The following post was written by Jason Cherish, a colorectal cancer patient on his CaringBridge Journal page regarding his treatment and involvement with Swim Across America Baltimore.
"I am really going to miss my chemotherapy treatments," said nobody. Ever.
Having said that, I am very fortunate to be undergoing these treatments for my diagnosis, colorectal cancer. The data suggests that when a male my age with a similar pathology report has the opportunity to enjoy these Xeloda pills and Oxaliplatin infusion treatments, the chances of that male's cancer recurring are reduced by 15%. My doctors tell me that without chemotherapy there was a 35% chance that anal-Qaeda would re-spawn. Now I am looking at 20%. Those are decent odds, no doubt, but it is important that I am ready to kick cancer in the teeth again should I end up on the 2 in 10 side of that proportion. I mean, let's be honest, when I woke up Friday, November 4, 2011 the stats said I had an infinitesimally minor chance of being diagnosed with cancer later that day...but reality said there was a 100% chance I had already had it.
My point is that statistics are more reassuring when you stay on their good side...and the good news is the "good side" of cancer survival statistics is bigger today than it has ever been. The bad news is it ain't nearly big enough.
A lot of people will tell you that beating cancer is all about staying positive. The problem is, we can all name some great people with positive attitudes that cancer took from us. I've mentioned some of them here before. Of course my faith in God has been integral to weathering this fight, and I certainly believe that mental toughness and a warrior's spirit are nice to have in this situation...but if Peter Bergen could have interviewed anal-Qaeda before Doc Hopkins and I commenced the cancer curbstomp, I think anal-Qaeda would have told Peter that it was way more concerned about the radiation, surgery, and chemotherapy than my sunny disposition.
I am beginning my 10th week of chemotherapy and finished my fourth (of six) infusions on Thursday. And with the exception of Round 2, which culminated with me spending the 4th of July in the George Washington University Hospital emergency room, I've won every round. Some days are physically taxing, and the side effects are pretty doggone annoying, but the data suggests that if I just keep putting one foot in front of the other, there is a good chance that I will get to move on with my life in late September.
Deep down, however, the fact that I (probably) get to live while better men and women lose the same fight really bothers me. The reason I am fighting hard and trying to keep the "poor me" to a minimum is that I am acutely aware of how lucky I am to be experiencing any side effect other than death. Living is also a potential side-effect of radiation, surgery, and chemotherapy and I think I owe it to a lot of people to see what I can to do promulgate it.
A few months ago I got involved with an organization known as Swim Across America (SAA). SAA uses swimming-related events as a vehicle to raise money and awareness for cancer research, prevention and treatment. I've already had the pleasure of interacting with a number of SAA volunteers, including several Olympians, but being the beneficiary of life saving research, facilities, and treatments funded by SAA is by far the biggest pleasure I owe to the organization.
I was first approached by Hopkins about getting involved with SAA in May...they asked if I would be willing to tell "my story" as part of a short promotional video. At first I thought we were talking about a 30 second cameo as part of some larger production...but as it turns out we spent two fun filled days shooting footage. The video was produced by my new friend Laurie Singer Sievers. Laurie is an award winning network television news producer having won six Edward R. Murrow Awards and a National Emmy. She has produced numerous news programs for CBS, NBC and ABC, covered six Olympic Games, 12 Super Bowls, 12 World Series and 10 NCAA Final Four Tournaments. It was really special to hear Laurie's stories about Michael Jordan over lunch on the farm, but I felt a kinship with Laurie for other reasons as well.
Laurie lost her husband, Leroy, to cancer in 2008. Leroy, an award winning war correspondent, was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2001. He beat it, but four years later, the cancer returned in his brain and lungs. Leroy was told he had less than six months to live, but he soldiered on for almost three more years of radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery. During the fight, Leroy used his professional gifts to strike a chord with the cancer-fighting community. In the honest, unvarnished, authentic tone only a veteran war correspondent can muster, Leroy relayed his own fight with cancer on NPR and via a daily blog called "My Cancer."
Leroy not only talked about the all too familiar polite/awkward silences that come with cancer, he also chronicled his internal monologue about whether or not it was still worth it to see his optometrist or buy new pants. He also hoped, publicly, for things like living long enough to read the final volume of the Harry Potter series. He did live long enough to finish the series and report about it on his blog, but in 2008 Leroy learned his cancer was growing uncontrollably all over his body and that his doctors were out of treatment options. Leroy passed away on August 15, 2008. His "My Cancer" blog, renamed "Our Cancer," is just one of many parts of Leroy that live on to this day. Laurie continues to pen updates and a community has formed around the blog at Hopkins and beyond.
What kills me about Leroy's story is that we ran out of treatment options to give him long before Leroy ran out of the will to live. I can't speak for Laurie, but I am involved with Swim Across America because I don't think that should ever happen.
To that end, the Baltimore SAA chapter raised over $900,000 for the Swim Across America Lab at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins since 2010. Morgan, my girlfriend and I want to contribute financially too. So Morgan is currently training for an SAA mile swim event at the Meadowbrook Aquatic and Fitness Club in Baltimore, home of the Michael Phelps Swim School. The swim takes place on September 23rd, 2012...three days after my (hopefully) last Oxaliplatin infusion. If you are interested in swimming or donating please let me know.