A blog about a young bro with cancer.

I debated on the title of this post. I played around with “This blog is about to get really boring" and "Ryan - 1, Cancer - 0" to name a few, but I decided to go with "39 needles later."

Early on I thought I might try to count how many needles I was getting during treatment. Between all the tests, blood-lettings (drawing blood), surgeries, chemo, messed up IV’s, etc.  I racked up a lot of needles this past year. In truth, I lost count but 39 sounds like a fair number. Could have been more, could have been less.

I got two more this morning.

I suppose these last two have been the best. That messed up IV needle ended up telling me I had stage 3a lung cancer, and these last two told me I didn’t. I had two test today, a blood test and a CT scan (w/ contrast), both of which came back clear telling me that I’m cancer free and don’t need any more treatment. It sounds too good to be true, and almost weird to think or say… but I never really felt 100% comfortable with the idea that I had cancer to begin with.

So, as you can probably tell, I’m happy to say that this blog will get a lot more boring moving forward. I don’t have any plans to post for a while, but will be happy to continue to email with anyone who finds this.

I’ve had so many people support me in a number of ways, and literally thousands of people read this blog so I have this overwhelming desire to say something monumental in what hopefully is my last post ever… but I don’t :)

"Thanks" is all I can say. Thanks for the notes, thanks for the meals, thanks for taking care of my family, and thanks for the prayers. None of it was lost or wasted, all of it helped and continues to help. I hope I in turn don’t waste anything that I’ve learned through this process. Early on I read an article by John Piper called “Don’t Waste Your Cancer” and my hope is I haven’t wasted it all.

What’s next? I go back for another scan in 4 months. I had someone tell me today that not seeing them again for more than 2 months was good, so 4 months was great. I’m hopeful that I continue to have uneventful scans from here on out, but if I don’t and cancer wants a rematch then I know I have a ton of people out there helping me.

- Ryan

Hanging out in between “meetings” at Emory right now. I guess I’ll find out how things are really going in a little while. This blog is either going to get very (more) boring or very (more) depressing :)

I had several people tell me I needed a “Cancer Anthem”… and by “several people” I mean no one, I just thought of it myself*.

I found that this song (below) started playing in my head towards the end of radiation (while laying on the table), the lyrics seem appropriate. When I match back the lyrics to what I was thinking at the time this song is now in my memories of surgery and chemo, and even the first few weeks of diagnoses. It’s strange how memories work.

They are playing this song a lot now so many people will hate it, but for better or worse it’s now part of my cancer memory.

Check out the lyrics. If you don’t know why this fits then I’d be happy to discuss…

I feel so close to you right now, it’s a force field
I wear my heart upon my sleeve, like a big deal
Your love pours down on me, surrounds me like a waterfall
And there’s no stopping us right now
I feel so close to you right now

[Calvin Harris - Feel So Close]

There are official music video versions of this song on YouTube but I wanted one without the video. I’ve only seen parts of the official video and it doesn’t fit with my version of the song, just the lyrics.

*I decided to Google “Cancer Anthem” and found a lot of people posting stuff like this.

First let me apologize for the long blogging hiatus. I have an excuse this time since nothing is really happening. It’s been 5 weeks since I ended radiation and I feel like I’m almost back to normal*. Towards the end of radiation I was exhausted and I was told that could last up to two weeks after the final dose. It ended up taking about a week and a half till I was able to do a lot of physical activities (sports, exercise, light saber duels). The only residual effect from radiation is a cough from inflamed tissue. Dr. Ram said some people have had this up to 9 months after.

So what’s next? I saw Dr. Ram on July 23rd and expected him to schedule the next PET scan to see if all the treatment is working. Dr. Ram said it would be better to wait and decided to push it out two months. So my PET scan is scheduled for Sept 24th, and I see Dr. Ram again the following week (10/1) for the results.

Dr. Ram basically said he wanted me to get back to my normal life. The goal is to get back to normal and not have to come in for treatments ever again. There is no guarantee that things have worked or that I’ll continue to be disease free, but for now there is no reason to think that it won’t. On the other hand in some ways it feels like a waiting game till the next scan. I just have to keep remembering that it’s not a waiting game, it’s a “things are awesome right now, or slightly less than awesome right now” game.

*I feel pretty good physically right now but can tell I’m not back up to 100%. A friend told me that you can get back up to 90% pretty quickly but that it could take months to get back to 100%.

