What I’m thankful for

It’s been four years, three months, and eleven days since my last update – and my last dose of chemo.

And six years, eleven months, and twenty-six days since I first checked myself into the E.R., on the night of my 29th birthday, having difficulty breathing.

I didn’t know it at the time, but my life was about to take a turn.

Almost seven years, and a few plot twists later, I have so much to be thankful for. I’m healthy and happy; a husband and a father; and 100% cancer-free.

I’ve got a lot to be thankful for

Natasha and I were blessed with a son, Jasper James Wagner, on December 29th, 2016. I could fill an entirely different blog with reflections on fatherhood, and he’s not even two yet. We are fully embracing the challenge, and are grateful for the love and support we’ve received as rookie parents from friends and family – especially his grandparents Mory and Sarah, Jim and Marlene. Baby sister is due in March of next year (!!).

This past summer, I left my in-agency position to begin working for myself as an independent brand/communications strategist. It’s early days, but the response so far has been encouraging. Launching my site (BRIGHTN.CO) and landing my first paid projects were big recent milestones.

This past weekend I rode my bike (along with nearly a dozen of my teammates from Wolfpack Cycling) in the #PadresPedal, a charity cycling event benefiting Moore’s Cancer Center at UC San Diego, among other local cancer research and treatment facilities. Having spent nearly 3 years of my life in the care of UCSD’s cancer team, it’s a cause that’s personally meaningful to me.

Each rider was given a card to fill out that read: “I ride for ______.”

As the ride was about to start, I realized I forgot to fill out my card. Of course, I was riding for myself, I thought. But somewhere out on the course, as I reflected on my journey, I had a realization:

As difficult as my experience was for me personally, I can say with 100% confidence that it was even harder on my family. And, I would guess that most survivors would say the same: That a disproportionate share of the burden of a cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment, falls not on patients themselves, but on family members and caretakers.

So that’s what I decided, mid-ride. That I would ride for the caretakers. Not just my caretakers but for all of the caretakers, who shoulder the burden right alongside their friends and loved ones, everyday.

It was a fairly long ride, and after a few hours of this idea bouncing around in my head, I was feeling a bit emotional as I approached the finish. And who was waiting to greet me? My biggest fans, and my own personal cheering section. The two most important people in my life. It was a great finish to a great ride, and a welcome opportunity to give thanks.

Wherever you are, and wherever you’re celebrating this Thanksgiving, I hope it’s a great one. Don’t forget to tell your own caretakers how much you love and appreciate them.

And, for anyone interested in supporting my fundraising efforts, you can contribute via my rider profile page here.

Lots of love,

–T

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I’m done!

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After 32 months of in patient and out patient treatment, and all of the ups and downs along the way, 32 months later and here we are…all finished with maintenance chemo. God-willing I’ll never have to go back for more. It’s a strange, surreal kind of feeling. I’m not sure it’s really sunk in yet…and who knows what the future holds. But I think it’s important to celebrate the small victories along the way, and this is definitely one of those milestones. Thanks to all of you, my family, friends, and supporters for being there with me every step of the way. Life is crazy.

Love you all!
–T

“Courage Through Cancer”

NATASHA_&_TYLER_WEDDINGWe agreed a long time ago that no news is good news, so I know you’ll forgive me for waiting almost a year to write an update.

All is well – Natasha and I got married in October and we moved into a new home in November; I’m working at an amazing creative agency (Parallax Branding + Interactive) with a bunch of amazing people; and, 26 months after being told those three little words (“you have cancer”), I’m happy to report that I’m 100% cancer-free.

Maintenance therapy continues. I’m still on the same combination of oral and infused chemotherapy (POMP), which means I only have to be in the infusion center once every 28 days. The monthly infusions leave me feeling less than stellar for a few days each month, but thanks to regular neupogen injections I have a semi-functioning immune system and have been fortunate to avoid further complications or infections. Knock on wood…

We were  humbled recently to have the opportunity to share our story in the UT San Diego, as part of a series called Courage Through Cancer.

Check out the article here: Courage through cancer: Infections add to cyclist’s tough battle

Special thank you to Doug Williams and to Clay Treska for giving us the chance to talk about our experience.

Until next time…

Lots of love!
–T

Stop the Presses: No Surgery!

If there’s one thing I’ve learned on this journey, it’s to expect the unexpected.  But I definitely did not expect the news we got this afternoon: Surgery has been cancelled (!!!).

