“If I were your son, what exactly would you have me do?” This was my question to Alfred Yung, M.D., as I looked him directly in the eye on Oct. 3, 2006. He told me, and I followed his instructions.
Nine years later, I am alive and well. Dr. Yung and his team at MD Anderson saved my life.
You or a loved one may be now where I was nine years ago. If so, I am pleased to share some of what I learned through my experience battling anaplastic oligodendroglioma, a type of malignant brain tumor, with MD Anderson in my corner. The bottom line of my advice is to follow the experts’ instructions precisely and keep living your life.
Facing an oligodendroglioma diagnosis
I was 27 years old with no prior health issues. I had a great career in wealth management with a flagship Wall Street firm and strong relationships with friends and family. After a short spell of strange auras and smells, the diagnosis of grade III anaplastic oligodendroglioma hit me out of nowhere.
Following brain surgery, Dr. Yung devised an aggressive treatment plan that included six weeks of radiation and what turned out to be nearly two years of chemotherapy. I was faced with a choice: let cancer put my life on hold or keep on living.
I chose to keep living with the love and support of family and friends. My father, two uncles, cousin and grandfather were all officers in the U.S. Marine Corps. As they told me, “Cancer is your enemy, and never do your enemy a small harm.”
Following instructions to the T
Dr. Yung told me to eliminate all alcohol, get eight hours of sleep each night, be physically and mentally active during the day, exercise, stay well-hydrated, maintain a healthy diet, and more than anything, continue to live and enjoy life. The surgery, radiation and chemotherapy could be no excuse for me lying on the couch all day thinking the world was coming to an end.
With 27 stitches and multiple staples on the side of my head after the craniotomy, I looked a bit like I was ready for Halloween. But I put on my suit and got back to work. I started an executive MBA program one year into chemotherapy, while continuing to work full time. I took each medication precisely, showed up for each appointment, ate, slept, exercised and eliminated alcohol just as Dr. Yung instructed. He could’ve asked me to wear garlic around my neck and eat chocolate pudding for every meal, and he could have considered it done.
It wasn’t easy. I felt like I was battling the flu on most days, and there were plenty of times when it was extremely difficult to get out of bed. But if following the doctor’s instructions would improve my odds by just 1%, I knew that it was worth it.
Keep on living
I am forever indebted and grateful to my supportive family and friends and to my entire medical team, with special thanks to Dr. Yung and to Eva Lu Lee, Neuro-Oncology advanced practice registered nurse. Dr. Yung and Eva Lu have cared for me as if I were their child over the last nine years and counting.
You or your love one’s cancer, treatment, age or other conditions may make the type of lifestyle I maintained impossible. Rather than go back to work and take on an MBA program, your doctor’s instructions may be to make sure that you get out of bed at least twice a day. My advice remains the same: follow the instructions and keep on living.
If you are like me, doing so will be a much needed distraction from the ongoing chemical and physiological battle within. It will stimulate and energize your mind and body, and from my experience, help you beat the cancer. Cancer is your enemy, and it’s time to go to war!