March 2008

Christopher’s Colondar Bio

Between work and school, Christopher Barrow juggled a hectic schedule. He was exhausted and had noticed some blood in his stool, but figured he was just working too hard and had an ulcer. Christopher had no idea that he was about to learn a profound lesson in prioritizing.

Finally an episode of profuse bleeding sent Christopher to the ER. The gastroenterologist performing a sigmoidoscopy couldn’t see past the blood and ordered a colonoscopy. When Christopher asked for the worst-case scenario, the doctor replied, “Cancer, but that’s one in a million.” Christopher’s worst fears were confirmed when, at 28 years old, he was told he had stage III colon cancer.

Following his diagnosis, Christopher’s insurance company dropped his coverage. He kept bill collectors at bay while obtaining grants and social services to cover his treatments. Another major hurdle was the pressure cancer put on his personal relationships. In addition to the impact of being diagnosed with cancer, it was a definite challenge to deal with the physical and psychological changes that came as a result of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.

Christopher believes that cancer helped him prioritize his life and focus on the things that make him happy.  He stays healthy and fit, loves his job in real estate, and his relationship with his girlfriend is stronger than ever.

Christopher’s story as told by Christopher

Though the source of my colon cancer remains a mystery, I’ll start at what I feel was the beginning of my cancer chronicles.  In 2002, at age 25 and still without a decided path in life, I decided to move from my hometown of San Francisco and Marin County to Los Angeles with my girlfriend, Darcy.  We had been together for almost three years at that point, but I have to say the transition was tough.  Little did I know, but the move marked the beginning of what was to be the last care-free chapter of my life.

Darcy acclimated quickly–partially because she is blonde, pretty and very charismatic (all important assets to have in L.A.)–but also because LA is her hometown.  My transition on the other hand was a bit more difficult.  Mentally, we couldn’t have stood at two more different places.

The LA/Hollywood “scene” was an animal I wasn’t prepared for. Armed with a great restaurant resume with extensive serving and bartending experience, I was surprised to find I had a hard time landing any sort of restaurant job.  The army of ever-available blonde waitresses seemed to get the job every time. I hopped around several places taking positions well beneath my skill level and seeing little to no money, until I landed at a Houston’s restaurant in Santa Monica–no four-star establishment but respectable enough and the money wasn’t bad.  Now that some level of income was coming, in I was ready to face the fact that I had just come as close to poverty as I cared to ever go again.  At 25, I was finally motivated to really get the ball rolling, get my stuff together, graduate and get a real job.   I enrolled in classes at the local junior college with the goal to finish my general education and transfer to a University.

I guess a little real-life motivation is all it took.  After about a year, I finally began to grow comfortable in my new surroundings. I finished the junior college curriculum and transferred to California State University.  Darcy and I traded up from our studio-loft in Venice located next to a busy intersection and the alley-with-the-burning-car to a cool Hollywood apartment with a Jacuzzi tub, roof-top pool and at least a few almost C-List celebrity neighbors.  I even upgraded jobs by switching to a pretty posh restaurant in Brentwood where producers and stars frequented and the martinis ran strong.  I had a 3.8 GPA and only one, maybe two semesters until graduation.  Darcy and I worked or studied all the time, but I found I was actually enjoying the hustle of the rat race.

I was excited and life was finally moving along.

Enter April 2004.

One of my fellow employees was headed home to Mexico for a couple of weeks and he needed me to cover some of his shifts. Cool, I thought, no problem. It happened to be right in the middle of mid-terms, but I knew if I pushed myself a little it would all work out, and besides the extra cash would be great.

I began working a 14-day stint while studying and taking my midterms.  Between work and school I was sleeping about 4-5 hours a night and was definitely burning out. I was tired and I noticed over that 2-week time that I had some blood in my stool. I figured I probably had an ulcer. To be honest, I really didn’t think too much of it.

The day my midterms ended was Monday, April 24, 2004 and I was going to work.  Before the shift started I went to Home Depot with Darcy to get some stuff for the restaurant (a toilet lid of all things).  When we got back to the apartment, I remember having to go to the bathroom really, really badly.  I was walking up the stairs and I got that feeling where it was URGENT and I really had to rush.

I got to the front door, then to our bedroom, and then I had an “accident.”  I couldn’t believe it. I thought, “I am 28 years old and I just sh** my pants.”  With only a few more steps I made it to the toilet.  When I dropped my pants there was blood everywhere. It looked like a CSI crime scene.

It was scary to say the least.

I was still on the toilet trying to salvage some kind of composure when Darcy exclaimed through the door, “What’s all this blood on the floor??”  Oh no, I thought.  It must have dibbled down my leg.

The only thing I could think to say was, “This is ridiculous!”

She asked if the blood in my stool had been getting worse. “Uh, yeah,” was my reply.  I didn’t know it at the time, but as I was cleaning up my mess she was terrified and calling her parents to ask them what to do.

Her father helpfully advised, “Oh, this happens to men sometimes, don’t worry.”  To say the least, I was mortified…but also a little scared.  I called a friend of my family who is a nurse.  I explained the scenario and she said I could have a hemorrhoid or a fissure, but all I had to do was go to my school doctor on Monday and get checked out.  No emergency.  Cool, no problem.

So, bleeding maybe a bit more profusely than I let myself believe, I went to work that afternoon anyway.  However, every 10-15 minutes or so I would run to the bathroom (no easy task in the middle of a dinnertime shift) and every time I had to go it was bright pink blood.  I thought, this is definitely not right.  It was happening more frequently and had been going on for hours.

I was working in back of the restaurant that night and one of the cooks in the kitchen, who had been watching me get progressively worse, finally said, “You don’t look so good, Baby.” (They called me “Baby,” but that’s another story). They thought I was just hung-over.

Pale and light-headed I replied, “I don’t feel that good.” A few minutes later I took my young, female manager outside (she was really cute by the way) and explained as calmly as I could that I’d been going to the bathroom all night and it was bloody.

I don’t know if she was embarrassed or thought I was joking, but she started laughing.  In retrospect it was probably a nervous reaction.  Imagine your friend walking up to you and basically saying, “I’m pooing and it’s blood.”  She called me later and said she felt so bad.  I think she didn’t know what to think or say. She probably thought I was just hung over.

Finally I said, “Look I’m going to the ER.  Something is wrong,” and I just walked to my car.

When I arrived in the emergency room they couldn’t see me right away, and just told me I couldn’t eat or drink anything. So I sat.  Darcy was at work and when she got off she called. When I told her I’d been sitting in the ER for hours, she came right over.

I waited for about six or seven hours before they saw me.  I remember this one woman freaked out because she had a headache.  I think she might have been homeless, but she just kept going on about it.  There was also a girl across from me who had been in a car accident and was concussed, in terrible shape, and definitely ahead of me.

At around 1 AM they finally brought me in the back.   I remember joking with the nurse about the wait and characters in the waiting room, she smiled and rolled her eyes. When the nurse asked what was going on I broke it down for her: blood in my stool for two weeks (that my girlfriend had thought was from eating beets), major “accident” at home, and bright pink blood for hours now. Then the doc came in and stuck a scope up me, but he couldn’t see anything because there was too much blood.  I was dehydrated and hungry and the nurse wanted to give me fluids.  She stuck what I thought was the biggest IV needle I had ever seen in my arm. Now, I’ve never had a problem with needles, but all of a sudden I started to feel very faint like I was going to pass out.  She asked, “Are you okay?” and I said, “Yeah,” but I was losing it.

Then things went dark.  I had another accident.   They rushed me into another room. My blood pressure had dropped from 120 to 70 in a matter of seconds and everybody was freaking out.  The nurse turned to me at one point and remarked how ironic it was that they made me wait the longest in the ER when I was the only one here who was really sick.  Now that’s something to laugh about.

