Thursday, July 17, 2014

A new beginning

I guess now is as good a time as any to start this thing up again.  Starting this project revolving around how I have been impacted by cancer has been something which has been on my mind for some time now.  I have had friends and family who have come to me over the past few years and ask me for advice on how to comfort people in their life who are going through cancer.  While I do not pretend to give any medical advice in any way, shape, or form, I can say what worked for me.  Maybe I have some little tricks I have picked up along my cancer journey that might make you or your loved one who is going through this a little more comfortable or calm.

That being said.  I will be updating this page as often as I feel is necessary with little tidbits I feel are relevant to this topic.  Occasionally the topics may be a stretch, but just bear with me and I will always try to tie it back in in the end.  One little warning here, I will be telling my story and life how it really is, and how it really happened (at least to the best of my memory-don't worry I kept a good journal), not how I want you to see me.  I have seen some blogs out there that sugar coat a good portion of their content.  This is unfortunately a topic which is hard to sugar coat.  I am not going to BS you and tell you everything is sunshine and roses, but I can honestly say it will get better, it may get worse first, but it will get better...eventually.

Just a little update on where I am now and maybe a little of the reason why I am doing this here and now in my life.  I am 32 years old.  I was diagnosed with a cancer called Multiple Myeloma (which I don't think I had ever heard of at that point) in 2009, a few weeks before my 27th birthday.  I had been married about a year at that point, and it was a huge blow for my wife and me and both of our families.  I will get into more details later but if you are not familiar with my story it was a rough journey, full of ups and downs, but I feel like I can take a step back at this point in my life and draw a lot of positives from most of the crap I went through.  Hopefully some of these insights might help you whether or not you know someone going through cancer (but I feel like most of us know at least someone who has been affected by Cancer these days).

I have been in remission since 2010, so a little over 4 years.  I still have some lingering side effects: really sensitive feet, bad memory (although it was never very good in the first place), a spine which is curved forward which makes it hard to lie on my stomach, two vertebrae which stick out from my Kyphoplasty surgeries, overall tightness in my back due to settling of my spine, I have always liked spicy food but now I am much more tolerable of really spicy stuff (chemo may have permanently burned some taste buds off or something), and I am about 6 to 7 inches shorter than I used to be pre cancer (if you can call that a side effect - I guess it is more of a result).  There are probably more things but this is all I can think of right now.

I work as an internet marketer in downtown Salt Lake City and really enjoy the work.  I have a pretty good feeling the internet is here to stay at this point and I love thinking about how the stuff I search for on the internet ended up in front of me.  My real passion is finding ideas, businesses, or products and figuring out how to contribute something useful to society and watch it grow.  More on this to come, but I am manufacturing a product right now with my little brother which I am very excited about.

My life was forever changed this February when my wife had the most adorable little baby I have EVER seen (yes I know I am extremely biased- but he is seriously really cute- I just would not say anything if he were a weird looking baby).  He is 5 months now for those of you who don't want to count from February on your fingers and figure it out, and he is huge.  It is alarming how fast this kid is growing.  I would seriously be worried if he were growing any faster.  We just returned from visiting my brother in law las week, and my son, Gray is his name (Gray is my middle name by the way) was just as big as my niece who is a year and a half old!  Granted she is on the smaller side, but he is 5 months old! Crazy.  Anyway, sorry to trail off there, but I am absolutely over the moon about this kid and feel so lucky to even have a child in the first place.  I will talk more about that in the future, but I will tell you when I found out how bad things were, I was more concerned with whether or not I would walk again or even live for that matter.  The last thing I thought I would ever be lucky enough to experience would be to walk into his nursery in the morning and see his adorable smile because he was so excited to see me. 

Those are a few things about where I am now to get us started.  Please let me know if you have any questions and I will do my best to address them as I go along.  I guess more than anything I feel extremely blessed to be here after all I have been through.  I feel a small obligation to give back in some way after all I have been given.  This is my way of trying to do that.  I hope you will join me on this journey called cancer...

