Tuesday, March 24, 2015


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Getting back to consistently blogging has been considerably more difficult that I thought. I believe the scope and magnitude of being diagnosed with cancer and learning what the future may look like, as well as the many conversations with doctors, other cancer patients, cancer survivors, etc. overwhelms your mind with a cluster of information that needs to be sorted, evaluated, categorized, and either saved or discarded. It's kind of like that show hoarders, you have a clutter that contains things that are worth keeping, things worth selling or donating, and a lot of things that just need thrown out.

Going through that process creates fresh space for generating new thoughts and feelings that are easier to transcribe to words and rekindling that fire and passion to share my experience with others, in the hopes of demystifying the cancer process of cancer diagnosis, surgery, and treatment.

Even though cancer is the toughest battle people will ever face, I also hope by sharing my experience, that others will be inadvertently enlightened, empowered, and better equipped to cope with their own battles in life and/or support others in need.

I arrived at UPMC Shadyside Hospital the morning of Tuesday, March 3, 2015. I was promptly ushered into a surgical prep room, gowned up and taken into the surgical suite twenty minutes later. I was taken aback by how quickly it all happened. In fact, there was little time to sit there worrying and becoming fearful. Avoiding surgery was not an option, as the primary tumor was blocking most of my transverse colon, making eating solid foods difficult. Because I had already pushed worry and fear out of my mind and given it to God, I found that I was more relaxed and at peace with the surgery than I normally would have expected.

As you can imagine I don't remember a thing about the actual surgery. The last thing I remember is hearing music playing, and I asked the doctors and nurses if the music gets to be left on during the procedure. They replied yes, Dr. Holtzman always has music on during his surgeries. approximately 3 hours later I woke up in surgical recovery and the first thought that came to mind and words out of my mouth were "PAIN!"  There's just no sugar coating it! The pain is immense, but as medications are administered, it slowly becomes more tolerable. I think it's worth mentioning here that the surgical recovery was quite amazing, as I remember it. it was like an assembly line of patients being evaluated, monitored, administered pain meds, and one by one shuttled off to the room in which they will spend the rest of their recovery time. Other than this, quite honestly, there's simply not a lot to share about the surgery itself, because you don't remember a thing!

There's really a lot of blur and fogginess between being transported from surgical recovery to my primary room. For example, I don't remember much of the trip, which included an elevator ride. My first real recollection was being in the hallway outside of the room that was initially being prepped for me, and then seeing my wife, who came out of the room to say hi. It wasn't long after that I realized I had a tube up my nose and down my throat, oxygen in my nose, and a catheter in. The tube down my throat was actually a drain tube that normally isn't needed for colon (large intestine) surgery and resection, but because I also had cancer removed from the small intestine (duodenum), the drainage was necessary to aide recovery of the organ/tissue, without being constantly exposed to gastric juices and enzymes. Other than the pain, that damn tube became my greatest nemesis! It was so uncomfortable and the pain in my nose felt as if there was an over-sized rock jammed way up in there! Luckily about 3 or 4 days in, they removed both the drain tube and the catheter. Perhaps I should let you know that I was seriously worried about the catheter being taken out. After all, I'd never had one and quite honestly, just the thought of it being removed was enough to make me cringe. I was completely unconscious when it was put it..thank God! Anyway, despite an awkward and slightly uncomfortable feeling when they pulled it out, the entire process only lasted about 3 seconds or so. I can also say that as much as I was ready to have that drain tube out, the thought of that coming out was nauseating...but again, it only takes a few seconds, and wow...what a relief!

My total hospital stay was ten days. On the second day, the doctors wanted me up and out of bed trying to move. Now, if you can imagine, having all these a tube up your nose and down your throat, oxygen in your nose, and IV's in both arms all hooked up to machines on a pole that you have to walk with. It's almost as if you're a prisoner...handcuffed and shackled! So, not only do you have the restriction of all this stuff hanging from you, but the pain upon standing and trying to walk for the first time is like nothing I've ever felt. That first time out of bed, I only made it maybe ten feet to my hospital room door and back to my bed. I remember asking myself, "oh my God, how am I ever going to get through this and out of here?!"

Then a few days into my stay, upon the obvious pain of the surgical procedure itself, I began to get a build up of gas pain. It was explained to me that air is actually blown into you during the surgery for whatever reason(s). It get trapped in there and because of the internal and external incision pain and because the muscles are not quite strong enough to literally force the gas out, getting out of bed and walking becomes essential to relieving the pressure and pain. So, at some point, no matter how bad it hurt to get out of bed and walk, it was worth it because on the back end of it, your pain becomes reduced each and every time you're up and moving.

