Cheating Death

Recently, Death came knocking on my door. I did not answer; it seemed like the smart thing to do. It worked.

Now, I have completed treatment for my abdominal cancer (Pseudomyxoma Peritonei, often referred to as PMP). I’m in remission, and my oncologic surgeon expects me to live a reasonably healthy, full life.Death by thom via Flickr

Despite the miraculous treatment outcome, I’m still a long way from normal. My recovery continues as I focus on healing, regaining strength, and putting on weight. While I concentrate on a return to good health, I will gradually re-engage in professional life between now and the end of the year.

I wish my progress were much quicker. However, as I look back over my shoulder, I realize that I’ve been on an extraordinary journey over the past seven months. Here’s a brief recap of what has happened:

February 2014 — Leading up to my routine physical, I knew it would be more than routine. My abdomen had become inexplicably distended despite having shed some extra weight. In addition, I had a persistent cough for more than a month.

At my February physical, my doctor poked around and, with a concerned look on his face, told me he wanted me to have an abdominal CT Scan. While inconclusive, the CT Scan showed growths and fluid build-up. More tests and visits to specialists immediately followed as part of the diagnostic process.

March 2014 — By the end of March, my lead cancer specialist gave me my diagnosis and prognosis. He informed me that I had PMP, a rare cancer with fewer than 1,000 diagnosed cases worldwide each year. The doctor believed that I likely had the slow-growing appendiceal form of PMP, and that I probably had it for about ten years. Without treatment, my life expectancy would be about two years. Unfortunately, given the severity of my case, treatment would likely only give me a five-year life expectancy.

Treatment for my form of PMP involves surgery and HIPEC, a heated chemo infusion at the time of surgery. The Philadelphia PMP expert held out little hope that treatment would be able to remove all of the disease. However, he did recommend that we get a second opinion from Dr. David Bartlett at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Dr. Bartlett and his team are among the world’s most experienced at treating and researching PMP. So, based on our own investigation and the recommendations of multiple doctors, we made an appointment with Dr. Bartlett.

April 2014 — My wife and I traveled across Pennsylvania to meet with Dr. Bartlett. While he agreed with the Philadelphia specialist about the severity of my condition, he was more hopeful that he could achieve a successful outcome. Following the exam and discussion, I was given a tour of the Surgical Intensive Care Unit and the hospital floor where I would be. In addition to having great confidence in the surgical team, I also developed tremendous confidence in the experienced nursing staff. Before leaving Pittsburgh, I committed to have the surgery done at UPMC.

May 2014 — On May 2, I had my surgery. The surgery and HIPEC procedure lasted nearly 14 hours. During that time, the doctors removed my omentum, spleen, gallbladder, appendix, one-third of my stomach, one-third of my intestines, and pieces of my liver. In addition, other organs were scraped clean of cancerous growths. When I awoke, I learned that the surgeons were able to remove all of the cancer. After nearly three weeks in the hospital, I was discharged and traveled home a few days later knowing I could expect a full life.

June 2014 — At home, I continued my recovery. Blood tests revealed that my cancer markers had returned to normal levels confirming that I was in remission. Unfortunately, my recovery was not without serious setbacks. On two occasions, my digestive track stopped working which required trips to the emergency room; each time, I was admitted to the hospital for four days. During these stays, the doctors determined that I was dehydrated, likely because of issues with my digestive track. However, following the second incident, I had a different theory.

I suspected that dehydration was the cause of my digestive track shutting down rather than the other way around. After much research, I contacted a local oncologist who was part of my initial diagnostic process. He was willing to test my theory and arranged for me to have prophylactic saline fluid infusions, just a few blocks from my home, twice per week to help keep me hydrated. It worked! I felt much better as a result, and I was able to stay out of the hospital.

July 2014 — With my condition stabilized, my wife and I returned to Pittsburgh for my follow-up surgery. The initial procedure had left me with a temporary ileostomy so that my resectioned intestines could heal. The hour-and-a-half reversal surgery went smoothly. After nearly a week in the hospital, I was discharged. Then, my wife and I remained in Pittsburgh for several more days until I was fit for the seven-hour trip back home.

August 2014 — The second surgery solved my hydration challenge; so, I no longer need fluid infusions. Since the surgery, I’ve been gradually reintroducing previously excluded foods back into my diet. Sadly, I’m still not able to eat legumes, cruciferous vegetables, and sugar. However, over time, I should be able to consume almost all foods, at least in moderation.

