikes my glucose. Looking through my photo gallery, I realize I photograph new candies at supermarkets and share them with my other candy-loving friends and brother. I nearly cried when I couldn't find these the evening of my last cheat meal:

unique candy at the supermarket for Easter including Starburst jellybeans and LifeSavers gummies

I overconsume coffee, a calorie-free beverage, which was inevitable due to my addictive personality and obsession with shedding body fat. During the last snow day, CantSleepWontSleep and I couldn’t find a single open coffee shop in our Crystal City neighborhood. We searched everywhere within a 600-foot radius, for at least 12 minutes. We were tired, snowy and thirsty. When we found Bar Louis open, we were so relieved. But with the snow accumulating an inch an hour and our poor bartender itching to leave, we couldn’t simply order $2 coffees. “What is Irish coffee?” I asked our bartender.

The hot, freshly brewed coffee had that classic aroma and mouthfeel I was accustomed to. The brown sugar and Baileys added a sweet, creamy flavor. The Irish coffee soothed my soul, and if not for its $12 price tag and nearly 200 calories I would have drunk until my heart arrested from caffeine overload.

Now I really may make up for those lost milkless years with Irish coffees: in the mornings after exercising (not on workdays, obvi J); to complement my candy during cheat meals; and at home on the next snow day which is today, now at 3:45 p.m.

I will not catch up on all those lost Irish Car Bombs, however. If my friends never know I can now drink them then they won’t pressure me, so shh, don’t tell them. Especially not Downtown.

Leia Mais…

Saturday, February 7, 2015

What It's Like to Live in a Hospital

Weeks ago I wrote about the sequence of events leading up to, and directly after, my dad's admittance to the hospital with pneumonia. Today I share what it was like to live with him for the bulk of 17 days in the hospital including 15 days in the emergency room and intermediate care unit. You can watch the video on YouTube or by clicking the play button below (if your Web browser allows that).


Leia Mais…

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Fragility of Life and Lung: My Dad's Severe Pneumonia Story

As published on The Huffington Post

The first message arrived midday on a Sunday, picking up the latest in the long paper and electronic trail that chronicles our family's health.

Mom, Jan. 4, 12:49 p.m.: Yesterday morning Dad woke up very sick. He has a terrible cough.
Mom, Jan. 5, 2:52 p.m.: Dad has the flu.
Mom, Jan. 6, 3:40 p.m.: Doc said Dad has to get down fluid. He spit up water twice. If he can't, I have to take him to an urgent care clinic. Don't come home! This is highly contagious.
Dad, Jan. 7, 2:15 p.m.: I will be visiting the doctor again today. I had a very bad night last night and I am very weak. You must stay away from the house.

When I was 4 years old, my dad lived on red meat and his total cholesterol reached 300. His doctor began him on Lipitor -- a cholesterol-reducing medication -- and told him he must change his lifestyle through diet and exercise or else he'd have a heart attack.

When my dad played music with his band on Saturday nights, my mom would take my older brother, JD, and me to Pizza Hut. This was our only chance to eat pizza. My dad quit eating most everything besides poultry and broccoli. My dad hasn't eaten steak in 27 years.

Mom, Jan. 7, 4:40 p.m.: Dad lost 6 lbs from not eating. He keeps wanting to go to the hospital. Yesterday the doc told him he didn't need it.
Me, Jan. 7, 5:00 p.m.: Holy crap. I've never seen him want to be admitted to a hospital before.
Dad, Jan. 7, 6:11 p.m.: The doctor has added a strong antibiotic to calm the cough. I hope that it works. She was confident that it would work. I also had a chest X-ray to determine if I had pneumonia.
Dad, Jan. 8, 9:02 a.m.: The X-ray led to a pneumonia diagnosis.
JD, Jan. 8, 9:12 a.m.: Man this is scary. Anything we can do? Keep reading, here.

Leia Mais…