Another Bombshell Drops

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Another Bombshell Drops

This post comes on the heels of my “Thirties Life Crisis” which at this point seems trivial, but on the flip side, it also puts emphasis on the importance of finding that balance in your life, purging the inconsequential crap and cherishing the happy moments.

I was in the middle of my “What Got me Here” blog post (to be posted later), when I got a call from my parents to meet me in front of my office.  I didn’t even know they were in Boston, let alone outside my front door.  I knew this couldn’t be good, as it was all too familiar to a call I got 8 years ago.

My Dad was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer – Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia (WM) – in March of 2008. The initial prognosis of this incurable cancer was 5 years.  He called bullshit on that, took charge, became educated and has been fighting WM through clinical trials of new chemotherapies, a kick-ass attitude, and a head full of hair.

But these last couple weeks had been particularly tough; the biweekly infusions and a compromised immune system were weighing on him.  He was in a significant amount of pain so he knew something was up and so he went to see his PCP.  After multiple appointments with various doctors at different hospitals across Boston he was finally able to see a specialist as they feared it was another form of cancer. His doctor put some urgency behind getting a biopsy and scans at Massachusetts General Hospital, which is where my parents were prior to showing up at my office.

My heart was racing with the adrenaline pumping through my veins as I took what felt like the longest elevator down to meet my dad in the lobby.  He was pacing, and as I saw him, his face fell and I said, “It’s not good is it?”  His answer wasn’t “no,” it was “it’s complicated.”  That’s my dad, he puts a spin on it—you get some of the shittiest news in your life, and he doesn’t say he’s dying, he says it’s complicated and is ready for a fight.  He asked if I could leave for the day so they could explain all the results on the car ride home.

It’s metastatic prostate cancer.  What the hell is that?  It’s prostate cancer that has spread; in my dad’s case, to his bones and lymph nodes.  My dad described the scan of his skeleton as, “it was lit up like a Christmas tree.” There are lesions up and down his spine, in his shoulders, hips, arms and legs, and a significant concentration at the base of his spine.  Hearing this scared the crap out of me, I can’t imagine what my parents are feeling.

I’m numb as my dad begins to explain the stage of his diagnosis.  From my understanding of this, prostate cancer is graded on a Gleason scale of 1 through 10, whereas you see other cancers described in stages 1 through 4.  Well, Dad is at a 10, so thisfuck cancer motto equates to stage IV prostate cancer.  Which is fucking terrible.

Yep, I’m going to leave that F-bomb right there, because that is the damn truth.  I’ll take the motto from www.fuckcancer.org:  “We are sorry if you are offended or have a problem with the word FxCK!  We are offended and have a problem with the word CANCER!”

So he gets another prognosis – I don’t know how someone can deliver the news that you have a certain time period to live – but it went something along the lines of “you’ve got 3-4 years.”  Which I guess sounded “good” because typically when you hear stage IV cancer you’re looking at a much shorter window.

3054_100984350808_5604779_nTeam Whelan is calling bullshit on this one too.  Call it eternal optimism, denial, whatever you want; I’m calling it hope.  After sharing this news with family and friends, the common thread is: “your dad is one of the strongest people I know, and if anyone can beat it, he can.”  My dad has already said that his new story will encompass that of a two-time cancer survivor.

That’s why he is amazing.  Some people will see this as a life sentence but when my dad told me, he called it a 3-4 year “program.”   Even his attitude from last week has gotten more hopeful, initially it was, “well we’re going to have a helluva a lot of fun these next couple years,” and then today, he says that’s not good enough, we’re going to explore and exhaust every option of getting the best personalized treatment and living longer and healthier than that.

Meanwhile, hormone therapy started last week which aims to shrink the tumors and prostate to ultimately alleviate some of the pain.  Seeing my strong dad wince breaks my heart, I wish I could take that pain away.  Being his daughter puts me in a unique position, because he too, doesn’t want to see me or my sisters hurt trying to cope with the severity of cancer.  So he tries to protect us—that’s what parents do.  Little does he know that his strength, determination and love is so, so, so much more powerful than the fear that we are facing.

I hope my parents know that.  My sisters and I all come to grips with this from different perspectives, but the one thing that holds true for all of us, is that we are in it together and we are a family filled with the same determination that we learned from him.  My mom, oh my Mom.  She’s the heart in all this.  My dad wouldn’t be able to get through any of it without her, in fact, none of us could.  I know she’s about as exhausted as my dad is, trying to stay strong, when I know she’s scared as shit.  That same will and love lives in her girls. We’re going to survive this together and we’re going to have fun doing it.