The doctors decided to keep me in an observation room overnight until they could get the GI specialist in to do a colonoscopy in the morning.  At that point they were very concerned because of the blood pressure.  This doesn’t happen if you have a hemorrhoid or a fissure.

When I started going to Cal State I got myself on their student health plan, but when I started my second semester I hadn’t gotten a renewal notice and didn’t realize it had expired.  Apparently you’re supposed to just know to pay once a semester.  When I called earlier in the week they said I had missed the renewal date so I needed to get this temporary insurance. Despite all my money troubles over the years, I had never been without health insurance, so of course I got the temporary insurance right away.  I applied for it on the 17th of April and by the 23rd they approved me.  Up to this point I had no health problems at all.  According to their paperwork the policy came into effect at 12:01am on April 24, the same day I went to the hospital.

I had lost a lot of blood and the ER doc said, “We are going to have to schedule a colonoscopy.”  Wednesday the GI doc, Dr. Bedford, came down to visit me prior to my scope and explain the procedure. I was two blood transfusions deep and I still hadn’t eaten since Monday, not to mention that I had spent the night prepping for the scope.  I was ready for them to fix me and send me home. Darcy and I went down to the procedure room. An intern was there preparing me for the IV.  We chatted a bit before I asked, “You’ve seen this type of thing before…what do you think?”  He replied that it’s probably a hemorrhoid and fissure.

I asked what the worst case scenario could be.

“Cancer,“ he said, “but that’s one in a million so don’t worry about it.”

Long story short, I get knocked out and I wake up and everything is blurry.  There seem to be bright lights shining in my face and I can’t place where I am, but realize on my left side Darcy is just crying and crying.  I look up on the right side and see Dr. Bedford. “You’ve got cancer,” he says.

And just like that I have cancer.

I looked at Darcy again and said “Oh wow, okay…damn.”  It didn’t really hit me because I was so doped up.  Darcy excused herself into the bathroom.  Later she told me it was everything she could do not to throw up.

While I was still out Darcy had called my parents.  They cut their vacation short and my mom arrived that evening. Over the next few days my step-dad, sister (who was very nauseous and pregnant), brother and brother-in-law also arrived and rallied beside me as I went in for surgery and recovered in the hospital.

The impact of it all didn’t really hit for probably a month after.  The life that I knew stopped that day.  I wasn’t in a position of control, I didn’t know what to do.  All I knew was that I was going to get surgery later on that week, but after that I didn’t know what was going to happen.  But my parents, my family and Darcy had gotten together and figured it out.  They’d decided they were going to pack me up and move me home to Marin while I recovered and went through chemo and radiation.

We found out while I was in the hospital that my insurance wasn’t going to cover me, my hospital stay or any of my surgeries.  They said I had a pre-existing condition.  (How the tumor was determined to be “pre-existing” when we’d only discovered it a day and a half after my coverage went into effect still escapes me.)  I didn’t know what was worse, learning I had cancer or finding out that I didn’t have the coverage to fight it.

Fortunately, as the ordeal unraveled, we found out that a close family friend, Carla, worked for St. John’s Hospital. Apparently she had a lot of pull and was able to get me a private room and pull some strings to get most of my stay comped.  I had about a $75,000 bill just for my room that was forgiven. In addition, the surgeon who performed the colectomy decided to comp my surgery, too. I still had thousands of dollars in medical bills to pay, but this definitely was a blessing.

During surgery they found a stage III tumor at the rectal-sigmoid about the size of a grapefruit. Luckily, I was told, it had burst and caused the bleeding that brought me to the ER.  (Otherwise the tumor would have quite likely gone on undetected.)  Not so luckily, however, the cancer had penetrated the colon wall and infected some of the lymph nodes.

It was a pretty serious tumor as far as the doctors were concerned, and a crash course in cancer education for my family and me.

