(Originally posted on Medium.com)
…Just not in time.
For those that have seen my profile here you know I was diagnosed with a form of cancer called Multiple Myeloma. This is the same cancer that Tom Brokaw, Peter Boyle, Roy Scheider, Geraldine Ferraro and Andrew Miller have/had. That’s an A-list of celebrities and unfortunately three of them are gone due to this disease.
The last name on that list is a friend of mine, not a celebrity in the true sense of the word. He went through his stem cell transplant about a month after I had mine. In fact, I had three friends that all went through their transplant within a month of me: Bob, Steve and Andrew. Multiple Myeloma has many faces and luckily, for me, my version of the disease isn’t as aggressive, or scary, as others. Multiple Myeloma is a form of bone/blood cancer. The proteins in your blood, those anti-bodies that are supposed to help your body, go rogue and start taking over the bone marrow. Many people aren’t aware of the disease until it’s taken over the bone marrow and started eating away at the bones, releasing calcium and protein into the blood stream which causes other issues for your kidneys, etc. So there you are, thinking everything is ok but your back is sore and you’re tired. You have kids; you don’t work out enough; you’re getting “old”. These are all the things you say till one day a vertabra collapses and you get told you have Cancer. If this doesn’t scare you into going to the doctor once a year I’m not sure what will.
So my transplant was in January of 2013 and I have been in a complete remission ever since. A year after my transplant I ran up the Empire State Building (ok, walked quickly…well maybe crawled by the end.) Exactly one year after my transplant i was running up the Empire State Building, 86 flights; a bunch of stairs. I did it because I could and they couldn’t. At the time I ran the race, Bob was back on meds, Steve was back on meds and Andy had gone through another transplant. Here I was, no longer on meds, running up King Kong’s building while they were back on chemo and steroids.
Why am I writing this? Because I can.
Two years after my transplant Steve lost his fight and I wrote The C-Word and “Stray Kittens” — don’t name them and it won’t hurt as much — too late. My last doctor’s visit was just over a month ago. At that visit the doctor confirmed that my numbers are still good and the disease isn’t present. I return to the Doc in April for a bone marrow biopsy and PetCT. To give you a little background, a blood test provides a 30,000 foot perspective, we see no sign of the disease in the blood stream. The biopsy and PetCT is more similar to Google Street View. This looks straight at where this mess is made and looks for the disease at a cellular level. If, after these tests, they still don’t find any trace of the disease my doctor has said my long-term prognosis is 10+ years and he believes there will be a cure within that time frame.
I’ve always believed there would be a cure in my lifetime. And now my doctor has said this thing — a cure in my lifetime.
The only issue is I’m not talking about my lifetime.
As I mentioned, the disease has many faces and I got the not so nasty one. Steve wasn’t so lucky. And now, neither is Andy. Andy’s gone through two or three “auto” transplants (using his own stem cells) and one “allo” transplant (using someone else’s stem cells.) But Andy’s disease is one of those nasty versions. It has been plugging away at him like the Harlem Globetrotters on an unknowing college varsity team. I saw Andy just before Thanksgiving and he was starting a new round of chemotherapy. Spirits were good and he was looking great; but he needed to keep fighting. I saw him again, just before Christmas, in the hospital — and he had lost the ability to control his legs. Apparently he had an accident some time after thanksgiving, when he just lost all feeling below the waist. A fall, a call to 911 and a quick ambulance up to NYC and he’s doing PT and back on chemo.
Andy’s been fighting — they call it Miller Strong — and it has sucked. So many drugs, so many issues, so much stuff he has had to go through. So much stuff his family has had to go through. Anyone with cancer, especially when it’s this aggressive, has to go through things nobody else can understand. But Andy has to take it to another level.
You see, there will be a cure in my lifetime but it turns out there won’t be one in Andy’s. And this is the toughest part to write — this is the part that I can’t imagine having to face. You see, the docs have made the decision that the fight is over. There aren’t any more drugs he can take. The disease has won. He’s in hospice, finally off the drugs and trying to enjoy his final days. With his family.
And I can’t imagine being in that situation.
Andy would want you to remember him as a fighter. He was a wrestling coach and a big man with a bigger smile. So my note to you, aside from thank you for reading, is go to the Doctor — every year. Don’t put it off, go to the doctor and check to make sure you’re ok. I was diagnosed with a simple blood test, a protein spike specifically. I caught this disease before it could do any serious damage. Maybe you can do the same. And after the doc’s visit, when you find out nothing is wrong, you can thank Andy. You’ve become Miller Strong!