Kicking the Bucket (List) and a Big Milestone

Dear Friends and Family,

It doesn’t get much better than this! Everything I have to tell you is more than I could hope for!

Let’s keep priorities straight and start with the biggie. Genevieve and I went to San Diego last week, and got the results of my latest CT scan. My cancer is still stable! It’s now been on Tagrisso for an incredible 47 months! While Genevieve and I get more and more excited every time, my oncologist and the clinical trial coordinator are looking increasingly bored by my visits. I count that as a major victory. If there were interesting things to see after this much time, it wouldn’t be the kind that we are looking for. I’m hoping that I’ll win the race to see whether my oncologist will die of boredom before I die of old age.


Bored.jpg
Old Age.jpg

Next, my big milestone. You probably already know how important I believe that exercise is to staying healthy. Along with going to the gym six days a week, I climb the seven flights of stairs to my office twice a day. When my company moved to the top floor of our building over seven years ago, one of the guys started the Flight Club as a motivator. In this club, we track how many (flights of) stairs we climb. I am proud to say that since that time, I have now climbed more than a third of a million steps. Yes, more than 333,333 steps! (I’m so excited that I had to repeat it.) 

climbing_stairs.jpg

I know a large number of people from all over the world with lung cancer. Some I only know from online forums, but I have gotten to know quite a few in person between conferences, lobbying, and a local support group. Out of all the people that I know, there isn’t a single one that seems to consider exercise as important to beating cancer as I do.

So why do I consider exercise so important? Here are my top reasons:

·         It’s almost impossible not to feel better. Maybe if you haven’t exercised in years, and you overdo it the first time out, it won’t feel great. But regular exercise helps your mood and your general sense of well-being.

·         It’s not complicated. There aren’t certain things that you need to do. You just need to do SOMETHING that gets your heart going for at least 15-20 minutes, as often as you can.

·         It bolsters your immune system.

·         Some research even indicates that exercise may make chemo more effective.

·         You will recover from any illness, surgery, or treatment a lot faster if you are in shape, and most likely even more so if you exercise appropriately during your recovery.

·         I believe that a lot of people with cancer die because they aren’t in good enough shape to handle the next treatment. Exercise puts you in a better position to fight the next battle.

·         While having cancer can feel very out-of-control, this is something that you have control over. For control freaks like me, this is a biggie!

victory climbing.jpg

Did you notice that most of what I said above applies, whether you have cancer or not? And if you are already exercising and you THEN you get a disease or need surgery, you’re in a much better position to handle it. So what do you think? Is this a good time to get started?

The next thing I wanted to share with you is my Bucket List. For the past several years, I have had just one item on my bucket list. I decided that the next car I would buy would be all-electric. Two and a half years ago, I went from what was more of a wish list, to taking an action step. On the first day of a Hawaiian vacation, Genevieve and I got up at 4:30 in the morning to drive across Oahu to get at the front of the Tesla Model 3 waiting list. At the time, Tesla hadn’t even released a picture of the car. Still, we plunked down our deposit and waited. And, of course, saved our pennies. Three weeks ago, we got our car! I’m still like a ten year-old at Christmas! It’s beautiful, it’s powerful, and it has so much technology that I’m still learning about it. It’s the best toy I’ve ever had!

Gen Dann Tesla.jpg

But why was this car so important to me? I’m not even a car guy. While most of the commercial real estate brokers in the city have BMW’s, luxury SUV’s, or similar, I have been driving a Prius for 13 years. A bucket list with a car on it, and nothing else, hardly makes sense, does it?

I’ll explain. It’s all about values for me. Electric cars are far more fuel-efficient (rated as equivalent to 120 miles per gallon), and burn cleaner fuel, which will help reduce pollution. This is the first electric car with mass-market pricing and appeal, with a waiting list of 400,000. I feel like we are doing our part for the environment, and leading the way for others to do the same. Indirectly, this is going to make it easier on people’s lungs, among other things.

So that’s my news for now. Everything good!

Hoping everything is going well for you, too.

Love,

Dann

Handling the Pressure

Friends and Family,

I was part of an online lung cancer forum last week, where a woman said that she was just about to start taking Tagrisso (my drug), and wanted to know how long it usually works. Someone offered the statistical answer, which is ten months. Another person said that it had worked for him for five months before the cancer started growing again. This was a shocker to me, given the success I am having. My own comment? I told her I had been on Tagrisso for 39 months without growth so far, that I know people that have been on similar drugs for five to seven years, and that she is not a statistic. Don’t let anybody tell you how long this is going to work for you!

Extending Time.jpg

The randomness of how long this drug works for different people was on my mind when Genevieve and I flew down to San Diego this Tuesday to see my oncologist, and get my latest scan results. I told myself I was confident this time, but my blood pressure said I was lying. Even though objectively I feel good and have no symptoms, my emotions and my body apparently don’t care about being objective when the stakes are so high.

