Today is November 15th. In 3 days, I will celebrate my 43rd birthday. I happened to hit 140 pounds of weight loss Saturday morning – to take me to 232, but my good news was short lived and overshadowed by a mammoth issue….
It will be the last birthday I will ever have with my mom in my life.
Close to the end of October, my mom got a diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer. They did a biopsy and found the cancer in her lungs. Problem was, they later did a PET scan and did their thing – and it turned out to instead be stage 4 pancreatic cancer that has moved to her lungs.
The doctors gave her “a couple of months” to live.
I found out the timeline on Sunday, November 11th. I had some friends coming to town later in the day, and I wasn’t exactly up for drinking. In years’ past, this was exactly the thing that would send me down a dark path with boozing. I had no real coping mechanisms as an adult. However, today, I have my wife and 9 year old child – and they need me around for quite some time. So I decided against the boozing. More on that later.
Over the last few weeks, my brother and I have been all over the place emotionally – as you can imagine. When a diagnosis like this happens, you get shotgun blasted with all stages of grief almost at once. The other night, I decided I wanted to put on a movie to numb myself. My wife hates movies, but she loves “that damn donkey” in Winnie the Pooh. There was a movie called “Christopher Robbins”. I thought – ok, mindless cartoon shit for 90 minutes, how can I go wrong”? Within the first few minutes, the main character loses a parent and he abandons cute stuffed-animal like friends in the woods. Man card, officially revoked. No, this was not cute. This was tear jerker shit from Disney to a person who is facing losing a parent. Smart move, Nate. It was gut-wrenching. Not my best play.
Prior to this writing, I have told only a handful of people. I checked with my mom yesterday if she was ok with me writing something about this, and she was. Some of you reading this are complete strangers to me, but there’s a few hundred of my facebook friends who might read this. Over the years, many of you may have met her. Whether it was the hard, tough streets of Birdsboro (hahaha), my high school friends, my college friends, or any of my work friends – she has met many of you over the years. Some of my old neighborhood people knew her very well.
I digress….what happened? A back story, please….
One night in college, I was at a party and somehow, in the days of 1997ish (with no cell phones), I was tracked down at a party and told my mom was in the hospital with a heart attack. I bolted the party and drove home. My mom did what she always does – tries to play things down to protect my brother and me. “It was minor”, “nothing to worry about”. I quickly moved on, as if she must have had a minor issue. Only recently did the gravity of what really happen reveal itself.
The truth in that is much more grim. She had a 100% blockage in her LAD (also known as the “widow maker”). Apparently, she has some freak genetic occurrence where there are other arteries that the blood has flowed through. For 99% of the other people on the planet, this would have been it. So – I’m lucky to have had another 20 years with her.
Years before that, when I was a kid, she had clots that were thrown to her lungs. According to the doctors, she almost died. I believe I was 10 or 11 – so in essence, I got another 30+ years with my mom.
She has something called Leiden Factor V. It is a clotting condition. According to my “internet MD” I earned through hundreds of hours of watching internet doctors, lots of them are saying the biggest cause of heart attacks has to do with clotting factors. Smoking is a close second. My mom also smoked for about 40 years as well.
All of these items contributed to some bad health conditions. She would never let on that she’s in any pain – she would show up to her grand kid’s birthday parties or soccer games – or T Ball in 38 degree temperatures. She was the terminator in terminator 2 that just kept coming, no matter what the conditions – grandmom was coming and nothing you could do or say would stop her.
Over the last 10 years or so, she has battled type 2 diabetes. This is a problem where over many, many years of excess sugar consumption, your body continues to pump out insulin from the pancreas – but your body becomes insulin resistant. When you have sugar (or complex carbs that are broken down into sugars), your body will need to pull the glucose from your blood and shuttle it into the muscle glycogen, and when full, your cells (as fats). Over time, your body becomes more and more insulin resistant to the point where no matter how much insulin your body can produce – it’s just not enough to reduce your fasted blood glucose number. Eventually, type 2 diabetics are then told to use exogenous insulin to help drive down your glucose number. One theory is that excess sugars can combine with low oxygen conditions to then have cancer cells that ferment the sugars.
For this reason – I have been very anti-sugar the past year. Occasionally, I have a treat, but generally speaking, 95-98% of my days I’m under 50-70g of net carbs for about the last 11 months. I also do OMAD and “fasting Fridays” in order to “starve” any cancer cells in me. After Thanksgiving, I’m looking to try my first 72 hour fast. About 12 years ago, I was diagnosed with a “pre-cancer” in my throat as a result of lots of years of binge drinking, smoking, and living with acid issues. It’s also part of the “Barrett’s esophagus” that I have. I was in my late 20s, I didn’t pay much attention. My acid issues mostly disappeared over the last 10 years, as I stopped my partying ways.
On a side note, my father died of lung cancer in 2005 at the age of 57 when I was 29. I’m hoping my mom makes it to her 66th birthday in January, but she will eventually die of pancreatic cancer.
Cancer….you now have my attention.
I have spent the better part of the last 2-3 weeks crying. It comes and goes. You go for 2 hours just fine, then something sitting on the table reminds you of your mom, and BAM, it comes back in a wave that you cannot control. You might tear up. You might wail. You might try and shove it down inside of you because your 9 year old is standing right next to you and you have to show him that you have your shit together. I almost lost my shit at the gym the other day rowing. It reminded me of a family trip we had to Lake Wallenpaupack in the poconos where I was 13-14 and had to row us in our family row boat after high winds killed out motor battery (my dad had a bad back). Then, you come to the points where you are cried out and you just feel morose. You just want to be left alone…but be in the room with someone. You don’t want hugs, you just want the cloud to be lifted. You get irritated with people talking to you, but you still want them close to you. It’s a weird catch 22 when you are going through grief.