Eleventh Hour

Saved at the 11th hour

I have to say, when my phone rang this afternoon, and I recognized the number as the pulmonologist, a lot of scenarios were racing through my head – but “surgery has been cancelled” was not one of them.

After reviewing my CT scan from this morning, my doctors (and there are quite a few of them at this point) were shocked by the dramatic improvement they are seeing. So much so, that the surgeon no longer feels that the procedure is necessary at this point.

For the time being, the medication and my immune system seem to have the infection under control.  I have an appointment scheduled with my primary oncologist on Thursday to discuss re-starting chemo. The saga continues…I am in shock.This whole time our mantra has been “keep going”, but a more fitting theme might be “what next?”.   I joked with my mom this afternoon that you can put “what next?” on my tombstone – just not anytime soon.  Life: What a roller coaster ride.

Will plan to keep everyone updated as next steps become clear.  Until then, THANK YOU for the emails, texts, cards, prayers, positive vibes, and whatever else might have been coming my way.

Lots of love,
–T

Spring Update II

I’ve been dragging my feet on this update because I don’t like being the bearer of bad news.  Usually when we hit a rough patch I leave the updates to Natasha (or Leigh), but this time I’ll do the dirty work myself.

Brick Wall

Here we go again

Before anyone jumps to any conclusions, let me just say: I’m still cancer free.  And, thank God for that!

However, my chemo is on hold for the time being, as some complications have surfaced that must be addressed.  You may (or may not) remember the pneumonia I battled last year left a small cyst in the right upper lobe of my lung.  After various examinations, a CT scan, and a brochoscopy, we have learned that the cyst has become infected.  At this point, the doctors believe the best course of action is to have it surgically removed.

Natasha and I met with the surgeon last week, who told me “you look better than your chart,” and assured us that he felt confident the procedure would be a success.  Surgery is scheduled for May 8th, with anywhere from 4-6 days in the hospital to recover.

Physically, I feel strong.  I rode my bike this morning and have been able to get back into a regular routine at the gym.  Emotionally, I’m discouraged but not distraught.  There are a lot of reasons to feel good about this.  I am physically strong, I have a functioning immune system, and removing the cyst eliminates a potential source of future complications.  There are a lot of reasons to be thankful.

All that said, this still sucks.

I’m not going to say this is just another bump in the road, or hurdle to clear, because I’m tired of those analogies. This feels like another brick wall to run through. But we’ll do it.  What choice do we have?

I’m always finding inspiration in unexpected places, and earlier this week I was inspired by the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, and the story of one author’s journey to follow the race from the air.  It’s a long read (with some beautiful photos) but highly recommended if you can find the time.  Here’s the link to the full story: Out in the Great Alone

One of my favorite passages comes all the way at the end, when the author comes to a certain realization about the whole race, and why people (and dogs) subject themselves to such extremes:

Who knew what would ever be there tomorrow? And it hit me that that was exactly the point of the Iditarod, why it was so important to Alaska. When everything can vanish, you make a sport out of not vanishing. You submit yourself to the forces that could erase you from the earth, and then you turn up at the end, not erased.

I guess, in a way, we’re all racing our own personal Iditarod, making a sport out of not vanishing.  I like that idea.

Will plan to keep everyone posted as surgery approaches!

Lots of love,
–T

Spring Update

Jack Wagner

Double Trouble (circa 2000)

We’ve been holding on to the premise that no news is good news, so with that in mind, it’s a good thing that this is my first entry of 2013.

Right to it then:

