I got Fentanyl for the first time last week.
Granted it was pharmaceutical grade, rather than the counterfeit versions that are poisoning so many people and it was only 100mg, but thankfully, it had little impact on me.
What was the occasion?
I was having a medi-port implanted in my chest, just below my collarbone to allow for the easy administration of IV chemotherapy, which starts today.
"Wait, I thought your cancer was gone?" you might ask.
On July 1st of this year, I celebrated one year free from prostate cancer after undergoing robotic surgery in 2022.
On August 8th - a little more than a month later, I awoke after a routine colonoscopy to a very concerned doctor and a team of rattled nurses who told me that they had found a "mass" they called "significant."
"How significant?", I asked.
"Very," the doctor replied solemnly, handing me a referral to a surgeon. When he called me that evening to check on me, I was touched, but even more concerned.
After weeks of googling the hell out of "colon cancer survival rates," enduring cancer dreams, invasive testing and endless oncology consults, the verdict was in : Stage 3B Colorectal Cancer that's locally advanced with spread to local lymph nodes.
With a rockstar team assembled at NYU Langone's Perlmutter Cancer Center, I asked the obvious question: How in God's name did I get two completely different cancers in two years? After extensive genetic counseling ruled out broken DNA or some other anomaly, it all came down to "bad luck." Not the most satisfying answer, but a reassuring one in terms of my kids' futures.
On September 20th, I reported to the basement of Winthrop Hospital for my first of 27 radiation treatments and took the first of 162 chemo pills. Those treatments ran everyday Monday-Friday at 7:45AM and ended on October 27th.
I ticked off the days one-by-one as if counting down a prison sentence. While the side effects were significant, especially at the end, I carried on with life, working regular days, giving speeches, writing articles and even doing a couple 12-hour days at Universal Studios in Orlando. I didn't run as much, but rode the Peloton and stayed focused on life.
On Friday, November 17th, I got fantastic news: the 5cm mass appears to be gone and has been replaced with a small scar.
Though he's a low-key guy, my surgeon seemed thrilled and if you believe the scientific literature, tumor eradication after an initial round of radiation/chemo only happens in about 4.4% of cases.
Though I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop (in a "just try me" kind of way), the great news makes the next part of this journey a little easier.
I'm enrolled in a clinical trial that compares a two-drug chemo regimen (the current standard of care) with a more potent three-drug (FOLFIRINOX, Irinotecan, Oxaliplatin) regimen. On the coin toss, I'm getting the three-drug combo, which might have bigger side effects, but may also do a better job in cleaning out the cancer once and for all.
The fact that I went into this in great physical shape, was money in the bank and made me a prime candidate for the clinical trial.
I'll get in-office chemo infusions every two weeks, with days two and three of the three-day treatments done via a drip pump I get to carry around with me.
That starts this morning and ends sometime in March.
I'll get through it, just as I have so far, but nobody fights cancer alone. I'm blessed to have an amazing partner, a fantastic clinical team with access to the world's best care, supportive family and friends and a not-so-quiet resolve to kick cancer's ass once again.
We got this.
Now go get a check-up.