On January 28th this year I was diagnosed with colon cancer (stage 4). I underwent a surgical procedure that night to remove a tumor from my colon (along with a kidney and my appendix) and another on February 1st to “put things back together”.
I started FOLFOX chemotherapy on March 18th and this week had the 6th of my 12 treatments. I had a PET scan last week that indicates that the chemo is working and that the areas of cancer that were visible on my PET scan from mid-March appear to have been resolved.
I’ve got incredibly caring and generous family and friends for a support system and doctors I have confidence in. While cancer will always be something I need to be wary of (routine screening, etc. for recurrence), I’m optimistic that I’ll be able to put this largely behind me and get back to focusing on the people and things that I love.
So the last four months have been a bit of a whirlwind. I was on a family vacation in Hawaii when the symptoms became acute. After a clinic and ER visit in Hawaii turned up nothing, I went to my primary care physician on Monday after a red-eye flight got us home that morning. He referred us to the ER for a surgical consult and I was under the knife that evening.
The initial thought was that I likely had an obstruction or twist in my bowel, but the surgeon found a tumor about the size of a lemon that had grown in and around my colon, and had closed it off. The cancer was impacting my left ureter so that kidney had to be removed as well. While they were in there, they also took out my appendix (yay!).
The good news is that only having one kidney isn’t actually that limiting. I was recommended to keep a 1-to-1 scotch to water ratio when appropriate and to avoid ibuprofen (as it is processed through the kidneys), but other than that I have very few limitations. One of my golf buddies turned 60 last summer and he’s had only one kidney since he was a toddler.
The recovery from the surgery was more arduous than I expected. I’d had out-patient surgery in the past and falsely assumed that when you left the hospital, you were pretty much recovered. That definitely wasn’t the case this time.
I was in the hospital for about 10 days and I wasn’t able to digest anything the prior week either, so I ended up losing about 30 pounds (roughly 18% of my body weight). I was weak and scary-skinny (I’d lost weight intentionally over the last few years and didn’t have 30 more pounds to lose). It took about a full month after my discharge before I was able to fully stand up straight or lie down flat to sleep. I couldn’t walk much for a while and there was significant pain as the ~8 inch abdominal incision healed.
I’m back up to ~164 pounds now (I was about ~168 previously) and am able to work out enough on my non-treatment weeks to keep my strength up a bit.
Telling people you have cancer is a bit weird. It’s big, heavy news and they just have to sit there and take it. In effect, you’re calling up your closest friends and family and making them feel bad. Once they get over the initial shock though, it certainly is nice to have them along for the journey. This is the first I’ve spoken about my cancer publicly, but I haven’t tried to keep it a secret. The support I’ve received from everyone has been wonderful.
The chemotherapy is interesting. Basically it’s a slow poisoning with some nasty side effects. One of these is fatigue. This is very noticeable in the first week following the infusion, but is much better in the “off” week. The fatigue manifests itself in interesting ways. There is the physical side, which I expected, and the mental side, which I did not.
The mental fatigue, for me, results in a difficulty focusing intently. I can digest short articles but can’t read books. I can do little development projects, but can’t dive headlong into something complex. I have trouble summoning the focus necessary to review other’s work or create content (which is annoying as we’re currently working on content for a new crowdfavorite.com site).
The “off” weeks are much better. The nausea is basically gone, and the other side effects are greatly diminished. I’ve been able to return to occasional golfing, helping with my daughter’s soccer practice, and return to a full work schedule (on those weeks).
I will also be attending a few conferences this summer, OwnerCamp and WordCamp San Francisco. This fall you’ll find me, again, at Monktoberfest and PressNomics – both events that Crowd Favorite is proud to sponsor.
Five years ago I set up life insurance policies. Two years ago I went through the process to set up formal succession plans for Crowd Favorite. Last summer I took steps to remove myself from the critical path on the project work we do at Crowd Favorite; returning to a more active role in development, architecture, etc. As part of that process, we strengthened our project management team and formalized some of our best practices as policies. In the fall, my wife also left her full time job of 16 years to take on a part time consulting position.
As it turns out, all of this pre-planning (plus the serendipitous freedom in my wife’s schedule) paid off big time. When I had to step away for a few months, Crowd Favorite was able to continue to thrive in my absence. I’m incredibly proud of and grateful to my team, and I’ve really enjoyed being back working with them in a half-time capacity for the last few months.
While building a team brings with it a certain set of challenges and satisfactions, I’m really enjoying the ability to spend more of my time actually coding (Capsule is an example of a recent release). I’m excited about the client and internal projects we’re working on, and how we’re continually improving the craftsmanship of our work (adopting new technologies, automating best practices, etc.).
Cancer is something I’m going to be dealing with in some regard for the rest of my life, but I won’t let it define me.