Pinnochio.jpg

The worry turned out to be unfounded. Dr. Patel popped his head in the door and said, “You’re scan is fine! No growth!”

It’s incredible how Genevieve’s and my world can shift in five seconds. Relief! Excitement! More relief! It’s not a new lease on life, but a three-month extension on the old one is pretty good! (Sorry, I work in commercial real estate, so this is what you get.)

Lease Agreement.jpg

Usually after we get the CT results, the same question runs through my head: Why am I doing so well, and for so long, when most others do not? I frequently think about all the ways you helped me grasp this. See Your Thoughts on Why I am Still Alive for the full list. Spoiler alert: There are a lot of reasons!

One of the items from that list stuck out more than usual this time. It was having a purpose, a meaning in life. Often something will come up, and I’ll think, “That’s it. I just can’t leave Genevieve by herself. I absolutely have to stay alive.” It’s amazing how often this is in my thoughts.

But this time, I was thinking broader. I have a purpose in life beyond Genevieve that isn’t complete.

That purpose is to help others going through cancer, and hopefully, to provide plenty to think about even for others who are not living with cancer. I do it in little ways, like comments on online forums, where I am attempting to bring hope to those following after me. I also try to accomplish this goal with my blog. And the big one, which is on my plate right now, is getting my book out. I want other people to benefit, and maybe be able to take shortcuts to lessons I had to learn by trial and error over the past eleven and a half years. I can’t drop off the planet when there is still so much to do!  

Right after seeing Dr. Patel, Genevieve and I had another appointment. Of course, they took my blood pressure again.

It dropped 28 points.

I guess the pressure was off. :-)

Love,

Dann

Living Out a Fantasy

Friends and Family,

I hope the above subject heading doesn’t get this email filtered into the spam folder, along with the fake Viagra ads and opportunities to meet sexy strangers who live nearby, but I couldn’t say it any other way. This really was a fantasy for me.  

Genevieve and I recently got to do something I have been dreaming of for the past two and a half years, but that I never actually thought would happen. I got to thank the people that saved my life.

Ever since I started this clinical trial for AZD9291, now approved and known as Tagrisso, I have been thinking about the lab scientists who were coming up with this new treatment. How did they come up with the strategy? How did they test it? And ever since my first CT scan, which showed that my cancer had shrunk by two-thirds, I have fantasized about what it would be like to actually meet these scientists, and to thank them. There was no reason to imagine that it would ever happen, but hey – I’ve beaten the odds on everything else, haven’t I?

It happened because Genevieve and I were invited to go to Maryland to visit Astra Zeneca, so that I could be on a panel.  Astra Zeneca has an annual Science Day, so that their scientists have an opportunity to see the value of their work. Just like at other scientific conferences, they had a poster session with displays of all their research over the past year, and they had speakers on different topics. At the end of the day, two other survivors and I sat on this panel. The idea was to let these scientists know what it is like to live with cancer, and then to understand in a much deeper way what a difference the work they do makes. I couldn’t wait for the opportunity! But before that…

It got even better. We got to tour the labs. We saw where the kernel of an idea gets translated into experiments, and where the fruits of those experiments lead to larger-scale experiments, and eventually to a finished product. And it was right in this lab where I got to see the exact tanks where AZD9291, the medication that saved my life, was made. It was exhilarating!

And just like those TV ads for steak knives that you can cut steel, or equally tough steaks with: “But wait! There’s more!!!”

We met people from multiple departments all day long. Each one seemed to be genuinely appreciative that we were there. And Genevieve and I got to tell them in person that, because of them, I am still alive. They cried. I cried. Genevieve cried. We were all a mess, and very embarrassed, and really happy.   

Finally, we got to the end of the day, and the panel. The last time I spoke in front of a crowd this big was four decades ago, but I didn’t let that get in the way. I told them of the devastation of getting diagnosed. I shared the fears before every CT scan, waiting to find out how long I might live. I shared how much richer my life has been, partly because I don’t know how long I will live, and largely because I’m living in gratitude every day, and my life is full of love, and my values and priorities are so much clearer. And, because I was worried that we would run out of time, I interrupted the moderator to tell these scientists thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. For saving my life. I choked up, and barely got the words out, in front of 300 people. But nothing was going to get in the way of this opportunity.   

So much of my life now is about gratitude, and this was the perfect moment to express it.

And now I have one more thing to be grateful for:

I got to live out my fantasy.

No Viagra required.

Love,

Dann

P.S.: We are having the annual Lung Love Run/Walk on Saturday, June 24th at Laurelhurst Park. We would love for you to join our team, Live Lung and Prosper, if for no other reason than it’s a great name. :-)  This year my goal is to have 30 participants, and to raise $3,000.

To join my team or donate, go to http://engage.lungcanceralliance.org/site/TR/WalkMap/General?team_id=1532&pg=team&fr_id=1211#sthash.GlWuI5BI.dpuf.