Once settled in Marin (yes, back living with my mother at age 27), the insurance continued to be a nightmare. I had to plan my radiation and chemo around what they would cover. I felt like I was on a sinking ship. I kept accruing bill after bill and had no way of paying them off. I was constantly on the phone with billing departments explaining my situation and working out payment plans. I learned two things:

1) The insurance industry is a bastard and there are lots of people in my position.
2) Medical providers will work with you either by setting up payment plans or negotiating your debt.

In addition, I started pursuing other avenues to help pay for my ever-growing debt via county assistance and grants. County assistance helped a little, but there were strings attached. They would cover most of bills after I paid an out of pocket cost of $1,600 each month. However, my disability income was also exactly $1,600 a month, leaving nothing for living cost.  (I had a car payment, credit card debt, student loans in addition to the medical bills from LA and regular cost of living.) I applied for additional grants like the Babcock Fund. They are a charitable trust who help people going through medical treatments.  The Babcock Fund turned out to be my ace-in-the-hole, covering my out of pocket expenses and some of my radiation treatments and chemo. I was able to make it out of a year of treatment without declaring bankruptcy or ruining my credit.  I am absolutely grateful for the much needed financial support.

My parents’ support as well also played a huge role in my recovery, both physically and financially. They were awesome!!  My mother and step-father both went out of their way to help in my transition to living back at home. My mom was a real advocate for me at the doctors’ offices and with the insurance companies. She drove me to a lot of my appointments and made sure I received the appropriate care despite my insurance woes.  My step-father supported all of us and remained a voice of reason and a solid foundation through everything.

The treatment consisted of eight cycles of FolFox (5FU, Leucovoran, Oxaliplatin), followed by radiation with the chemo 24-hr fanny pack. (I called the pack “My Buddy” and had him for a while.)  When I did the chemo, I would do the Oxaliplatin and 5FU–it makes me kind of sick even now thinking about it.  I got the 5FU push and then My Buddy for three days.  After the radiation, I kept My Buddy with me and had radiation and chemo.  So I had 12 cycles total, including the eight with the fanny pack.

Key to keeping my spirits up during this time was a training program called The Impact Program sponsored by the Bay Club, an upscale local gym in Marin. A few years ago the CEO’s wife died after a long battle with breast cancer. Following, he and his wife’s oncologist organized The Impact Program with the purpose to give cancer patients a place to exercise and to aid recovery. They give patients a free membership to the gym and cover 50% of the cost of a personal trainer who specifically has background and experience in working with chemo patients.  The trainer donates the other half of their time.

I enrolled and began a relationship with a fantastic trainer, Brian, who helped me maintain as much physical strength and energy as possible.  Growing up I was always into sports and training. However, when I faced cancer, something in me switched. I got super serious about getting my health, strength and body back. It was sort of like I was in a race against Death and I needed to win…bad.  The doctors had cut my whole abdomen open and it took several months to recover.  Brian really got me focused and turned me on to cycling, swimming and running. Even through chemo, over the course of that year I got into– comparatively speaking–great shape.

Those were on my good days, though.  Looking back, most of the time it was all I could do to muster the strength to clean my room, smoke marijuana to help with the nausea, and play lots of video poker. A bit mind numbing for someone used to being on the go.  I took a shot at finishing school via online classes, but the obligation proved pretty stressful and less than satisfying.  To keep busy and bring in extra cash I started a car detailing business, taking on a car when I felt up to it. I also tried to write some music and lyrics about my experience.  Mostly there was just lots of sleeping.

