I tell my wife that she should trade up before she has to. As the wife of a three-time cancer survivor, she really enjoys my humor. It’s much harder on her than it is on me.
Robin and I met in college at Tulane University. I was the frat boy and she was the sorority girl, but we weren’t stereotypical. Even with the New Orleans atmosphere, there was always something else there. Somehow we made it through four years of beignets, crawfish, and too much alcohol, and stayed together to marriage. At 26, we finally married, and had our first son Zachary at 28. We moved into our first house in Haworth, NJ. At the same time, the family business, which ironically sells ostomy supplies among other things, was sold to a much bigger company. First child, new business issues – lots of stress. So when I started having cramps and bleeding, it didn’t occur to me that it could be cancer, even with my family history. My grandfather had colon cancer, ultimately having a colostomy but living well into his eighties. My father had colon cancer in his forties, but he had symptoms such as losing weight and having no skin pigment whatsoever. He’s still alive in his seventies. I was still a solid 200 pounds, worked more than a full schedule, and was playing soccer. Anyway, I visited my primary physician (at the time), who misdiagnosed me even though the family history was listed on my chart. He didn’t do a rectal exam, and recommended that I take some over the counter stuff like Preparation H and Tums to control the ulcerative symptoms. Schmuck. A few months later, after symptoms hadn’t subsided, I went to a specialist who told me the news. We made a few calls and found a highly recommended GI doctor at Mt Sinai, Blair Lewis (I think he’s the only non-Jewish GI doctor at Sinai). He confirmed the results and Brian Katz performed the surgery. Laparoscopy wasn’t around then, so the surgery was pretty intense. I woke with a pretty sizable scar and feeling buckled-over pain in my abdominal area. I couldn’t hit the morphine button fast enough on the IV pole. I wound up roommates with a 90 year old rabbi who farted like crazy, but ultimately became a client of mine on Peptamen, one of my tube feeding formula. Go figure. After five days, I was released but I had 6 months of chemo as the cancer had spread to at least one of my lymph nodes. My chemo regimen used to be weekly on a Friday. I would take off from work, get hooked up to the IV, and spend the next day and a half incapacitated. On Sunday morning, I would drag my ass out of bed and go play soccer. I felt like I was licking sand. My United Nations team mates had no sympathy. I forced myself to eat for the first time in my life. I ate a ton of mango sorbet and won’t eat it since.
Robin and I debated over having more children, knowing the percentages. Ultimately, we agreed to have more children. Four years after Dubin #1, Dubin #2 came out, Corey. By now, I had left the old family business and started an Internet venture, which briefly relocated the family to Florida. The Internet sector tanked around 2000, and since our non-competes were over, we re-started the family business once again in Jersey, taking back our previous clients. We moved into house #2 in Haworth, NJ. Once cancer-free for 5 years, I was allowed to start giving blood at Community Blood Services in Paramus. I did some radio work in my spare time, including radio spots for the Blood Center. I also started coaching Zach in soccer. Cancer was becoming a bad memory for me, but my older brother Bill was diagnosed at age 37. Bill had the same doctors as me. He had a lot more colon taken out than me however, and it affects his post-meal status significantly. He didn’t need chemo. I also think he eats too much at each sitting, which can’t be good, and it affects him. My annual colonoscopies were clear, and actually enjoyable as I did my own narration. Dr. Lewis thinks I’m nuts. I am.
4 years after Dubin #2, Dubin #3 came along, Maxwell. We moved into our third house in Haworth. I started coaching Corey in soccer, as well as Zachary. Robin started a wholesale line of wedding and Bar Mitzvah invitations, as if we didn’t have enough with the family healthcare business already. I was still getting scoped and donating blood. On May 1, 2007, I went to donate blood, but they found my iron count so low, that they were practically ready to give me a transfusion. Even though it had been less than a year since my last scope, they recommended I contact my GI doctor right away. Since I have Dr. Lewis on speed dial, I reached him quickly and I had a scope done. It confirmed another tumor, which freaked everyone out since it came and turned so quickly. Surgery was scheduled for just after Memorial Day, and I was put on a heavy iron regimen. Too many friends to count traveled into NY to donate blood on my behalf at Mt Sinai. I decided to hold my first (hopefully annual) “Dave’s not Dead Yet” BBQ over Memorial Day. I had two reasons for doing so – first and foremost, there were a lot of people with a lot of questions. I didn’t want rumors and confusion to dictate the conversation. Also, I wanted to enjoy my last meal as someone with more colon. It was a good day. Two days later, Brian Katz performed the surgery once again, this time laparoscopically, and as expected, it was cut and dry, so to speak. No blood was needed, minimal scarring, minimal pain, and no chemo needed after. I got a private room this time.
After tumor #2, I started a blog, www.AliveandKickn.com. It’s my therapy. When I see things I can’t fathom, I try to put it into words. I try to put things into perspective. I look at bigger issues such as the environment, food, government, and try to filter out the nonsense and find some common sense. It’s not easy. So many of my friends, relatives and associates get caught up in the minutia. I can’t. I don’t know how many people follow the blog, but I update as often as I can. I had genetic testing done at Mt Sinai, and surprisingly I was found to be at risk for colon cancer. I have HNPCC or Lynchs syndrome, which is prevalent in less than 5% of all colon cancer patients. Lucky me. Some people inherit money.
I decided to start seeing an oncologist. I don’t really like having an oncologist, but staying vertical is important, so I made the commitment. He recommended a battery of tests that made me glow in the dark. In August 2008, I was accepted into the Bergen Leads program, a division of Leadership NJ. In November 2008, I was elected to Council in Haworth (my wife is still waiting for the re-count). In September 2008, after having my annual scans of chest, pelvis and abdomen, spots were found on my liver, which isn’t a good thing. So an MRI was taken to focus on the liver. As, I’m coaching a soccer practice, I received a phone call from my oncologist. He starts by saying “I have good news and bad news.” The good news was that the liver was in fact clear, but a small tumor was found on my right kidney. An MRI was done focusing on the kidney, and the decision was made to have it removed in February 2009, after a planned trip to Mardi Gras. It could stay there for years without getting worse, but since I was theoretically young at 42, a partial nephrectomy was performed at Mt Sinai once again. Although Brian Katz did not do the nephrectomy, he did scrub in (third surgery was free), and got past the scar tissue quickly so Michael Palese, the kidney doc could get in an out. Once again, minimal pain, minimal scarring and no chemo. 10% of my right kidney is now gone and so far, no issues. They say it’s a primary tumor and unrelated to the previous colon cancers, but it is related to the HNPCC. I guess I should be happy. I had a private room after. I got a gift basket from the CEO of Mt Sinai. I think I get a plaque next time, maybe a mug.
2010 was the first year in several with no surgeries. All the scans and scopes were clear. I had my first mammogram. I think the tech had fun with me as she put some weird clips on my nipples. I pretended to be Belle Starr. My oncologist has brought up the idea of having a colostomy. I’m not ready to become one of my own patients yet.
Zach is now a 15-year old teenager. He has seen me in the hospital too often and understands too much. Corey is now 11 and understands some. