What a difference a year makes!
Yes, today Damian Lillard requested a trade from the Blazers, but this post isn't about that. I love him and I hope he wins a championship but we couldn't do what we needed to for him and I am excited about our future anyway. Ok, that's enough NBA talk on the one year of my diagnosis.
Last year at this time (July 1, 2022):
I was admitted to the hospital with hepatic encephalopathy (liver failure) which resulted in an ammonia buildup in my brain and scary brain fog
I was barely coherent and didn't understand at all what was going on with me (My family knew I had cancer before I did)
I had terrible internal bleeding, and almost didn't come back from it
I was diagnosed with two types of cancer
(We treated the bleeding as a Phase I problem due to the immediate danger and chose to deal with cancer after the bleeding was solved)
This year at this time (July 1, 2023):
Damian Lillard asked to be traded (damn, I said I wouldn't talk about that!)
No more bleeding or brain fog issues
I have a great medical team and an even better support team (Amazing family and friends)
I've had two surgeries - one lung (April 2023) to rule out a 3rd primary cancer (yay, less is more) and a Liver surgery (June 2023) to do a ton of tumor removal (probably the toughest surgery I will have to deal with but well on my way to healing)
I most likely have one more surgery upcoming in 3-4 months to remove the primary tumor in my pancreas and to remove my spleen
That gets the medical stuff out of the way. Next, I want to discuss what I've learned and how my life has changed. I am no longer the person I used to be and I am happy about it. I am more Burt than I have ever been (even while recovering from the surgery in June). I am happier, more engaged, more in touch with myself, more empathetic, more aware of those around me, more focused on what's important to me, and more appreciative of the things that matter.
Those who know me or have been following me know that I built a "strategic plan" for myself last September. (By strategic plan I really mean guiding principles to help me make decisions and to help guide me). My three guiding principles are:
Help others heal
Help others that help others heal
Quick status on how I am doing.
Heal myself - I have been in treatments, had surgeries, focused a ton on my mental health, done some complementary therapies (acupuncture, supplements, yoga, meditation), etc, all of which are helping me recover faster and helping me deal with this crap better. I have less tumors than I did a year ago, no brain fog, and heal better from surgeries than most people. Oh, and I have a La-Z-Boy which, after friends and family, has been a huge help in recovery!
Help others heal - this is key for me. I try to talk to as many people (other patients, caregivers, etc) as I can to help with anything from Neuroendocrine Tumors to living with cancer. My goal is to take everything I've learned and use it to help others. It's selfish, helping others makes me feel better. I talk to people on phone, zoom, facebook groups, or anyway they want to engage. I am here and want to help anyone.
Help others that help others heal - This is the category where I work with organizations to help them help other people. I am working with:
OHSU where my medical team is. I am helping them build a community of patients and caregivers who deal with Neuroendocrine Tumors (NETs). I am an official volunteer that's focused on the community and support and improving the patient experience
Society for Integrative Oncology on their communications and Patient Advocacy committees - I am a huge believer in integrated medicine and oncology and the benefits that it can bring to patients and caregivers
Let's Win on their patient advisory board. They are primarily focused on Pancreatic Cancer (which is different than what I have, Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumor (PNET)) but I am helping them give help to those who also have PNET
NCAN on the Advisory Board
LACNETS as a Facebook group moderator
Most importantly, as I said above, I am feeling good, recovering from my major liver surgery, feeling like I am helping people and I feel like I am making a difference. All things that align with what I want to achieve.
So it's been a crazy year. I never expected to be here (with a cancer diagnosis) but here I am. In so many ways I am more focused, a better person, I am more engaged, and know what I want. Someone once told me that cancer is a gift wrapped in barbed wire. I truly understand now what that means.
So while I won't call this a "versary" (that seems like something you celebrate) I will definitely always remember this date. Thanks for being with me. You have no idea how big a difference it makes. I couldn't be the person I am without all of you. My friends and family are what are helping me get through this and thrive.