Sunday, September 23, 2012

My Marathon Goal

Hello Friends and Family,

As many of you may already know, I am training to run the New York City, ING Marathon this coming November 4th.  Running has been a long time passion of mine and the New York Marathon has definitely been at the top of my bucket list.  When I was offered a spot to run the marathon for a national charity, First Descents, I quickly took advantage of the opportunity.  First Descents is an organization that is near and dear to Brandon and me.  First Descents is a high adventure camp that works exclusively with young adults (ages 18-35) who have faced the physical and emotional difficulties presented by cancer.  For one week young adult cancer survivors attend a camp and learn how to kayak, rock climb or surf.  All skill levels are welcome and encouraged to attend.  Most campers have never participated in these sports before!  These camps enable young adults to be physically and mentally challenged in a way they may not have been since their treatment.  With the help of qualified staff, these survivors get to see firsthand that they have the ability to conquer something scary and challenging--besides cancer! 

Brandon had the opportunity to attend a First Descents kayaking camp in Vail, Colorado last summer.  What a wonderful experience! Brandon has always loved the outdoors. Because of challenges he now has with his back, Brandon needs to be careful with the types of activities he's involved in. First Descents worked specifically with Brandon so he could experience the challenges of kayaking without the fear of hurting himself. Cancer can be totally demoralizing in ways most people have not personally experienced or even thought about. First Descents has revitalized Brandon in ways that no other program could have. Being around other young adult campers—who share similar cancer experiences—has enabled him to make connections with people who understand.  He still stays in contact with many people at his camp and is able to both give and receive support from his peers. 

The best part of First Descents is that it is completely FREE  for the camper.  The only aspect they are financially responsible for is the travel expense to their respective camp.  Food, lodging, supplies and activities are at no cost to the participant..  This is where I need your help.  In order to run the NY Marathon with the First Descents group, I have agreed to raise $3,000, with 100%  of the tax deductible donations going to First Descents.  These funds will enable 3 campers to attend a camp.  I would appreciate any donation you could make to help me reach my goal.  Brandon and I have been amazed at the kind of support and love we have received over the last four years.  We feel it’s important for us to try and give back and be involved with organizations who support and encourage people who are going through similar experiences as Brandon and I did. 

 To make a donation please click the link below and it will take you to my donation page.  If you know of anyone who you think would like to make a donation please forward this e-mail on to them.  Again, any amount helps.

 Thank you again for all your support throughout the years.  Brandon and I would not be where we are today without you.

 With much love,

 Katie Plewe

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Thank you to everyone

I am sitting here with my tissues, finally going back and reading all of the posts from the beginning of this blog and this terrible disease and contemplating everything that I and my family have been through over the past 3 years.

There is no question whatsoever that this has been a roller coaster of an ordeal and that this disease is vicious and evil and leaves pain and destruction in its wake. I expected to go back and read all of the posts when things did not look so bright, and feel anger or frustration at why I was forced to go through these trials at such a young age, having only been married barely a year. A young man, at what some would say was at the prime of his life, ready to take on the world. I would expect to feel cheated, or at least short changed for what I had to go through and the permanent effects I have to live with everyday for the rest of my life, however long that may be. But these aren't the feelings I am feeling, as you may or may not have guessed. My thoughts turn to the state I was in, as I search for a way to explain what I am feeling.

Now that I am in remission and can call myself a cancer survivor, we have heard interesting accounts from my Oncologist talking about how the first Doctor in the hospital who saw me didn't think I was going to make it, along with a few of the nurses. How I was pretty much as bad as it gets, when they wheeled me into the bone marrow clinic that day; "a train wreck" was the description used by my Doctor that keeps sticking to my memory, and ironically was probably more accurate a description than anyone could have realized at the time. Now that my bones and spine have settled, I am sitting a comfortable 6 1/2 inches shorter than I was when I began this journey. As the cancer slowly ate away at my bones and I unknowingly continued my daily routine, seeing specialists and trying any off the wall exercise routine, I was just compounding the problem. With each movement, each attempt to bathe myself, each flight of stairs climbed, each slight bump in the road my car passed over, I was losing another fraction of an inch slowly but surely. With one vertebrae jamming its way into another vertebrae, my spine literally becoming a human train wreck being carried out in slow motion on the tracks of my skeleton.

