Sunday, June 2, 2013

Spreading the Word

Now that I have told the family it's time to spread the word to people who will notice my absences and physical changes during treatment.

Last week I told the coworkers with which I work most closely. I knew they'd be starting to wonder what was going on because I was missing a fair bit of work. On Friday, I felt it was time to tell the rest of the people in my office. Here's the email I sent to them:

Dear Colleagues,

Those of you who work on teams with me know that I've had more absences than usual recently. For the past month I've been investigating a medical issue and have arrived at a diagnosis of a malignancy at the base of my tongue (in my throat). I prefer to let you all know this way instead of having numerous individual conversations - that way everyone gets the same information.

I finally received pathology results on May 28 and they are somewhat encouraging. The type I have has a cure rate of approximately 80%.

Obviously it's a shock to receive such a diagnosis, but I couldn't live in a better time or place for it. Much progress has been made in cancer diagnosis and treatment in my lifetime and it is accelerating. Boston is a global center of cancer research and treatment leadership, some of which is happening right here at [my employer]. Cancer is the first disease area in which truly personalized medicine is emerging and tumor sequencing is leading to better treatment decisions that can avoid wasting time on ineffective drugs. At my request the surgeon who performed my biopsy collected sufficient tissue for sequencing and I will insist on finding an oncology team that incorporates sequencing in their treatment planning. Finally, my mother is a two-time cancer survivor, as was her father, so hopefully I've inherited her "tough old bird" survival genes. I intend to emerge from the other end of this detour as healthy as I was when I started.

I tend to be pretty open in most aspects of my life (this message is evidence of that :). I was raised by a teacher and an engineer who loved to explain things and I have carried on those threads in my life. For the past few years learning about cancer biology has been somewhat of a hobby. I will combine those facets and write about both the experience of being a patient and the scientific, medical and drug development contexts in which that experience occurs.

My main coping mechanism has always been humor. At work you only get to see a portion of my humor spectrum but it is wide and extends far into the "black". That will help explain the title of the blog I've started: Cancer Fun Time! If you want to delve into the specifics of my diagnosis and follow along on this little detour you can do so there. Don't go read it right now, though. You're supposed to be working!

If colleagues beyond the recipients of this message ask about my absences or my diagnosis you are of course free to share what you know with them or forward this message.

Currently I am physically fine except for the same minor throat sensation that sent me to my family doctor in the first place. I have appointments with two different oncology teams in the coming weeks to determine a treatment plan. It's going to be a rough road, but many others have successfully travelled it before me.

Please don't hesitate to ask if you're curious about what's happening.

I received many sympathetic, encouraging and admiring responses.

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