When I was first diagnosed I found the experience to be very humiliating–not in a bad way, but definitely physically humbling.  Being naked, poked and prodded, and having all sorts of doctors, nurses and specialists examine you and your most private parts is tough.  It was a physical breaking of sorts–the kind you see explained in a montage set to music at the movies–but that I could take.  Knowing my very life itself was out of my control…that was the knock-out punch.  That first day back in April I was no longer Christopher, the 20-something-guy-who-was-getting-close-to-figuring-out-his-life.  I became Christopher the Cancer Patient. Everything I did revolved around the disease.  I was also trying to manage my personal life and my family life, to stay strong for those who were staying strong for me.  As you can imagine, we were all going through a lot of hard stuff.  I felt like I had been dealt a hand I had to play.  It was all I could do to keep a positive attitude and take things day by day.

In May 2005, about six months out of my last treatment, I took a very corporate job in technology audit sales.  I had toyed with the idea of going back to school and studying physical therapy–inspired by my experience with recovery–but the corporate opportunity came up through a friend, had a ton of potential, and offered full benefits.  (Health insurance? Sold!) It also offered a miserable commute, long hours, and minimum fulfillment. I had some success during the second quarter when I blew my sales quota by 115% and secured a whale of a client, but I practically lost my mind I was so depressed. I decided to follow in my girlfriend’s footsteps (who in the meantime had been inspired by my corporate job to go get her own “real job”) and try my hand in real estate focused on residential leasing. I loved it.  More money.  Better hours. No commute.  I worked moonlighting in real estate for the first couple of months while I got my license.  I quit the corporate beast in October and never looked back.

For a few months things were going great.

Then in December 2005 I had a follow up CT scan. I heard my radiologist utter the dreaded words, “We think we may have found something.”  I remember my girlfriend and I had been driving in San Francisco and were in the middle of a minor argument when I got the phone call and pulled over.  The doctor said they’d have to do more tests to confirm, but he was pretty sure.  Darcy came to me and we hugged silently.  There was nothing to say.  We followed up right away with a PET scan that confirmed everyone‘s fears: the cancer had come back in my lymph nodes–ironically, just above the area where I’d had the radiation. Merry Christmas.

The chemo had obviously failed, and that was a huge blow. I could tell Darcy was devastated, even though she tried not to show it.  I remember not being emotional around the news, being more concerned for my girlfriend and my mother than I was for myself.  Probably a form of healthy denial.   I remember thinking, here we go again.

I had a Lymph Nodectomy on January 19, 2006.  The surgeon cut from sternum to penis and performed a surgery similar to what one would do for testicular cancer.  He removed 12 lymph nodes along my aorta. The procedure proved more invasive than the first one–the scar itself is three times the size of the first operation.  I had a much slower recovery: a lot of back problems and a lot of pain.

The approach to my second fight against cancer was very different from the first. Rather than sit at home and slow down, I continued to work. In fact, a key motivation for me was to prove to myself that this disease would not slow me down or get in the way of my goals. It was merely an obstacle that I would eventually get through. I would work up until the day of going into chemo, then take four to five days off, recover, then work the next week until I went back to chemo.  Luckily, most of my clients were understanding.

But this only worked until the fifth or sixth cycle.  I have to say the second time around was much worse than the first.  The recipe this time consisted of 5FU, Avastin and Irinotecan…really, really rough.  I was supposed to do 12 cycles of the cocktail.  The treatment made me so sick I would throw up before I arrived at the hospital, just thinking about it.  I would sit down in the chemo chair and throw up before I even started.  Then I could barely make it home and would lie in bed for hours.  I got to the point of pleading with my oncologist, “I don’t know if I want to do this anymore.”  The doctors advised to just go in again, but I couldn’t do it.  The treatment was kicking my butt.

Thoughts of remaining a cancer patient for the rest of my life entered my mind frequently following the second diagnosis.  My grandmother had been fighting cancer for over 20 years until she died in March 2006. A couple of weeks prior to her death I went to visit. I had just started chemo at the time. My grandmother–who had been so strong throughout her battle–looked me in the eye. “I just don’t want to eat anymore,” she said.  “I’m tired and I’m not even sure if it’s worth it.”  She decided not to do the drugs anymore and to stop the chemo.  She convalesced at home for about a week before passing away peacefully in her bed.

