乐观地和绝症一起进行人生冒险 (Adventures in Living Terminally Optimistic)
The title to this post is “Adventures in Living Terminally Optimistic” in Chinese. It should also have a subtitle “First, an Introduction… Part 2”. Aka “Oops”.
Seeing my blog title in Chinese still gives me the chills! I had mentioned previously that I had written a preface for a new Chinese mass market cancer book written by my colleague Zhizhong Li called “Cancer Insights”. His book contains a mixture of scientific information on cancer & new treatments written for the non-scientist, as well as personal profiles of cancer patients (sounds like something I would like huh?) 🙂
It was released for sale today in China and I was excited for him to see that it made it to the “Amazon Top 5”, including two #1 ranks for its target categories – and #3 for the category “Science Books > Human story“). That is a general category of book I have always loved reading because I feel science is too often hid behind jargon! I not only wrote a preface for the book but I was also included in the “human stories” section – I am very grateful to Zhizhong for that honor. I hope reading some of my story is a successful message of Hope to Chinese cancer patients and their families!
Reading through the preface I wrote for his book, I thought that it actually “briefly summarized key points of me & my cancer story” better than any of my previous writings but… ironically it was written in a Chinese! Oops. I’ve certainly shared many pieces of the preface’s info in various writings before – but these were spread across multiple posts and in various places. They had never been organized into the same sort of cohesive “patient-scientist snapshot in a single post” on this blog. So I wanted to reprint the preface here (with permission). To spare the majority of you from having to learn to read Chinese (a good goal to have however!) – it is reprinted in both Chinese and English.
Long-time readers will know most of the info but there are a few tidbits in there I had never written before. More importantly, I have received tremendous levels of new readership from around the world in recent months (welcome & thank you for reading!) and I realized today I have never actually done a true introduction post to this blog (oops)! The reason behind that? When I started the blog last January – it was initially meant to be a simple replacement for medical update emails to friends/family. They all knew my story. Why did I need to rewrite it?
But then something completely unexpected happened. Within minutes after finishing a somewhat “boilerplate” intro to the “new blog for friends & family” called “First an Introduction…” – which ironically didn’t introduce me at all (oops) – I started to write the first real post “Taking the Latest Treatment Plunge” which took on a much broader creative direction than I had ever originally planned my medical update blog to go in. After seeing that, I reflected on reasons why I would really want to write a blog while laying alone in the quiet before dawn in front of a Park City, UT fireplace… In the WordPress account setup about 5 AM that first morning – I hesitantly changed the blog’s privacy settings to “public” immediately before hitting the “PUBLISH” button for the first time.
I am so grateful I took that “plunge” to go “public” that day – BUT since it was very unplanned, when I switched the blog’s “privacy settings” to “public” – I forgot to switch & rewrite my introductory post to a “public setting” too! Oops.
So I hope you enjoy my “’public setting blog introductory post” via China below. It is a little over 8 months late since the blog’s January start but better late than never!
Preface: Adventures in Living Terminally Optimistic
“He has colon cancer. We’ll schedule an emergency surgery immediately” June 4, 2012. I was still too sedated to be able to open my eyes following a colonoscopy to “rule out cancer” – but I could hear. An audio-only moment that will be seared in my memory for the rest of my life.
Me have cancer? At age 40? I was in good overall health, ate reasonably well, got exercise, was a healthy weight, a non-smoker and ironically a scientist who designed new oncology drugs. Yes, there was a history of colon cancer in my family – but all of them were diagnosed in their 60’s. Ironically, to be “extra safe”, I planned to have my first colonoscopy at age 40. At age 40, I was already metastatic.
After a recurrence showing that my cancer had escaped chemo and unable to be cured surgically, thus began my “adventures in living terminally optimistic”. How did I approach my original diagnosis? I think like most people – with a sense of overwhelming panic and dread. Staring death in the face, especially as a young person, causes that to happen. As I wept in my wife’s arms, being someone who had both been an end of life caregiver to my Mother as she succumbed to pancreatic cancer and an oncology researcher all I could say was “I’m afraid of very few things in life. Just about the only thing I have ever feared was cancer.” After that, I could not speak any more.
But then something happened. I looked at my two little girls and realized I had so much to live for. The oncology scientist in me also began to take control. When I regained my composure, I decided. “OK, this is a scientific problem. I am a scientist & science is always advancing. I will not assume I can’t beat this.” At that point I began to approach my cancer as the greatest scientific research project of my life. That was now over 3 years ago. I am even more terminally optimistic now than I was upon recurrence!
I have been involved with oncology research for more than 20 years. I can honestly say there has never been as much true excitement amongst oncology scientists ever about the incredible pace of new & exciting cancer drug breakthroughs as right now. These breakthroughs range from improved targeted therapies, to novel treatment methods such as viral and cellular therapies, to the truly groundbreaking & paradigm shifting checkpoint inhibitor immunotherapies! This is not hype. Now that immunotherapies have recently been showing significant clinical activity in multiple advanced cancers, the entire field of oncology drug discovery has been transformed. The required technology & scientific pieces are starting to come together with the new goal to cure significant numbers of children and adults with advanced stage cancer, instead of the traditional more limited goal of relatively modest increases of lifespan.
This is why I always describe myself as “currently incurable” because from my inside view, I see so many promising new cancer drugs & strategies, I can’t feel anything but optimistic that major cancer treatment breakthroughs are fast approaching patients! I am a firm believer that once you have a critical mass of research funding, brilliant scientists and a strong drive to succeed (all scientists know someone who has been stricken by cancer), the human race can solve any problem – including cancer. I believe we are currently living in that moment for cancer drug discovery. Will new advances be made fast enough to save my life? I firmly believe that most cases of advanced colon cancer will be cured within my wife’s lifetime – I hope and believe there is a chance that it will happen in my lifetime! Note the word HOPE in that sentence. From my insider’s view as both an oncology research scientist and a “currently incurable” patient, I have a lot of HOPE and so should you!
Cancer Insights by Zhizhong Li is the perfect book for exactly this moment in history. It describes cancer from a range of angles from the scientific to the personal, from the historical to the cutting-edge. It also is infused by that feeling of excitement and HOPE in recent scientific progress that I share – not only as a scientist but as a Stage IV cancer patient. I believe that Cancer Insights will bring you the necessary information to empower you and I also believe that it will infuse you with Hope.
To Life! -Dr. Tom Marsilje