At this point, it really becomes a mental game, of convincing yourself that you can do it and literally forcing yourself out of the hospital bed. I would walk at least twice a day, and as the days passed, up to four times per day. The fourth floor Main of UPMC Shadyside Hospital is the oncology recovery unit. Interestingly, it was set up such that the entire floor had a loop that went around both sides of the central nursing station, and twelve laps around is equivalent to walking one mile. Each day I would walk further and further, eventually walking two plus miles per day. I told one of the nurses that I was going to do three miles before being discharged. However, I actually ended up being discharged a day earlier than expected and had to finish my goal at home on my treadmill.

I will say that ten days is a long time to be in the hospital, especially with such a major surgery and the mental and emotional magnitude of being diagnosed with an aggressive stage 4 colon cancer. I didn't want my wife to miss work (she's a chiropractor with her own practice) and honestly, we couldn't afford for her to miss work. Despite juggling her patient schedule and taking care of our kids on her own, she managed to get in almost every day, even if it was just for a couple of hours. So, I'm super proud her commitment to holding everything together through this stressful time.

I'm also thankful for my father-in-law Bob Alcorn, who came to see me on several occasions and made sure the kids were picked up from school each day, as well as driving the kids to the hospital to meet up with my wife so we could spend time together as a family. Thank you to my sisters-in-law (Jennifer, Rebecca, and Amanda) for visiting. I also want to thank one of my best friends from college, Bill Bell, for his unexpected visit and the same to Chuck Yorks who was in the area from on business from Bellefonte, PA and stopped in to see me. Thank you to Ryan and Farrah Hankey for the surprise visit and spending a couple of hour with Kelly and I one evening. Thanks to my dad, for calling every day to check in on me. Lastly, a special thank you to surgical oncology nurse Mandy Fleet, who went to high school with my wife Kelly, and who became a friend of mine a couple of years ago. Despite not having anything to do with post operative care, Mandy came to see me every day that she was working. It was nice to see her familiar face each time!

Despite having visitors, most of the time, it was for very short periods of time. This left much of the day in which you're on your own, and it does get lonely. So, if you're ever a patient, let people come see you...it helps a lot! If you're a friend or loved one of a patient, please make time to visit, even if you think they may not want visitors. Some patients simply just need to swallow their pride and let others be there for them. The support and visitation from family and friends goes a long way in bridging the gap between your typical social life and the long hours spent alone in your hospital room. I think there's a definite therapeutic effect from the company of others and definitely helps with your mental and emotional stability.

Lastly, I want to thank the many nurses and nurse aides who took such great care of me. In particular nurse Becca and nurse aide Steve, both of who regardless of whether they were assigned my room or not, came to see me every day. There were many other great nurses who took great care of me...Danielle and Kim come to mind. It's hard to remember everyone, but my point in bringing them up is that these are the people who are there for you when nobody else is there, taking care of you, getting you anything that you need, encouraging you, and overall truly invested in your recovery and seeing you get back home as quickly as possible. I am indebted for their care, support, and encouragement. Strangely, or maybe not so strangely, even though it's great to be home with my family, I miss all the great people who took such good care of me during my stay. So, whether you're a patient or family member of a patient, remember to thank the nurses and nurse aides!

Thanks for reading my blog and following my journey. If you're on social media, please feel free to share my blog posts. Together we can reach more people and potentially help change or even save a life!

Sunday, March 15, 2015


Sunday, March 15, 2015

Well, it has been awhile since my last post, and to be honest, it's taken me much longer to get back to blogging than I expected. Essentially, so much has happened and I've been through a lot since my previous post. I suppose I needed some time to emotionally, physically, and spiritually process all that I've been through so far. I'm ready to share now, where as until today, it has been difficult to put fingers to keyboard without an overly emotional reaction to the words in my head and emotions in my heart. 

My intent with respect to today's post is to just share my surgery experience and diagnosis with you, and then continue sharing my journey from there. So, I'm expecting this to be a relatively short post, you never know, I tend to be wordy at times!

Tuesday morning, March 3, 2015, my surgical oncologist Dr. Matthew Holtzman, MD (cool cat...not your typical surgeon!), performed surgery to remove what was determined to be a 9+ centimeter malignancy from my colon. The surgery became more complicated and complex when Dr. Holtzman realized their were actually two malignancies which on CT appeared as one. The larger of the two malignancies penetrated through the colon wall and metastasized to the beginning part of the small intestine known as the duodenum. Long story short, approximately 35 centimeters of my large intestine (colon) was removed and resected. A small part of my small intestine (duodenum) was removed and repaired, and 19 lymph nodes were removed.