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Team Whelan: (from left to right) Chris & Laurie Gorecki, Karen & Aaron Hakenson, Jan & Jack Whelan, Patti & Matt L’Heureux  (Not pictured, 6 grandchildren: Catie & Maddie Gorecki, Victoria & Colin Hakenson, Norah & Robbie L’Heureux)

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15 responses »

  1. I met your dad at AACR’s Scientist Survivor Program and I have so much respect and admiration for him. I’m quite sure he will beat this, too…….he still has so much good work to do!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Patti,

    Thank you for writing this. Your dad is a superhero in the advocacy community, but I suspect you already knew that. And I knew what was going on because he posted a cryptic message (or I’m just a damn good detective and thought it was cryptic) and demanded he spill. So, I’ve been behind the scenes, getting updates and respecting his privacy until he was ready to share. This was not easy because his absence was noticed. “Jack’s been kinda quiet, is something going on?” I kid you not when I say that my phone began pinging with text messages before 7AM.

    I think I just wanted to make sure you, your sisters, your husbands, those beautiful kids and most of all, your mom knows that Jack has an ARMY of people behind him. He has profoundly touched the lives of every single person he meets. Each and every one of us is reaching into the research community to share what we can (ridiculous because it’s kinda like teaching Einstein the Theory of Relativity but that doesn’t mean we won’t search the journals).

    At the same time, please know we are all holding each one of you close in our hearts as you navigate this chapter with him. The sidelines is a hard place to be, but the stadium is packed. You’re never alone. This mess will be incorporated into his speaking gigs in the chapters that follow because the advocacy community is calling bullshit on this one, too.

    Team Whelan is exponentially larger than any of you, or any of us can even imagine because yes, he has touched that many people.

    Sending love and support,

    AnneMarie

    Liked by 1 person

    • AnneMarie – we all so much appreciate your help! The outpouring of love for my Dad and our family has been incredible; so thank you for reiterating the army that is on #teamwhelan. Thanks for standing with us and being such a good friend to my dad. xo

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Dear Patti, thank you for sharing your heart and your father in this post! I will echo everything that AnneMarie said, and add my hugs and prayers to my advocate buddy Jack, you and your entire family!
    Oftentimes words can’t do justice to feelings, nonetheless, your post was damn right on target!!!

    Jack as you know is a character with a great smile and a quick wit with glancing well timed sarcasm, and that’s what we all love about him. Never mind that he is an inspiration to so many, a wonderfully devoted family man who wears cute sox in the chemo chair, and knows how and when to use his talents and voice as bright spotlights on these diseases called cancer that try to outpace us all. We know Jack and Jack is a gamer…for crying out loud the guy is from Boston, so of course we expect nothing less. I know Jack brings new definition to the words, “Boston Strong” and for now I will just rephrase them as “Whelan Strong.”

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    • I too echo Annemarie! Lucky me to have been in the first Survivor/Scientist AACR program with your dad and lucky too to see him at the following program and then again in Philly at a clinical trial panel. And each time, Jack tells it exactly like it is, the needs for trials, research, understanding and he says it with intelligence and of course lots and lots of humor.

      Same with me,, felt little too quiet on the Whelan front and I wrote an email just to catch up,
      and heard the newest adventures on the cancer yellow brick roads we walk. Jack shared your blog, Patti, and it is exactly what I thought it would be. What a supportive and loving family (which was shared way back in DC with us advocates as we sweated over our presentations. We had to take a break and share our special people back home. ) And again, statistics and years as we know are just numbers, all are individual, and Jack is finding now the best team, medically to go with family team. Lots of research out there with prostate, metastatic too, and this cancer has huge research funding via Department of defense with advocates necessary to sit on decision making grant funding review panels. Who better than Jack Whelan? but now on to new treatments and back to helping so very many people. Yes, Jack truly makes a difference..

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  4. So sorry to hear about this, but am glad Jack has such a wonderful family to help him through it. Wondered why I hadn’t heard from him lately. I join AnneMarie and hundreds of other patient advocates who call Jack friend in sending all of you our thoughts and prayers, just as we do the thousands of others dealing with similar situations.

    I have many ties in the prostate cancer research and medical world (along w/others), so please just let me know and help will be on the way. The only light here is that improvements have been made, and many men are living longer with metastatic prostate cancer. Still sucks, though! I’m sure Jack has a great medical team, along with the beautiful Team Whelan, but happy to help even if it’s to talk/cry/scream, etc.!

    Please give Jack a big, soft hug and lots of love coming your way,
    Deb

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    • Deborah – thank you. My dad is building the very best team to get this problem fixed, we are hopeful because of all the extensive research that has been done on metastatic prostate cancer. So I thank you for offering resources for my dad to call on.

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  5. Pingback: Hitting the Moving Target | PippiLaroo

  6. Dear Patti: when I was first diagnosed with Waldenstroms 2 years ago, your Dad helped me with texts, email, and phone calls. He made suggestions to help me. He is just a decent man, trying to help others in a big way! I read his blog a few days ago, and I too was crushed. However, I am sending you and your family and Jack, prayers, good thoughts and love! Please know others are with you. Medicine has come a long way. My best to you.

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