An avenue of ways

5 years: My story with cancer

Many things can happen in five years. Five years ago I was diagnosed with Stage IIIa testicular cancer. So I’m writing this post on the milestone that my cancer is officially in remission.

I’m dedicating this post to my wonderful wife, KJ, who creates the best for everyone in her life. I’m eternally grateful to have had you with me on this journey. Otherwise, I’m not sure I would have made it in one piece.

Day 1

My wife, who was my girlfriend at the time, is one to make sure something gets done. I had an ache in my groin area and hadn’t thought much about it. We had done a pretty long bike ride a couple weeks before. This is a case where internet diagnoses didn’t help, I had I read an article that bike riding and groin injuries are common.

It didn’t go away and a few days later KJ bugged me enough and I finally went to get it checked out. After a brief diagnoses, the doctor was alarmed and mentioned that he had a urologist friend a few floors down, and I should go see him immediately. The urologist, who, I kid you not, was called Dr. Duong, was about to leave to go home but made some time to check me out. After a quick check, Dr. Duong sent me to get an ultrasound. Luckily there was a Sutter Health right across the street, and we got an ultrasound scheduled for later that evening.

Well, the next few hours were the proverbial hurricane. The ultrasound came back as positive for bi-lateral tumors. On my way to getting my blood drawn, I called my girlfriend. Now this is where memory is such a funny thing, I don’t recall exactly what we talked about, but needless to say, emotions were running high.

The first weekend

Dr. Duong wanted to operate quickly. Testicular cancer is very fast moving and can travel up the lymphatic pathways to the brain in short order. We didn’t want to jump right into surgery as KJ and I had a lot of questions. Feeling completely out of our league, it was time to fall into the help of my family and friends. I cannot thank KJ, our parents and Evan’s family friend who was also urologist for their guidance. The operation had many implications to our future together, it was impossible comprehend he full extent. Kids? Not from my genetic material. Testosterone therapy? Yup, for the rest of my life.

After my death pebbles were out, the final diagnoses came in. The cancer had metastasized, and I would need to go through chemo. I got a referral to an oncologist and we started setting up a plan.

Tahoe

We had a yearly family trip to Tahoe with KJ’s family scheduled. After my surgery, I hadn’t seen my parents yet, so we invited them up to Tahoe and away we went. How was I feeling? Purgatory probably describes it well, knowing that the tumor was out, but that the cancer matastizised. The holding pattern before chemo is used to let your body strengthen so it could handle the chemical load.

Since chemo causes your hair to fall out, we figured it to shorten it up. For the longest time I always had a standard side-parted hair cut, now that was all going to change. Now, some for a little glimpse into why hair was important to me. Every male adult in my in the ancestor tree has been bald. As a kid I was frightened at the prospect of being bald in my 20’s as my dad had been. But ce la vie, a few glasses of wine in and the clippers came out. My mom had the honors of buzzing my hair and while the $20 CVS clippers almost died along the way, we triumphed!

Chemo

Testicular cancer is usually treated with the BEP protocol. While it’s about 3 months in duration, relatively short compared to others, but it makes up for it in intensity. It roughly breaks down to one week of 8a-5p chemo infusion and then one week off for your body to recover.

The BEP protocol is bleomycin, etoposide, and cisplatin. Wow that’s a mouthful. The whole goal of chemo is to stop “fast growth cells” like tumors, and coincidentally hair, nails and white blood cells. You may wonder how it works, it’s actually pretty fascinating. The main action is to unwind your RNA to an extent that cell replication breaks. Then, start attacking the tumor with a heavy metal (platinum) which kills it. Slow replicating cells like red and white blood cells keep working, but fast replicating cells just die off. So this is the chemo dance. Kill parts of your body in measured ways so that the medicine can elimate the cancerous cells, before you kill all the good things that are in your body!

Every day you get your blood taken, if your white or red blood cells are too low, then that means the balance is off and you delay treatment.

So what’s it actually like? Well, these days they load you up with great anti-nauseous medicine and steroids so it’s bareable. I’d liken it to a 3 month hang overs, except without any of the fun drinking parts. Food does start to taste crappy and you loose about 40 pounds. The weirdest part is one day you’ll be in the shower and your hair will start to fall out.

BookFresh

What about work? I was CTO of a company, BookFresh. It was an exciting time for BF, we were growing at close to 8% MoM and the team was executing well. On the chemo off-weeks, I tried to goto work, usually it was fine. Thankfully my team was strong and they took on a lot while I was out.

There was some partnership interest from a company called Square. At one point during chemo, we had to give a product demo. I vividly remember that it was a few days after I had noticed my hair starting to fall out in the shower. I remember thinking, well I hope it doesn’t look too weird for our meeting! I made a small mental note not to rub my head during the demo.

4 months after my chemo was finished we were acquired by Square and my Square journey began (I’m still there!).

Friends and Family

So how did I make it through? KJ made the world wonderful. Everything from working with doctors, going with me to every appointment, to getting me treats during the long days of treatment.

The amazing support from all my friends was truly heartwarming. I’m fortunate to have some of the best, kindest friends in the world. During the treatment I got a table full of cards and clever gifts. After chemo, KJ organized a get together with all my friends from all over the world to come to SF. We celebrated in our true fashion with a trek to the Treasure Island Music Festival. It’s something I’ll remember forever.

Thank you for reading, onward!

Treatment