By Frank Fay, Senior Manager, Category & Shopper Solutions, Consumer Health
Barely awake after my colonoscopy, I hear my wife and doctor discussing the “C” word. Who are they talking about? Surely it’s not me…OMG, it is me, I tear up. That was the beginning of the journey. The questions: Why had I waited to get my second colonoscopy? What do I do now? How can I beat this? I must beat this; living is the only option!
At that point on Monday morning, the physician I had for my colonoscopy says, “We’ll operate Friday.” I’m still groggy, but my wife and I looked at each other and knew we had homework to do. Being in a part of the country where we have many excellent medical centers, I knew we needed to talk to others, perhaps get a second opinion, but certainly not get operated on in four days.
That was an educated decision and one that paid off in quality and success of treatment. After talking to others, we found two great choices — Sloane Kettering in NYC and Fox Chase in Philadelphia. We knew a surgeon at Fox Chase who was spoken of highly; we interviewed him immediately. We discussed my case with physicians at both facilities and I felt most confident in the comprehensive treatment plan of Fox Chase and my stellar surgeon, Dr. Sanjay Reddy, and my Oncologist Dr. Michael Hall.
Surgery went on for 7 ½ hours a few weeks later and Dr. Reddy delivered great news to me, “You’re clean.” It was a bit more extensive than the prep work had indicated but he persevered to get me where he thought I had my best chances. That said, I still had three of 12 lymph nodes affected, so chemotherapy was a necessary part of my treatment.
Probably this stage provided me with the realization that I was vain. The chemo drugs I endured for 12 treatments quite easily had some side effects, like total body hair loss, and thinning of my head of hair, but I kept most of it…and the part I didn’t was “volumized” by good folks at the beauty store who also provided great advice on a product to help. It’s more than okay to laugh at me here.
I also got through nine of 12 treatments of a chemo drug named oxiplatin. It does wonders to clear the cancer cells but leaves you with neuropathy. I’m hoping this fades away in the future and my nerves regenerate. Ever walk on marbles? That’s one way to experience this sensation.
My family, friends and Bayer family surrounded me with hope, love, strength, motivation and humor. Each 2 ½ hour one-way trip to Fox Chase from our home was like a “Tuesdays with Morrie” episode with my wife, Priscilla. I know what love is! The chemo lab team also deserves kudos for keeping me warm, educated and motivated.
You learn as you go and the best way to pay it forward, I feel, is to help others learn. I was able to tolerate the side effects, nausea, nerve pain, fatigue, etc. with lots of tips and tricks shared by others. So, one trick I learned was that Nestle’s Strawberry Quik was a great drink to squelch the upset stomach from the dreadful metallic taste I had post chemo sessions, at least for me. (I really did not want to take the nausea pills if I could handle it otherwise.) A year after I completed chemo, another Bayer colleague and friend had been diagnosed after me and with a different type of cancer. I shared this tip and voila! It worked well for him, too.
Some learnings I can share two years out are: be your best advocate — ask questions, challenge authority and tell your care team what you need them to make happen. If you can, share your experience, be open, be positive and be of the mindset you will beat this sinister disease. Optimism is a great mindset and I believe it helps you get better mentally and physically. Experiment within reason and try different techniques offered with an open mind. Most importantly, realize we all have a limited time to enjoy life…live it, love others and embrace the journey with joy and purpose.