I finished my last dose of radiation this morning and everything seems to be going well. I am pretty tired, especially this past week, too tired to blog as much as I’d like. I’m told I’ll be back to normal in about 2 weeks, and I’m looking forward to progressively feeling better in the next few days. Radiation has definitely been the easiest for me of the three stages of treatment (chemo, surgery, radiation).

The radiation techs said “congratulations” this morning for being finished. I guess that’s what you say. Seems weird since I didn’t do anything but lay on a table every morning, but I’ll take it. I’m glad to not have to wake up quite as early tomorrow and make my way over to Emory.

Next steps? I see Dr. Ram towards the end of July where he should schedule my next PET scan. I guess that scan will tell me if we can finally get back to a more normal life, at least for a few months (until the next scan), or if I get to repeat everything I’ve done in the last 7 months.

I’ll also see Dr. Higgins again in 6 weeks for a check up but I expect that to be uneventful. I think it’s routine to get checked to see if there are any issues from side effects of radiation, but since I don’t have many now I don’t expect to have any in 6 weeks.

Look up the word “compassion”. My guess is that they meant for this to be on the sign to say “we have compassion for what you are going through”. However, I’ve found it to mean that they are giving you compassion. Almost like you are getting a little with each dose.

The table with handle bars. It looks less weird when they put a sheet over it.. slightly less weird.

I’m now 2/3 of the way through radiation and seem to be doing well. I, of course, don’t have a baseline from which to judge. However, being around other people going through radiation and Dr. Higgins telling me that my side effects are mild tell me that I’m getting off fairly easy for now.

So far the biggest issue is fatigue. I seem to be getting more and more tired, which was supposed to happen and should continue to increase as I get closer to 30 of 30. It’s not that bad, but by 2pm in the afternoon I’m starting to yawn and have to re-caffeinate.

No burns yet, just some irritation in the throat/chest area. This irritation started causing acid reflux around 10 of 30 and got to be pretty painful each meal. I tried Zantac for a while and it helped but started taking Prevacid this weekend and that has taken care of the problem almost 100%.

Pictured: The head of the TrueBeam. These (lead, I think) bars reconfigure themselves to shape the radiation beam. This is what one of the four hits I get looks like (it has an inverted twin that gets me from the back). Some times when I come in and lay on the table I see the configuration from the last person. Once I saw almost all the lead bars open in a trapezoid shape, telling me that the person before me got a huge dose.

P.S. Going to radiation every day means extra driving time and extra waiting room time, especially on the days (each Monday) that I have to see the doctor. I’ve now churned through several audiobooks that I highly enjoyed; The Lords of Discipline, All 3 The Hunger Games books, and Tim Keller’s The Reason for God

Just a short video to give perspective of the door that shuts you in the radiation room. I didn’t even realize how thick it was till I watched the video. Oh, and Kevin (one of the techs) makes a guess appearance. The humming sound is the door moving… the muzak that you hear at the end is what is playing in the room the entire time.

I’ve been curious how radiation would effect me and thought I would share my findings for those who might come across this blog in their research before they begin their own treatment.

I’ve now had 8 doses of 30 in my radiation treatment regiment. So far so good, but I started to feel the beginning of uncomfortableness last night. So, I suppose it took 7 doses before I realized something was different. It’s just a subtle change but not painful or burned or anything like that yet, just sort of an irritation.

I think some fatigue is also setting in which I didn’t expect to come this early. Fatigue is the #1 side-effect, then “burns” (sunburn like irritation on your skin), then coughing and the list goes on from there. I see the doctor once a week to check on me as far as my tolerance goes and she mentioned that I could already be experiencing fatigue after just a few doses but probably won’t really get the sunburn till later weeks. I do have a cough but it’s difficult to tell when my surgery cough* stops and my radiation cough starts.

As a bonus, I’m including a picture of the ceiling tile that is in the radiation room. This is what I get to look at every morning when I lay down on the table. Very calming, right? It’s like someone is saying “hey, it makes sense that you would be getting a sunburn in a tropical paradise like this.”

Pictured: “Tropical paradise”, the sub-basement of the Winship Cancer Center in TEC1 room behind an automatic lead door that seals you in while protecting others :)

*I developed a cough after surgery that is apparently a common side-effect. It comes from inflamed tissue and eventually goes away. It was almost gone but now I think radiation cough is taking it’s place.