This past weekend at my birthday gathering, I didn’t know if it was lung cancer and she might have 1-2 years with immunotherapy or pancreatic and she would have a “short time”. I had my birthday cake (which was low carb), I had meatballs, and some fruit. It was a good day – but all but my 9 year old knew that it’s likely this was the last time my mom would be singing me happy birthday. The cake came down in front of me, and I almost lost my shit. The million thoughts going on behind the scenes with the nervous smile hiding my true emotions….my boy having no idea.
Immediately, you have this wave of wishing your mom could be there for another 20 or 30 birthdays. And then you get the news that she might not even make it to Christmas.
Here’s to hoping that chemo can help her a little….
With the stages of grief, you eventually get to the acceptance stage. Not sure if this is after someone has passed, but this can also be while someone is still with you and facing a grim outcome. But the other stages never really leave you. I still have some level of denial – that someone screwed up her results. Or perhaps she’s going to be one of those people who spontaneously recover…
Sometimes the “anger runs” really help you. This is the most I’ve ever run, and I beat my mile time by 30 seconds – AFTER I had run 5 miles, with 2 of those miles about 10 seconds off of my mile record time. So, 3 of my 6.42 miles were at/above race pace. I was just so numb, the pain of the run fueled me. I didn’t really grasp how far/hard I ran until much later, when it sunk in.
Now I’m at a point where I’d like to cherish the time I do have left with her. Yesterday, I went to her house for a few hours. I also took a video camera I got like 9 years ago and did a “mock interview” with her for about an hour. I realized I had no video of my dad, only some still photos. Over time, the voice starts to go, the mannerisms fade – and I am not ready to let go of her laugh. I asked her to see if she could record a few minutes a day, maybe make some videos for people. Her 3 grandkids are below the age of 10, so it would be nice for them to have some video of her.
With the Leiden Factor V, apparently there are 3 distinct types. One, you need cumatin to treat, another you need aspirin, and another you only need to watch it. My brother has it, but recently I tested and I am clear for it. I’d suggest everyone to get this test the next time you get a lipid panel. I know I’m jumping all of the place on this, but this writing is less about structure and more of how I’m feeling – and capturing what thoughts I can.
Cancer sucks. I’m about to be 43 and will have lost both of my parents to cancer. My mom’s side – both of her parents have had cancer, and all 4 of her grandparents have had cancer (and they died from it). The difference was that all of them were over 75 years old. My grandmother is still with us at 89.
In my writings, I talk about keto and sugar. I have also noted that I have been reading “the case against sugar” by Gary Taubes. About 100 years ago, cancer was rare – 1 in 30 died from it. Today, 1 in 3 get it. I also have a family member who is close to my age that has been battling cancer – but I’m not clear to talk about that here – it just sucks that so many of us are affected by it.
The environmentalists will tell you it’s the environment. The vegans will blame meat. The anti-sugar folks will blame sugar. The health nuts will tell you it’s smoking and drinking. The truth is, there are a lot of causes for cancer to be concerned about. Many of us just think we are supposed to die of a heart attack or cancer at 85 – that’s just how we die. But we are dying younger and younger.
Cancer, you have my attention.
Moving forward, I will continue to blog here – but the next few months I might be all over the place. I will continue to try and focus on my exercise/working out. My inspiration to live a healthier lifestyle just became more emboldened. The day I found out about my mom’s timeline, I ran 6.42 miles. The other day, I purchased a used trumpet. See – in high school, my mom bought me a Bach Stradavarius trumpet from the factory for about $900. I just bought one, the same make/model – from the EXACT YEAR – for about $800. You see, trumpet (and all music) for me in high school, as well as athletics, were my outlets to deal with anxiety, stress, and things that overwhelmed me. In college, I lost my way and binge drinking and smoking became my go-to stress relievers.
The trumpet for me allows me to play my emotions. It just comes out. I tried a few the other day at a music store, and man – I missed it terribly. This is going to help me get through this.
It’s going to be a tough road ahead the next few months. I have my Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving, then I’m signed up for an indoor Triathlon in Lancaster on February 10th. Along with my music, tunes, exercise – and family – I’m going to get through this.
Thank you in advance for any love and support, I’m probably not really going to respond too much from this. I have to live my daily life, plod on…and in moments, I will have tough times ahead.
The main picture here is a family picture we took about a month ago. My brother had purchased this and gave it to my mom as a gift 18 months ago. We met the photographer, and at that point, we had not seen her in 2 months. I knew something was terribly wrong then. A week or so later, she was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. I’m so grateful for this picture…words cannot describe how important this moment will be to me for the rest of my life.
My only solace is that I do have this time with her. It might not be a year or two. But time is something you can’t buy and it’s the most precious thing we have. I’m so grateful I have had the last 20 or 30 years with her. She has been the best mom, grandmom, and wife one could imagine. She has been my best friend and confidante. She has been grandmom of the year, no doubt. She loves so hard. All she ever wanted in her entire life was a loving family and for us to all succeed. She has been a driving force and strong influence for both my brother and I and all I can say is that because of her strength, my brother and I are set to face all challenges life will have to offer.
I love you mom….
Love….your two little boys
P.S. I have other family members battling cancer. Some of them have had more positive outcomes – I can’t speak on their behalf here, but I can tell you it’s hard to see family members affected by this. You are scared for them. You don’t want anyone in pain. You don’t want anyone to suffer. You want them to have a miracle drug and just be ok. Please…give your family hugs…and lots of them today.