As I think back on this scene as I mentioned earlier, my intuition wants to be angry and throw things and cry out that I have been wronged, I want to scream I don't and didn't deserve this (and nobody does for that matter). But I can' much as I want to, I just don't have it in me, and it is all clear when I look back, think about, and read over all the posts and responses and letters of support that I was given. I want to take all the credit for recovering and getting to where I am today, to write how amazing of a patient I was and how I looked cancer in the eye and wrestled it right out of me. After reading and thinking about what I went through and experiencing it for myself, I know that would be a lie to say that. I am sitting here today because of everyone else in my life who got me here. The community which came together in a way I have never seen before. There were people from all religions and faiths praying for me, fasting on my behalf and wishing me well. My dear sweet wife, and my wonderful family were there every single step of the way; by my bed, holding my hand, literally feeding me anything in Salt Lake which sounded good when I was to weak to do it myself. My own mother and my mother in law visited everyday and came to every test and became known as my "moms" to my medical staff. The doctors rallied and did everything humanly possible to provide me with the best care possible and not waste a day, hour, or minute doing it. The nurses and physician assistant's became friends I still keep in touch with, and friends we had not heard from in ages became our cheer leading squad. In essence, I just lied there, determined it was not my time to go, having received a spiritual confirmation that I would be around for years to come, while everyone else did the healing for me. It is true, I did not allow myself to give up hope, but I am here today because of all the love, kindness, and devotion that a whole community had to offer. I just wanted to thank you all for everything that was done on my behalf and let you know that we all did it in this case. God does live, and miracles do happen, and I was lucky enough to be a part of one. I could not have done it alone, and for that I will be forever indebted to each and everyone of you who played a part in my recovery. I have been relatively silent until now, but I want everyone to know that I am perfectly comfortable talking about and sharing my experience with anyone and everyone. I am confident that if I could get better that there is hope for anyone else out there. I would love to hear from you or talk to anyone you know who is going through similar trials; my door is always open and my phone is always on.

One more thing; as I celebrate my anniversary today, I would be very ungrateful if I didn't mention the secret to my silent strength. My wife has always been right by my side, literally sleeping right next to me every single night in those dreamy and extremely comfortable (the sarcasm is thick here) hospital beds. If you have every spent a night in a hospital you know easy it is to sleep (still thick) when the nurses are coming in a few times a night to check your vitals and give you a drug or two, and see how you are doing. If you know Katie, you will also know how much she cherishes her sleep (now I am being serious), and what a true sacrifice it must have been to continue sleeping there night after night, just so I was never alone. I love you Katie and I will never stop loving you, and I pray every day that you will know it.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, everyone for getting me where I am today. I could have never done it alone. Sometimes the greatest thing you can do for a friend in need, is just be there or say a prayer in their behalf, and that was unequivocally the case for me in my recovery.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Ski Day!

This is something we never thought Brandon would be able to do again! He not only skied, but skied amazingly well. I finally feel like we have come full circle in this experience.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Visiting our Friends

A few weeks ago Brandon and I went back to the good ole' BMT unit at the U of U hospital to visit some of the nurses we love so dearly. We were lucky that most all of our very favorites were there on the same shift! We can't say more about these people. In such a tumultuous time in our lives they brought peace, routine, laughter and friendship that we so desperately needed. We love the people of the BMT unit and will always be so grateful for everyone there.
I will say, it was weird walking down the same halls, smelling the same smells and knowing we weren't going to have to sleep there. It brought back a rush of memories good and bad, but mostly it made me grateful to have Brandon right there next to me.

From left to right we have Suzie who we would hold our breath every shift change to see if she was assigned to us. We loved her so much and we truly became good friends. Then Amy, the CNA who made the BEST chocolate-peanut butter shakes ever! Then Jon who is a character. Then Bob our favorite night time nurse who kept us laughing at all his funny stories. Then Cassidy, another great CNA who always had a smile and kept us up to date on Greek Row happenings. Then Janet. Janet kept us in line and we loved her for it. Every now and then she'd pretend not to notice the food that we'd smuggle in for Brandon.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Good News!

I know it has been some time since my last post but we have just been plugging along in the maintenance therapy and nothing too exciting has happened. We just saw the Dr. on Friday and he informed us that all of my tests look perfect and I am still in full remission!! We couldn't be more happy, truly, even though I am still looking for a job, this trumps any feelings of frustration we could possibly be going through right now. Both Katie and I are so grateful for the love, prayers, and support of everyone. We know that we could have never done this alone, and also that we have had so many people right there beside us every step of the way. It has been so amazing to feel the strong arms around us and the many unseen helping hands that have helped us get to the point we are at today.