  • Still Cancer Free: I had a Pet Scan last week, and it came back 100% clean and clear. My previous scan (from December) showed some activity at the periphery of the mediastinum (around the edge of my chest), which the radiologist had attributed to the residual effects of radiation.  This activity no longer shows up on the scan, which is Great news.
  • Dose Adjustments: Maintenance chemotherapy hasn’t been without its challenges.  We’ve had to make several adjustments to decrease the dosage of my oral medications (methotrexate and mercaptopurine), and have had to take a week off here and there to give my body a chance to recover.  By nature, chemotherapy is immunosupressive, but it’s a fine line between acceptably decreased cell counts and the dangers of neutropenia.  Thank God (and science) for neupogen, and for antibacterial hand sanitizer (I don’t leave home without it).
  • Lhermitte’s Sign: Just when you think you’ve experienced every strange side-effect under the sun, along comes Lhermitte’s Sign.  Back in/around December, I started noticing strange nerve pain and electrical sensations when I looked down (chin to chest). Initially I ignored it, hoping it would go away, but when it got worse I began doing some research and decided to mention it to my doctor.  He confirmed our suspicions, that this was likely a residual effect of high dose chemo/radiation therapy.  Fortunately, in my case the condition is “self-limited”, meaning that it should resolve itself over time and without treatment.  It’s painful and unpleasant, and exercise makes it worse, which has added some additional excitement to my cycling and running.  I have a new found empathy for people fighting multiple-sclerosis – what a terrible disease.
  • RIP Jack Wagner: When I was 17 years old, I made good on a threat to bring home a dog.  He was wild and energetic.  He was funny.  He was smart.  He was loyal.  He was a biter!  And, for 13 1/2 years, Jack was a member of the family.  A few months ago, he was diagnosed with (believe it or not) lymphoma, and last week we had to say goodbye.  Natasha believes that Jack was sent here to take away my lymphoma.  What a beautiful, romantic, bitter-sweet idea that is.  I hope it’s true.

Battling cancer has made me hyper-aware of just how many people in my life (friends and family) are touched by this disease.  Today my thoughts are with those people in my life (and there really are too many) who have been recently diagnosed; who are in the middle of the fight; who deal with constant tests, scans and fears of recurrence; and to those, like Jack who’s battle is over, and who are in a better place – chasing squirrels in heaven 🙂

–T

The thrill of hope, a new and glorious morning

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The Gift Wrap Crusher

I have a dog. A unique and curious fellow, and although I try hard not to talk about him too much, I feel he is the best one to tell this story. He is the kind of dog that yelps when you touch his armpits, smiles when you frolic with him, and tries with all his might to be a real boy. His face has more expressions than mine, and we have become expert conversationalists. Perhaps it is in his genes, or perhaps it is in mine, but we are the peas and carrots of man and his dog.

A year ago this month, I had to wake my dog up in the middle of the night. He was sound asleep at my feet, but when I got the call that Tyler was sitting in the emergency room with an abnormal X-ray, I couldn’t move fast enough. I picked him up, quickly and suddenly. My little man screamed. He shook and he glared at me, and when I tried to pick him up again, he screamed once more. My heart was pounding and all I could think was, I still couldn’t move fast enough.  Continue reading

Christmas come early: I’m Cancer Free.

Holiday Greetings Everyone,

This update is overdue, but for the most part, it’s safe to assume that no news is good news at this point.  To that point, I’ll get right to it: I’m cancer free.

I had a PET scan last week and, to quote the radiologist’s report, “there was minimal uptake at the periphery of the mediastinum,” but nothing lighting up in a way that would indicate relapse.  Translation: Everything is looking good.  The activity at the periphery of the mediastinum is common in patients that have received radiation therapy (which I have) and is no cause for concern.  I’ll have a full CT Scan in Feb/March, which will mark our next milestone on this journey back to full health.  Until then, I continue on the maintenance chemo regimen–a combination of daily, weekly, and monthly pills along with once-a-month IV infusions.

In November I had my eighth and final (God willing) dose of intrathecal chemotherapy.

In November I had my eighth and final (God willing) dose of intrathecal chemotherapy.

One year ago this week (December 4th, 2011) I was in the ER with back pain and breathing problems.  An X-ray revealed an unidentified mass in my chest, between my heart and lung. Four days later, on December 8th, I was officially diagnosed with stage IV lymphoma/leukemia.  As we approach the one year anniversary of my diagnosis, I’ve been awash in a variety of not-so-pleasant memories.  It’s crazy to think that it was only twelve months ago that this whole chapter of my life began.  Continue reading

Back On The Grind

Infusion Center Shades

Another day at the office

The honeymoon is over.  Back from our California road trip.  Back to reality.

Don’t get me wrong, Tash and I couldn’t be happier, and our trip couldn’t have been better.  I wrote earlier this week in my journal that if our road trip had been the last week of my life, I would’ve died a happy man.

It was as close to absolute perfection as I could imagine.

The sunny beaches and scenic valleys of Santa Barbara; red woods towering above and craggy cliffs plunging below Big Sur; getting lost in the sights and sounds and tastes and smells of The City; the vine covered hills and quiet roads of Sonoma.  I couldn’t have asked for more.  And to be able to do it all with my best friend, and to come home with a fiancee to top it off…icing on the cake. Continue reading