September 2014 — As my diet has slowly improved, with the advice of a skilled nutritionist, I’ve finally begun to put on some much-needed weight, but it’s just a start. My surgical wounds are now healed. A visiting nurse has been checking on me twice a week to make sure that I healed properly and that my vital signs remain satisfactory. In addition, a physical therapist has given me some light exercises to do that will help me tone my atrophied muscles without burning too many precious calories.

At this point, my medical treatment is done though careful monitoring will continue. I’ll have blood tests and scans four times per year, and my surgeon will examine me annually. Other than that, it’s up to me to gradually do more of what I have been doing: resting, eating, and exercising.

I’ve been on a long, brutal journey. Fortunately, I’ve ended up victorious though the challenges of recovery continue. But, the happy bottom line is that I’m a cancer survivor!

My wife and I continue to appreciate the kind, supportive prayers, comments, Tweets, messages, notes, cards, calls, and visits we have received.

I’m not sure when I’ll return to regular blogging, but I anticipate it will be before the end of the year. When I do resume my blog postings, I’ll have a couple of celebratory surprises for you to mark the occasion. If you have not already subscribed (free of charge), you can do so in the right-hand column so you’ll receive an alert when I post. In addition, subscribers will receive a link to a free e-book by philanthropy researcher Dr. Russell James.

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

 

UPDATE (January 17, 2015): The results of my follow-up blood tests and CT Scan are in: I remain in remission! Based on this superb news, my medical team is now recommending semi-annual rather than quarterly follow-up testing. As my recovery continues, things are looking bright.

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63 Responses to “Cheating Death”

  1. This is welcome news, Michael. You have often been on my mind and in my prayers since you bravely shared your news with the world many months ago. I am glad to know now, combined with so many others, that this has been impactful. My thoughts and prayers continue for you and your family.

  2. Bravo, Michael!
    You’re a true hero!
    Keep up the fantastic work.
    Andrew S Dungan, EdD

  3. That’s great news, Michael!!!

  4. Here’s to many more beautiful sunrises, sunsets and amazing wives who help keep us strong!

    • Scott, I appreciate your good wishes. Thank you!

      You’re absolutely right about the importance of having an amazing wife. Lisa has been by my side for the past seven months, mostly quite literally. She’s been my hero. I couldn’t have made the progress I have without her.

  5. That’s wonderful, Michael!!! So glad to hear you’ll be able to give us some more great advice!! Keeping you in my prayers. Cheers, Erica

  6. I can’t tell you how happy I am to read you again! I never made it up to Philly but I’ve been waiting impatiently for news. This is amazing! I’m a bit at a loss for words but know that I was thinking of you and Lisa during this whole time. Welcome back 🙂 Happy recovery!

  7. So very glad you are on the mend!

  8. Oh, I’m so happy to hear this! What a long, hard road you and your wife have walked this year, with such grace and courage. I look forward to working with you again.

  9. Congratulations on your recovery, despite its occasional bumps in the road. You are an inspiration to all those fighting health issues, and a reminder to the rest of us that an occasional missed deadline or a less-than-successful campaign pale in comparison to the adversity that you have had to face. Keep your optimistic attitude!

    • Marcy, thank you for your kind message. Much appreciated! Everything I’ve gone through has had a massive impact on my perspective on many things. In some ways, it’s made me much more patient while, in other ways, it’s made me more impatient. I’ve learned a lot over the past several months.

  10. Wonderful news! Thanks for updating us all and my very best wishes for a smooth recovery transition!

  11. Our thoughts and prayers are with you both on this journey, we continue our own struggle. Medically, Marty is in great shape now and his tremors are gone, but he is still unable to stand or walk and getting very frustrated with the slowness of the recovery process. I am sure you know that feeling. So we ask for continued prayers for strength for both of us. I continue to fight the insurance battles, which is not what any of us need when we have to focus on getting well!

    • Linda, thank you for continuing to take the time to stay in touch, especially given your own situation. I’m glad to hear that Marty is progressing. Unfortunately, progress is never as quick as we would like. I’ve found it helpful to keep a milestone log book. Whenever I would start to get depressed about my progress, at times slow and at other times a step backward, Lisa would review my milestone log with me. It would remind me of the progress I had really made. I won’t say that it completely turned me around emotionally, but it certainly took the edge off of my depression.

      I’ll definitely continue to keep Marty and you in my prayers. I wish you both the best.

  12. So happy to hear the positive report. God speed on your recovery and return to work.

  13. Thanks for the update! I’m so glad to hear it!

    You’ve got some happy tears for you in MA.

    (I’m a little overly emotional this week – 1st anniversary of my Grandfather’s death from cancer.)

