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This fundraiser ended on 02/01/13

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A diagnosis of cancer is devastating. When you first hear "You have cancer" you have no idea what this journey involves. You are overwhelmed, filled with fear, stunned, and in shock. Then something deep within you arises. We all have it…the will and strength of survival. In the cancer journey you are faced with so many emotions like fear and joy, and sometimes you face those emotions all within the same day. That can be exhausting!

Rich was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2009. His tumor was so large the doctor's explained and braced us with the news if the chemo/radiation did not shrink the tumor then his tumor would be inoperable. They would have only given him palliative care and his disease, at that time, would have been considered terminal.

Then we learned he had a second cancer. Normally, if one has 2 different cancers the doctor's would give you a speech they would be unable to do anything. In Rich’s case the doctor's took the attitude to address the most evil of Rich's cancer first, and then address the lesser cancer. We were blessed! His treatments did shrink the tumor in his esophagus and they were able to proceed and schedule the re sectioning surgery, The Ivor Lewis surgery. It was an operation that involved removing a portion of his esophagus, stomach, and rib. Soon after recovery of this surgery he had to undergo another surgery for the second cancer, and then more treatment.

Rich was amazing throughout all this. He worked through most of his treatments and returned to work with minimal time off after the surgeries, which is very rare with an Ivor Lewis surgery. He was determined to get back to “normalcy” and to beat this cancer! He had a brief time where he was considered "No evidence of disease." It was a sweet bitter time. Sweet in rejoicing that there was no evidence of disease and bitter from the emotional turmoil of post traumatic syndrome that many cancer patients experience. Then during one of Rich’s follow up visits it was mentioned that Rich was experiencing pain in his calf. That was a big flag that a blood clot developed, which many cancer patients develop. The doctor delicately prepared us if this was a clot there was a good chance Rich had recurrent metastatic disease. They scheduled a sonogram and it confirmed he had a clot. That test was followed by another scan, and more scans. We then received the news that the scans showed the cancer had spread to the lungs. The biopsies that he underwent confirmed it was cancer from the primary sight of the esophageal. They explained because of the location of all the nodules they were unable to do anything in the way of surgery or radiation. They proceeded to tell us that his cancer was not curable. Their attempts would be to stabilize the cancer with attempts to give him quality of life, but it would only be temporary.

I soon learned the understanding of "What we hope for sometimes we need to adjust." The beginning plan for stabilization of the cancer that had metastasized to the lungs was chemo treatment. He started his treatment, but unfortunately his cancer continued to spread. As the cancer progressed and spread the need to continue changing chemo regimens was needed, as they become ineffective and his cancer became resistance to the treatment we knew the options were becoming less and less in prolonging his life. He eventually progressed through all the standard therapies available to him until none where no longer available.

Hearing you ran out of options is worse than the day you heard “You have cancer.” It pierces the heart. The roller coaster ride of cancer has so many days of hearing heart breaking news. That day of receiving “We have gone through all options, there is nothing left in standard therapies” made our hearts weep. The doctor told us the choice was either to do nothing or a trial. He explained sometimes "doing nothing" is the best choice because of all the risk involved and how the drugs can impact your body, which can be life threatening; and for some not going on the trial, they may even live longer. At the age of only 48 when given a choice like that, and being Rich, there was only one answer...continue to push forward.

So, the next step was to find a clinical trial. I began to research clinical trials available for his type of cancer and trials that would not have exclusions from him participating in the trial. 7 were found. With the help of a nurse I was able to sort through the medical terminology and learn the inclusions and exclusions. Only two did not exclude him from the study. Rich made the choice in the trial, signed up, was given 4 treatments, but we soon learned he was not benefiting from the clinical trial as the cancer continued to spread and more complications set in that involved many ICU visits. The cancer continued to spread; lungs, calf, adrenal gland, calf, thighs, pelvis, and our latest devastating news….the brain.

This is not an easy journey to be on. Rich is one month away from his 4 year date of when we first heard the doctor tell him “You have cancer." He has been so strong carrying the weight of this journey. Rich is in need of much rest. He is so exhausted. Cancer takes so much of your stamina, energy away, and takes your mind to thoughts and places it had never been. The treatments break down not only the bad cells, but the good cells in the body. He has bone deterioration that prevents him from raising his arms beyond a certain point, loss of teeth, dramatic weight and muscle mass loss; sometimes he drops 10 lbs. in a week, among a list of more adverse effects not mentioned. It’s not easy being a cancer patient. He is undergoing radiation treatment to his whole brain at this time, as he has many lesions in the brain which cause severe headaches. He is also receiving radiation to just one of the tumors that is in his thighs, the one that causing the most pain. The objective is to treat the tumors that are causing pain in the hopes of alleviating his pain so he can have quality of life, pain free.

This morning for his second time in this journey, while showering, his hair started falling out. It is so easy for us to say "it's only hair", but for Rich it shouts out and is a reminder he has cancer. Cancer is a horrible, debilitating, dehumanizing disease that many are unaware of the extent, unless you have walked in the shoes of a cancer patient. As a caregiver and loved one to see your loved one go through something like this it is heartbreaking.

Experiencing these hardships and sorrows allows you to experience the joys and see the gifts within this journey. One of our joys and gifts in this journey is being blessed by so many who have been supportive. Bless you all!
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