Stage IV Cancer and You Did What?

Hey, I’ll say this so hopefully I will remember and you, if you would be so kind, can remind me when I forget…I can rightly take little-to-no-credit for any of the things that have happened over the last five years since getting diagnosed with Stage IV melanoma.

All this “went down” after a six week prognosis to live,  including 98 brain tumors, tumors in lung, liver, stomach, and on skin. I have had a few friends faced with cancer that have not been this fortunate. While I would love to say that the knowledge to of this fact or the experience of living 5 years after that fateful diagnosis has somehow transformed me into a saint, that is unfortunately very much not the case. )-; Nevertheless, I have had some pretty amazing experiences.

Most of this stuff I was not sure I would ever get to do again or ever. Most of this stuff is not something anyone would naturally associate with “Stage IV Terminal Cancer.” I share these ‘accomplishments’ below, desiring to provide hope for anyone out there struggling.

  1. Coached both my sons hockey teams.  I got on the ice even when immune-related side effects were at their worst, after exhausting procedures, insomnia and panic attacks, day-trips to LA for clinical trials, long work weeks and devastating test results. The boys needed me.  I didn’t need to tell them what was going on.  I just needed to be on the ice.  Every time I stepped off, no matter what I was going through, I felt better.  Thanks to the Colorado Rampage organization for their support, to the parents and kids for letting a sicky like me do something I love for the two boys that I love more than anything else on this earth.
  2. Went back to work and stayed for last five years (except for this past summer when I was out for six weeks after brain surgery).   Have been eligible for permanent disability due to terminal illness but that felt far too terminal. Worked, as with coaching, through the treatments, side effects, test results etc. while taking very little time off. In hindsight this was probably the right decision.
  3. Recognized as USA Hockey Coach of the Month, November 2014 (USA Hockey Magazine Nov 2014).
  4. Completed six months of weekly day trips from Colorado to LA and back during clinical trial.  Maintained job and worked full weeks through schedule.
  5. Given a day with the Colorado Avalanche hockey team (attend practice, met the team, saw the game from sky box that night).
  6. Celebrated 16 years of absolutely blissful marriage to my wife Sarah (she’s gonna roll her eyes when she reads that)
  7. Featured in University of Colorado neuroscience journal for Gamma Knife survival (Neuro Outcomes, pg 17) and published a few badly written articles online.
  8. Celebrated 26 years of continuous sobriety (story about that is another blog in itself).  I have had, at times, a whole cabinet full of narcotics and probably every reason to swallow down every single one of them.  By the Grace of God, I have been restored to sanity and would rather be ‘Leland’ (such as he is 0-;) today than be altered by any pill or drink of alcohol.
  9. Went skiing, mountain biking, hiking all around Colorado including hiking Pikes Peak again, lots of concerts (Disco Biscuits, The Dead, Umphrey’s, Black Crows, Lotus, Break Science, Pappadosio, other), trips to Maine, Chicago, Georgia, Wisconsin, Baltimore and generally participated in a lot of things I thought I would never get to do or do again.
  10. Have eaten no meat or refined sugar for the last almost five years; have religiously and unfailingly eaten daily portions of what I call “gruel” as part of The Budwig Diet.  Don’t really care what that site says, after a while, eating the same stuff everyday is nasty…I don’t know how my dog does it!
  11. Exercised almost every day for the last five years – running, weights, videos…while failing to stop running my mouth in many of the wrong situations (hey everybody’s human).
  12. Actually enjoyed the heck out of my job and had some real success. I still haven’t figured that one out, probably never will. Its in line with that saying, “On My Own I am Nothing the Father Doeth the Works.” I don’t know really even know what that means or how that means or why that means what it does to me, but it does. As someone I look up said, “I realize that I know very little.”
  13. Started this blog (though not sure if that’s an accomplishment yet or not).
  14. Completed two three month rounds of yervoy, 48 cycles of Keytruda, a month a radiation, 7 or 8 Gamma Knife procedures, @ 40 MRIs and 40 CT/PET Scans, countless labs, doctors visits, 2 trips to the ER (including 1 on my birthday, Christmas day), 5 surgeries including brain surgery…what did Nietzsche say and then Victor Frankl live out, “That which does not kill me, makes me stronger…” I think in hindsight I’m the anti-Nietzche in that the more stuff tries to kill me, the more I realize how weak I am.  Somehow there is strength in this…
  15. Survived laying to rest our wonderfully goofy 13.5 year old dog and welcomed a new puppy into our house (realized, again, its a biological necessity that they are cute…so you don’t kill them). Now we have Elsa the dog.
  16. Featured in news story on Altitude Sports Television Network, December 2014.
  17. Received Presidential Volunteer Service Award (Bronze) for over 250 hours of community service in 2014.
  18. Continued to be a Dad to my only two real accomplishments in life (though I can take no credit), Connor and Derek.

I’m leaving the last six open.  Stay tuned.