    Good job figuring out a way to tell the reaper to buzz off!

  14. So glad to see you back here, and through your grueling journey! I’ve been thinking of you all the way along. You are a fighter! Continued healing…

  15. That’s great news, Micheal! I hope your recovery continues to go well.

  16. Amazing news, Michael! So glad to hear from you and know that you are in remission just like my daughter. Way to go! I believe in miracles and you are another example of them. All the best, Claudia

  17. Michael – this is great news! You have been on a remarkable journey. As you have done with your blogging, you provided wonderful advice in this post. In considering our health and medical decisions, we need to be consumers. Just as we make choices over which article to buy, we have to carefully research and chose what medical course to take and which provider to use. Best wishes to you and your wife as the journey continues. I will add my prayers to the many.

    • Dick, you’re absolutely correct; we definitely need to be active consumers of medical services rather than passive participants.

      My wife continues to be in remission from Ovarian Cancer. The only reason she’s alive today is that she took the lead in her own medical care. When a doctor would only want to treat her symptoms rather than the underlying cause, she fired the doctor and found another. Sadly, she had to dump five doctors before she found one that was willing to look at the cause of her symptoms. That doctor diagnosed her cancer. Fortunately, it was caught Stage 1-C. The survival rate for those with Stage 1 Ovarian Cancer is excellent. However, if she had listened to any of the first five doctors, she would have eventually been diagnosed but at a later stage when survival rates plummet.

      Thank you for your prayers! They worked.

  18. Thankful and happy to have you back, my friend. We will have to talk soon.

  19. You have certainly been through a lot! Best wishes on your continued recovery.

  20. A phenomenal journey, indeed, Michael. All the best & added strength continuing its way to you and your wife going forward.

  21. Thanks to you and your wife for giving us the example to NEVER, ever give up! Love and peace

    • Laura, thank you for your kind message and for reblogging my post. In preparation for my surgery, I put together an inspirational photobook with terrific quotes. I’ve referred to it regularly throughout my ordeal. It helped me to keep a positive outlook. Here are some of my favorite quotes that, directly or indirectly, deal with the idea of never giving up:

      “Never give up. And never, under any circumstances, face the facts.”
      — Ruth Gordon

      “When you are going through hell, keep on going. Never, never, never give up.”
      — Winston Churchill

      “You just can’t beat the person who won’t give up.”
      — Babe Ruth

      “The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”
      — Rocky Balboa

      “Fall seven times, stand up eight.”
      — Japanese Proverb

      “Winners never quit, and quitters never win.”
      — Coach Vince Lombardi

      “Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.”
      — Dale Carnegie

      “Those who believe they can do something and those who believe they can’t are both right.”
      — Henry Ford

      “Being defeated is often a temporary condition. Giving up is what makes it permanent.”
      — Marilyn vos Savant

      “Don’t give up at half-time. Concentrate on winning the second half.”
      — Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant

  22. What a great outcome, Michael. Keep it up, slow and steady. Focus on you and your wife. Good luck!

  23. I’m very happy to hear this news, Michael. Best wishes for a future filled with good health and happy times for you and your family.

  24. Thank you, Michael, for sharing this update. I can speak for many that we’ve thought of you on a regular basis and praying for healing during this difficult time. Your fight is a testament to the ability to face life’s greatest challenges. Your story brings hope to so many dealing with major battles – whether health or otherwise. May this journey now bring you peace and joy in the coming months as you continue in your recovery. We’ll be here to listen, learn, and encourage you along the way.

  25. Michael, I’ve been thinking of you and have missed your blog posts! Take your time and heal well.

  26. You have been missed! Glad that you are back and HEALTHY! I did not know that you were sick, but I realised I stopped receiving your blog update.. Hope all is well..

  27. OMG!OMG!OMG!OMG!OMG!OMG! That’s about all I can say. I’m stunned and so happy to see this. You and your wife are walking miracles and a message that believing and not giving up – refusing to lose – is a strong answer to adversity of all kinds. I couldn’t be more grateful that you are still here with us. Still hoping we meet in person.

    • Lorri, thank you for your kind message and support. You’re right. When facing a serious illness or other life-challenge, it is essential to not give up. Beyond having grit, it is also essential for people to assume an active role in their own treatment. Studies show that active patients have better outcomes than passive patients. Lisa and I are living evidence of that principle. By sharing our stories, I hope it will inspire more people to take an active role in their own healing.

  28. Thank you for sharing your courageous and frustrating story, Michael. I like happy endings. Welcome back!

  29. Wonderful news!

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