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Patient #1's birthday 'shots'

Thursday, May 2, 1996.  Rumors Bar and Grill, owned by my friend and lab partner Eric's parents. A bunch of Carnegie Mellon Betas crowded around the bar, celebrating my 21st birthday the night before the last day of classes.  Shots all around – starting with Sambuca after dinner and ending with unlabeled Scotch (thanks, guys) in the early morning hours.  Needless to say, I didn't make my last day of classes that Friday – and my roommate nearly had to drop physics as a result of our prior night's carousing.

Thursday, May 2, 2013.  Holy Cross Hospital, owned by the Sisters of Mercy, the Miami archdiocese, and by Jesus (I guess).  Jen and I and some medical professionals crowded around an IV pole, celebrating my 38th birthday before PD-1 dose #2, or as Brodie Bruce and I refer to it, the Second Shot, even if it's an IV.  If only they had black licorice-flavored immunotherapy… (Cuz is working on it)

Birthdays have evolved quite a bit in the 6,210 days since college, eh?  Besides the literal "getting older" reminder, the focus shifted from "fun times" to "hey, I get one day this year for me!"   Today, we don't even really have that – with the Second Shot being the morning of my birthday, it was family breakfast before and some Primo Hoagies afterwards for lunch.  (They just opened one here in Fort Lauderdale; this would be way more exciting if 95% of the menu wasn't cold cuts and cheese, and a complete no-no on the cancer diet. Ah well, a birthday treat of tuna hoagie somehow wiggles its way onto the diet.)

Seeing as though I got pretty tired and felt flu-like for the first couple of days after dose #1 (aka The Kick-Starter, or the ZlingShot), there is no sense in planning a bunch of things here for us to celebrate.  Mom and Dad wanted to come down, but with this being a busy week and coming weekend, I put my birthday into the same "we can celebrate this anytime" category our anniversary got placed into last week – although we did have a nice day and night here in Fort Lauderdale commemorating Jen making it five whole years dealing with me.  Besides, she spent her birthday last August sitting next to a hospital bed and dealing with a 5 week old, so there are a few birthdays to make up this summer.

This birthday is probably going to be remembered a lot differently than ANY of the previous 27 (oops, I meant 37).  If I feel up to it, we will head to Clearwater to celebrate our sister-in-law's 40th birthday.  If not, it's rest and recover time around the house – of course, this is the one trip we planned for months, so while in general life is slowing down, Clearwater and the Philly trip were two notable exceptions.  If I don't feel lousy, we are going, even if I spend most of the time in bed at the hotel.

Part of what makes us feel so crummy when sick is the immune system kicking it up a notch, Emeril-style. I am banking on my immune system kicking up again thanks to the PD-1, so if this birthday is spent a little under the weather, that is a sacrifice I am happy to make.  I got to play a round of golf with guys from the Roma Club of Burlington earlier this week, something I've done the past four years.  I will hopefully get to see our family on the Gulf Coast this weekend.  And I will be letting life-saving immunotherapy do its thing to the tumors that have collected since I played golf last spring. As far as birthday activities go, they aren't the most glamorous, but they are just what are needed to mark this trip around the sun.  Quite representative of the last year's orbit, too.

So, if you are out and about this weekend, at a kid's birthday or an adult celebration, have that slice of cake or drink for me.  (My personal slogan – "Providing people with an excuse to do bad things to their diet since 1975!!" Put me on one of those retro posters!)  There will be plenty more occasions to celebrate throughout the years once PD-1, the cancer diet, the supplements, etc… do their thing.  Besides, celebrating on a Thursday night is sooooo 1996.  When I turn 40, it will, naturally, be on a Saturday.  I don't know where yet (although I have a couple of good ideas; Josie and Tommy have yet to experience either Key West or JazzFest) but I know that night, I will remember the day I turned 38.  I will remember getting an IV, writing a blog, and packing for the weekend.  Mostly, though, I will remember the best present since getting a red '87 Ford Escort on my 17th birthday – the gift of hope and promise and strength that overcoming this keeps giving me.

See ya on Duval or Bourbon in a couple of years.

T.J. Sharpe shares his fight against Stage 4 Melanoma in the Patient #1 blog. Read more »