I know that it may seem kind of silly to get excited every time we hear that I am still in remission but I think that at least for this first year since my last round of chemo I am entitled to get excited to hear I don't have cancer again and all of the baggage that comes with it. It can be a little nerve racking every time we go in to hear the diagnosis from Dr. Tricot, my Oncologist, but he has continually given us good news. We see him every 3 months for the first year, and then we will have tests every 6 months for the rest of my life which means a fun bone marrow biopsy with each visit to look forward to. They just want to make sure that it doesn't come back, and be able to catch it early if it does. I am in an interesting situation too because I am such an atypical patient, it is hard to say what any percentages are because all of the data is for people in their 60's, not for a young buck like myself. People ask me what the chances are of it coming back, and how long most people stay in remission and I really don't know for sure. We are confident however that whatever happens, I will be around for a long time to come, thanks to everyone out there of course who has been so wonderful every step of the way.

Katie and I are so lucky to have such great friends and family, and so many people behind us. We just wanted to say thank you again and that we love and appreciate you all.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

One Year

Brandon has made huge strides the last few weeks. This last week he went on his first bike ride, outside, on a real bike! He did so great and it was so fun to see. Brandon has been working so hard to rebuild his strength. He works out with a trainer twice a week and then goes to the gym and swims or rides a stationary bike the other days. It has made such a difference! He has much more strength and energy.
It's amazing to realize how far we have come when he does the most simple of things like bend over to pick something up, help me carry groceries in from the car or ride a bike. I never thought we would get to the point of being able to do pretty much whatever we wanted, but here we are!
Last Friday, April 2, was the year mark of Brandon's diagnosis. It has been such a big year. We've gone through terrible downs and amazing highs. The Lord has blessed us with a new perspective on life; to never take anything for granted. We are so blessed to be able to go through something where we get to see how many people care and love us. Thanks again for all your support. We couldn't have done it without you.
Katie and Brandon

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Full Remission

It has been a long time coming, and the journey is far from over, but we couldn't be more happy to be in remission right now.
For those of you like me about a year ago, to hear I am in full remission sounds like a good thing without a doubt- but I was never really quite sure what that meant? I used to think "why can't cancer patients just say I am cured, I know what cured means, what is all this partial remission, full remission, relapse mumbo jumbo". Now I know what it means and why they say that, and I can also say that full remission is certainly where you want to be, but you are never really totally out of the woods, and at least for my cancer you are never totally cured. I was in partial remission which means there was a little bit of cancer left, barely enough to notice. I am now in full remission which means with all the fancy tests and bone marrow biopsies they couldn't find any cancer at all. There is always a chance that it will come back though (which is a relapse), that is why you are never just cured, and why I will have to get tests done every three months for the next year, and every six months for the rest of my life to make sure it doesn't come back.
This is definitely where we want to be and any cancer patient for that matter, but from what I have heard it can be a little scary at first because you don't ever want to find the cancer again and have to go through chemo, transplants, and everything else that goes with it. Then you realize you can't live your life in fear and have to get busy livin or get busy dying as they say in "Shawshank Redemption". I choose to get busy living since I have always had the attitude for some reason or another that we would make it through this. It is kind of a sobering thought to think you could actually have died, not from some freak accident, but that following probability and statistics that you should be dead. On the same note however, how refreshing to know that you did beat the odds with the help of a wonderful wife, an amazing family support group, wonderful friends, and even the kindness of complete strangers. All of these people came together to be a part of a miracle which took place through you, pretty cool. How do you say thank you for that? Obviously it is pretty hard to really show how much you really appreciate everything that so many people have given and done for us. I have personally taken the attitude that I can hopefully show you all how grateful I am for your help by the way I live my life and the kind of man and father I become. With all the goings on of the past year and even up to this day, I have had a lot of time to contemplate everything that has been done for Katie and me, and not only is it amazing and I am overwhelmed with gratitude and love, but I also feel there is so much good out there and people and just so kind if you just give them an opportunity to show it. So thank you from truly the marrow of my bones for your love, food, fasting, prayers, visits, cards, and every other form of support that you have shown us in the past year and for many years to come. I will keep reporting to keep you updated on what is going on but hopefully there won't be too many changes if you know what I mean.
As for right now, I am going to physical therapy twice a week and making some great strides towards getting my strength back. I was able to finish my schooling and get my MBA at the end of last year with the help of some wonderful professors at Westminster, so now I am looking for a job and some benefits. I am happy to say I have some leads and should be joining Katie in the work force before too long but nothing is official right now. We have moved back into our condo on Foothill Drive, I am driving a little on my own, and we have even started going back to church little by little. As life begins to take more and more of a familiar setting, I am even more grateful for the simplicities that I used to take for granted. Being able to feed myself and eat what ever I want are high on the list. To be able to go for a drive or get outside when ever I want is certainly better than being restricted to wandering up and down one hallway in the U of U hospital. To be able to work my body and lift my legs as they were made to move is truly a wonder. Even simple things like tying my shoes, although still a little painful, brings me a new simple joy that even I can't explain. I am sure I could go on and on, but this post is already much longer than it should be and most the people reading it will have lost interest- so I will close by saying thank you again for helping me achieve these things once again, and for bringing me full circle in a journey that was frightening, monotonous at times, and simply wonderful at others; and when I got back to where I thought I had started I realized I had traveled further than I could have ever imagined.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Happy Holidays