I loved my grandmother very much.  Her death was devastating, but to me, it was also very scary. She was defeated by the cancer and I saw a lot of me in that.  After the 7th cycle, I thought I was going to die.  When you’re throwing up and your nose is running and your stomach hurts and you’re weak…you have no control.  At almost six feet tall I weighed just 158 lbs and could barely eat.  I knew I had two choices: I could go with it and do the best I could, or I could stop.  I remember one night in particular I was throwing up so violently I couldn’t even stand up, and I thought there is no way I can do this anymore.

After that my oncologist let me stop, satisfied to get the seven rounds in me.   I saw my radiologist at the beginning of August, who wanted to do 28 cycles of radiation. I finished my last radiation treatment October 17, 2006.  The next day I went to Maui for 10 days of much needed vacation.

I don’t want to say I gave up, because to me giving up is saying you’re not even going to try.  I sure as hell tried to get through the treatment, but I felt like the chemo was bringing me closer to death than anything else.  It didn’t help that the doctors only gave me a 50/50 shot that the chemo was needed in the first place…meaning I was possibly putting myself through the nightmare for nothing.  So I stopped.  Even now, over a year later, just the thought of getting a saline injection makes me nauseous.  (Hey, I used to have a strong stomach!)

Cancer has affected my life in other unexpected ways as well.  Before I had my second surgery the urologist told me there is a small chance they would damage the nerve that enables a man to ejaculate.  Not that I wouldn’t be able to have an orgasm, but damaging the nerve would make eventually having babies a little more scientific.  He told me it might be a good idea to bank some sperm. I agreed.

A few days later the urologist called. He explained that a male usually has about 80,000 sperm in a deposit: I had about 6,000.  “I gotta tell you,” he warned, “There’s not a good swimmer in the bunch.”  I guess two years full of chemo and radiation don’t do wonders for a guy’s DNA.  We passed on storing the sample.

When the surgeon performed the surgery he did indeed involve the discussed nerve, and now I’ve got the best birth control ever.  (Basically a vasectomy.)  Darcy likes to threaten me with triplets or quadruplets, since when we decide to have children it will have to be via in vitro fertilization.   Making babies isn’t going to be as romantic as it might have been intended, but it will make answering that whole, “Where did I come from?” question a bit more interesting. We’re a few years out from the decision anyway…no rush just yet!

Back in March 2004, just before my first diagnosis, Darcy dragged me into a mall pet store in Beverly Hills.  She showed me this tiny Chihuahua with coloring like a Pit Bull (of all things!) and a runny nose that had been sitting in the store window for probably two months. I made the mistake of holding the shivering little creature.  We certainly didn’t need any more pets (we had already rescued two high maintenance cats).  Plus, we lived in a “no-dog” apartment building.   But when this tiny thing stared up at me with her big, brown eyes my resolve melted away. We walked out of the store with Lucy, then weighing in at all of two pounds.  (Most of the weight in her giant, bat-like ears.)  Lucy turned out to be the best impulse buy ever. She has sat by me through absolutely everything.  When I was sick and too miserable to talk to anyone, she would lie by my side and just be with me.  Animals really are therapy.  It’s nice to have something there that isn’t going to ask you questions…satisfied to just curl up next to you and live in the moment.  I definitely consider her my baby–no invitro needed.

My relationship with Darcy has changed a lot since cancer. Through both diagnoses intimacy became a big issue. Basically I didn’t want to have sex. I didn’t feel good and my body felt violated in a lot of ways.  I also looked terrible.  Looking emaciated and feeling run down is not sexy.  In addition, it’s hard to get in the mood when you have all of these drugs running through your system.  It’s not necessarily being physically incapable of having sex, it’s that you aren’t there in your head.  And that’s tough.  It’s tough for a partner to deal with that–Lance Armstrong’s book talks a lot about that, too.  In my case I needed to figure out how to be compassionate and supportive. Recognizing how much Darcy’s life changed as a result of my cancer was the first step.