All the tissue and lymph nodes were sent to pathology for microscopic evaluation. It was determined that there were actually 2 separate and distinct malignancies or cancers growing simultaneously. Additionally 17 of 19 lymph nodes contained cancerous cells. Essentially we were told that I have an aggressive stage 4 cancer and will require chemotherapy. 

Planning ahead
I was discharged from the hospital Thursday afternoon, March 19, 2015, a day earlier than expected. I am now home with my family recovering, healing, and building up strength to begin chemo in approximately 3-4 weeks. I will have a follow up appointment with my surgeon next week, as well as an appointment with my oncologist, in which we will learn more details about the chemo, including integrative approaches. One thing's for sure, I treasure my wife and kids considerably more and the little things that use to bother me are so very insignificant.

Now that I've managed to emotionally and spiritually reconnect through my blog, I will continue to post frequently, documenting my journey. If you would like to show your support and contribute financially towards my battle to beat cancer, you can do so by clicking the link below. All donations go towards offsetting medical expenses. Thank you for your kindness and generosity.


Sunday, March 1, 2015


Sunday, March 1, 2015


Have you ever found yourself lost in borderline subconscious thought, pondering the meaning of life, how we got here and why we're here? I have for sure, on many occasions throughout my life. I've generally found that the more I ponder on these questions, the more confusing and overwhelming it seems, because the truth is, we really never know for sure. However, it's been well documented that "faith" plays an important role in one's ability to live a sustainable life of good health, happiness, and longevity.

What comes to mind when you hear or think of the word "faith?" While the definition, and maybe perception, of faith may vary around the world, generally speaking, most people tend to think of their religious belief, a God or Gods, a savior or prophet, heaven, or an after-life. I've often struggled with my own faith as a Christian, because I think there's so much good that comes from the many world religions. And, in the back of my mind there's always that little doubt that questions what if I'm wrong and totally miss the boat? Why does religion require "blind faith?" Why can't we just know objectively, such that we never question our faith?

My wife and I have gone to a  non-denominational Christian church for over ten years, Amplify Church, which by the way, we love and has had a great impact on our children. You can check out Amplify online, including online streaming services at http://www.amplifychurch.com/#3locations. Despite having attended church on a regular basis, I can honestly say that little bit of doubt in the back of my mind has always kept me from fully, 100% accepting Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. That little bit of doubt has always allowed feelings of inadequacy to limit or inhibit my relationship with Jesus Christ.

I'm not a perfect person, a perfect husband, or a perfect father. So, how can Jesus, a perfect man forgive me of my sins and continuously forgive future sins? What if I can't live up to the Christian expectations? What if I'm not comfortable with public displays of religion? What if, what if, what if? Have you ever over-questioned something so much that it's always held you back from taking some sort of action? I definitely have...on many things! It's the old saying, "over-analysis causes paralysis." I've found that to be true when it comes to my religion and relationship with Jesus Christ.

You know, it's interesting, because cancer has given me a new perspective, such that I've realized that you can't question everything, because for some things, there's just no objectively based answer. It's essentially a situation where you have to be willing to accept some things for what they are and where they are in your life. Otherwise, the mind battle distorts your perception of reality. If you recall from my previous posts, the first step in creating change in your life is getting real, real. That is, you have to accept the reality of your situation, followed by discovering or identifying your goal(s) or what it is you want to achieve or overcome, and then be accountable by making choices and decisions that align with your desired outcome.

The reality is that a book, called the Bible, was written which documents the life of a man, Jesus Christ who descended from heaven as the father, son, and holy spirit and entered our material world as a commoner over 2000 years ago. That same man is responsible for establishing the world's largest religion, Christianity, as God's instruction to man. Jesus proclaimed to be the one and only way to the father in heaven. He died on the cross for our sins, and said that those who accept him as their Lord and Savior can enjoy eternal life in heaven. That's really quite the simplified version...I'm no biblical scholar!

Anyway, rather than continuing to ask, what if this is all wrong, I've shifted my mindset to ask, what if it's true and you chose to ignore it? What do you have to lose by believing 100%? So I've accepted this reality, in blind faith. Knowing that my goal(s) are to be healed, energetic, happy, and to live many, many more years I needed to finally accept the reality of Jesus in my life and the need for his love, protection, and healing that only the great doctor can offer. I've also taken a great step in holding myself accountable, by aligning an important choice or decision with my goal, by getting baptized this past Friday. Thank you Pastor Jason Howard and Amplify Church for conducting a private water immersion baptism with my family by my side!

My wife, Kelly, asked me last night if I was scared, referring to my upcoming surgery and cancer in general. My answer was this...Fearful, yes, but not scared as in afraid. After all, there are some things you can't control, and as for cancer and worry, I've chosen to give it to Jesus. After all, I am now fully covered with God's Armour!