I promised a friend of mine that I would update this, so here I am.  Sorry it has been a while, but nothing too new and exciting has happened lately, which is probably a good thing.  We are still in the maintenance phase of the treatment so I am up at the Huntsman every other week, and doing Physical Therapy a couple times a week if I can schedule it in.  Everything seems to be improving these days, I am still a little sore in my back but my strength is increasing every day.  Christmas was great, my whole family was in town so the best part was just having everyone together.  Experiences like this one really help you put everything into perspective, and it is a little easier to focus on what Christmas is all about when you are literally just happy to be there.  We had fun going to a few Christmas parties and hanging out with friends and family too, even a traditional Christmas puzzle thrown in there.
It is kind of an interesting thing going through Christmas while you are getting treatment.  You go up to the clinic and see all the other patients at different stages in their treatment too, and in my case you are just happy to be where you are.  I am really so grateful to have Katie and my family looking out for me.  It is easy to get into a negative funk and start feeling bad for yourself, but with so many people around that I love and care for I am blessed to to not get too discouraged.  To sum it up, something strange about cancer helps you to be a little more grateful for the simple things in life, and makes worrying about being stuck in traffic or holiday drama seem quite trivial.  Not that I don't get stressed out too, but hopefully it isn't as intense as it was before.  I want to say thank you as well for everyone who has expressed concern for us and helped us out in any way at all, especially the mystery Sigma Chi brother- we didn't get a chance to thank you but I can't say how kind and thoughtful that was.  We really have been the recipients of so much love, which is amazing to be a part of, especially at this time of year.  We hope everyone has a fun and safe new years and look forward to a more relaxed 2010.

Love Brandon and Katie

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Where we are now

This is kind of a "where are we now" post because nothing really exciting has happened recently, but that is probably a good thing because strangely enough an "exciting" night for us usually starts with a 103 degree temperature and ends with me in the hospital. That being said, things have been going very well for us since the whole swine flu ordeal. We met with the Doctor to discuss our maintenance schedule for at least the next year, maybe longer depending on how we do. This next round consists of me going up to the clinic twice a week, every other week to get a Velcade push. This means they will "access" my port (which means they stick tubes into my skin basically allowing them to draw blood as needed and give me chemo or any other drug), do some blood tests on the first visit of the week to see where my levels are (these are various levels they test in my blood to track things like white blood cell counts and other things I don't know much about) and give me Velcade, which is a very small amount of a drug that is part of my chemo regimen. On top of this I have a long list of pills that I take every morning and every night, as well as a daily shot to keep my blood from clotting. There are minimal side effects which is very nice, the worst part is probably just having to go up to the clinic every other week, but we realize it could be worse. This will be our routine for the next year, and then the Doctor will reevaluate me and we will go from there. Right now, I am in partial remission but the Doctor thinks after about two months of this maintenance program I should be in full remission, so we are keeping our fingers crossed. I am able to move around without a cane on my own now, and I have started to work with a physical therapist who is trying to strengthen my muscles and get me back to somewhere that at least vaguely resembles my old life. This last phase of the treatment is not easy, but it is nice to see the end in sight. With most of the cancer gone it would be so nice to just go back to normal, the way things were, but we realize that is going to take some time and that it will never go back to exactly how it was before, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. It is good to have the holidays approaching and have a chance to see and visit with family and friends, and focus on the important things in life once again. We have learned throughout this experience those important things are the special people around us, and the relationships we build with them. When you are put in the kind of circumstances we have been through this past year, you realize nothing else really matters, nothing in the world. We are so grateful for all of the progress I am making these days, and we really appreciate all of the continued support, treats, cards, and love that is shown to us every day. Thank you so much to all of our friends and family, we love you more than you will ever know.

Brandon and Katie