One year ago, I made my 2013 resolutions. It was only my fourth post, and I really had no idea how the blog, and 2013, was going to unfold. For those who don't want to click the link (it was a pretty decent post, for a rookie), my resolutions boiled down to two things – get through treatments, and beat melanoma. So, here's the scorecard:
I got through chemo without roadblocks, but only made it to day 3 of IL-2 (the goal was day 4), although I think I could have made it through another couple of doses, so we'll give a win and a draw. Then, the next ones were recovery and return to non-abnormal conditions; these are a little tougher to grade, as they are not really measureable goals. I am certainly getting better and back to "more normal" – a couple more draws? Remission of tumors was also mentioned, which is another partial win. These ties kinda suck, but at least in this case, they are a heck of a lot better than losses.
Then there were the last two resolutions I made at the beginning of this year — helping others undergoing similar challenges, and getting back to being Daddy. It seems as though these 70 posts have gotten a really positive reception, and I am very humbled by the sheer number of people who follow along with interest (especially during scan weeks) and care. There is always more I wish I could have done for people – that will be part of the 2014 resolutions – but feel like I exceeded every expectation I had when I started blogging about this a year ago.
On being Daddy Sharpe – compared to New Year's Day 2013 (and the couple of months afterwards), the Fall/Winter 2013 version of Daddy is crushing expectations. I always believed that I would be a good father and husband, and thought the strength would eventually return. It was never a given, though – hell, it was widely assumed that Daddy Sharpe might never return to form. Just being here is probably an achievement, but we never set out to just survive. It was always about getting better, not hanging on, and I feel that happening every day. Chalk up one more for the good guys.
So three wins and four ties, I sound like a soccer team; if we put in hockey terms, it's 10 points out of a possible 14 (none of this overtime loss nonsense they have now). All in all, a 70% success rate — that's not too bad. There were a bunch of resolutions that never got published too; some of them I hit, some I missed, and some got pushed back for logistical or medical reasons (like an April trip to Bimini that COULD have happened, but wouldn't have been the smartest thing considering it was right after the PD-1 began; sometimes even achievable goals need to be sanity-checked). The most important ones were hit, which were the Coster and Opre weddings in February that I was making unless it was literally going to kill me to go. Even ones that were on my long-term list I got to do too – nice to meet you, Mike McCready.
For 2014, I have a wish list of items and a more defined set of goals for the year. The former involves a lot of "little things" that remind me of the journey we took; some of them events with sentimental memories attached to them, others very achievable milestones. The very first one on the list is "Send Broward General oncologist a card in September saying 'Still here!!'" He very bluntly told Jen and I, right after my first surgery, "I would be surprised if he's still here in two years." That conversation is seared in my mind, and was probably the first resolution I made, back in 2012. I am looking forward to dropping that note in the mail.
As for the rest of the year, here are my measureable and achievable goals. Medically, I think getting to NED (shorthand for "No Evidence of Disease", and every cancer patient's ultimate accomplishment) is achievable but also somewhat out of my control. I am scheduled for four scans this year (back to every 12 weeks now), and I have averaged about a 17 percent reduction over 12 weeks since my first big drop. The realistic achievement is to keep that pace going, which would drop the tumors to less than 5 cm total, so we will pencil in "Under 5cm" as the resolution.
I will continue to help melanoma patients, and those suffering from all kinds of cancers, through this blog. I also intend to extend that voice to become more involved in patient advocacy and support, and was lucky enough in 2013 to connect with some great organizations and people who do this. Related, I will solidify the diet, nutrition, and lifestyle plan that is working alongside the PD-1 to keep me healthy. 2013 involved a significant amount of tinkering and experimenting, and getting into a healthy routine is something that needs to be completed.
The "events" will be on there, of course – those little things we didn't make it to in 2013, like A Taste of the IRB with our favorite Canadian friends, the Florida Strawberry festival, or Jimmy Buffett in Camden. There are trips to experience, such as introducing the kids to a wonderful place called the Florida Keys or getting to a Fourth of July Crab Feast. There's even health-related checklist items to get crossed off – three Penguins fans I know are getting signed up for a Tough Mudder to pay off a long-standing bet, I just need to figure out how the heck I will make it through 12 miles of running.
Finally… I watched a lot of family dynamics in 2013 get sacrificed in the name of my treatments - mostly our little gang of four here, but also extended family (and friends too, who have graciously become family with their love and support of us since all this started). So the resolution here is to shoulder the load a father and husband should, even if it means tempering expectations and making our lives a little less crazy here (yea, that last part might not happen).
Depending on how the year unfolds will dictate how to really achieve this, but there are going to be ample opportunities to put my family time on par with my recovery time; something that we struggled with finding the right balance for much of the last year. The New Year will give me all the chances I can handle to be a bigger part of family fun – heck, I already told Jen I would "take the kids" Wednesday morning, if she needed a little extra sleep from ringing in 2014.
So, starting bright and early on January 1st, Recovering Melanoma Patient #1 and Daddy Sharpe are going to learn how to coexist much more frequently. It's a challenge I am eager to face. We'll see in twelve months how well I did, but I am confident that I will self-report a pretty remarkable 2014 one year from now. I don't have much choice at this point – it's out there for everyone to see.
Happy New Year everyone, the Sharpe family is looking forward to sharing our 2014 successes with you, one resolution at a time.
T.J. Sharpe shares his fight against Stage 4 Melanoma in the Patient #1 blog. Read more »