August 25, 2006
Dear Friends and Family,
I write with a bit of difficult news that it is unfortunately time to share with you all. As most of you know, almost a year-and-a-half ago, just a few weeks after my wedding, I had a suspicious lump removed from my neck. The lump had already been there for two years prior, several doctors insisting it was nothing. Well, it unfortunately turned out to be something as I was soon diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The subtype of lymphoma that I have is, in most patients, very aggressive. My doctors found, however, that I am part of a small subset of patients where the disease remains in what is called a “low-grade state,” and thus treatment could be postponed and I could be monitored through scans, blood tests, and doctors visits to check the progress, or lack there of, of my disease. Low-grade lymphomas grow slowly, can be amenable to repeated treatments, and can be managed as a chronic disease over time. And thanks to very recent pharmaceutical advances, many lymphoma patients are coming to live long lives.
This past year, after a lifetime’s worth of doctor visits, scans up and down the wazoo (where a doctor found the Aquaman action-figure I swallowed 33 years ago), and my blood drained several times over, I have learned a lot about living with lymphoma. I have met wonderful doctors, nurses, technicians, and other hospital staff. I’ve seen other lymphoma patients and their families waiting nervously in waiting rooms. I’ve seen patients sick from chemotherapy. And I’ve seen patients who are thrilled from the news that their disease remains in long-term remission or is now considered cured. But what is most important to me, my wife, and our soon-to-be child, is that despite the occasional lymphoma speed bump, I should get to live to be a creaky and cranky old man who complains loudly about things like drafts from the air conditioning, the pastrami being too fatty or too lean, and the fact that kids today don’t know from good music or movies!
Since my diagnosis, I have been followed carefully by my doctor at Penn. The minimal disease I have has been stable. Last month, however, my scans showed a very slight change in my condition and my doctor felt like this was a good opportunity to possibly cure me, but certainly knock the disease away for many years to come. Yesterday I began my treatment as an outpatient, but starting Tuesday I will receive a heavy-duty chemo regimen that will require a three-night stay every three weeks for six months at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
The worst of it for me will be the three nights every month when I have to be away from my now very pregnant wife, my soon-to-be first born, and our dog Otis. Yea, I’ll lose my hair (feel free to make fun of that), throw up sometimes (watch out!), and be pretty tired, but most importantly, the doctor has assured me that I will be able to be at the birth of my child (in early December) and that I will be a father for many many years to come. There are no guarantees in this. My lymphoma is, after all, an often deadly form of cancer. But I joked with him last week that all I wanted from him was to dance at my first-born’s wedding, and then I’d be happy to plotz (hopefully after dessert). He was very hopeful that this will happen (save the plotzing part).
The coming months will be trying and I will not be able to be the friend, husband, and father that I always strive to be. And even though there has been a profound change in my life, my life itself has not changed, so please don’t send me bed pans, subscriptions to Lymphoman Monthly, and copies of “How I Survived Lymphoma in Ten Easy Steps”. But this doesn’t mean that you should feel like you can’t talk to me about what is going on. I am always happy talk about this, so call whenever. Of course you can always come visit me at Penn or at home while I am just chilling out. Finally, I just ask that you all keep on being the wonderful friends and family that you have been both before and during this period in my life. I can ask for nothing better than all of your support.
I will be putting up a website sometime next week called http://www.baldmike.com where you will be able to read my “bald blog”, follow my progress, my rapidly changing hairline, and my fluctuating blood counts.
Thanks so much for all of your support. Call anytime. Come and visit.
In humor, health, and love,