Between February and April 2004, Darcy actually left – not me, but she needed a break and I needed a break too. She went to Aspen to hang out with her sister and work there for about six weeks during the spring ski season.  She needed to get away from all the cancer talk and blow off steam, and I needed to do my thing and focus on myself.  When Darcy first came back, she immediately wanted to return to Aspen.  But she ended up staying. She’s been there for me through a lot: LA when we were broke, that first round of cancer, my job when I was miserable, then when I quit, and then the second round of cancer.  I don’t think there are a lot of women out there who can deal with a partner on that level at any age.  There’s something to that, I think.  She stuck by me when I was sick and she was just 23 years old.  She went through a year of not really having that much sex and then it got better and things went back to normal, and then it happened again, another whole year of taking care of the chemo patient.  That was something that was upsetting to her, she was kind of bitter.  The bitterness didn’t outweigh her compassion…but it came out every once in a while.  The whole cancer thing is kind of a joke between us now, but sometimes it stops being funny.  Cancer definitely put our plans on hold, like we’re hesitant to take the plunge and buy a house until I’ve been cancer-free for a few years.  And despite everyone’s constant questioning, there‘s no engagement after seven plus years of dating.  (Relax–it’s coming!)

Learning to talk about our needs and being open with each other was definitely a challenge, but it was a good challenge.  It’s kind of one of those tests, testing the limit of what a couple can put up with in order to stay together.  No relationship is perfect. It changed negatively at first, but we ended up working through it and coming full circle. But now we’re very candid with each other. We’re stronger now than we’ve ever been.

As of August 2007, I have a clean bill of health. My last colonoscopy was perfect. My CEA is .7 and life is treating me pretty well.  Darcy and I just moved into a gorgeous new house and business is great.  We’re pretty regimented about staying healthy around here, too.  We strive to maintain a healthy diet (almost all organic foods, lots of fresh produce, plenty of fish, very few processed foods).  I am extremely goal oriented with my fitness…I’ve become somewhat of a “gym rat” either conditioning with Brian at the Bay Club or working out by myself.  Darcy sometimes gets annoyed since we work such long hours during the day then I rush off to the gym at night.   (With basketball season starting soon, she may never see me before dinner again!)

My parents and sister have since moved away from California, but they visit a lot and I have plenty of other family nearby. I have an awesome relationship with my younger brother who still lives just a few minutes away. We hang out a lot which is great. He comes over to the house and helps me out with the “man chores.”  He’s about four inches shorter than I am, but much stronger. I have him help me with my heavy lifting.  Hey–I’m still just a year out of chemo!

So, at the end of it all, I can‘t really complain: I have an awesome partner, I live in a beautiful house and I love my job. Darcy’s always getting on me about managing my stress which I do need to work on–that’s a work in progress.   We live just over the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, but you won’t ever find us at a bar or a nightclub…not that I don’t like those things, but at 31 I’m in a different place in my life now.  Sometimes we go out on a limb and go to the local Farmer’s Market.  I’m kind of boring–I know–but it’s nice.

I look back now at how I lived in LA before cancer entered my life, and I see how I was doing all the right things for all the wrong reasons.  I didn’t have a plan, I didn’t have any priority…I just “wanted,” but I didn’t know why.  One of the things that having cancer did for me on a different level, aside from making me very health-conscious, is to be able to step back and look at and prioritize my life.  I look at what’s important and do the things that make me happy.  The experience taught me to focus, and now I have a whole new perspective on things – working honestly, working smart, and working better (although I still have to figure out how to get away from the 7-day work week!) I do the small things that are going to make my life better and easier, for me, not for anyone else or for an image I‘m trying to project.

I may be done with the last care-free chapters of my life, but I wouldn’t trade who I am today for anything.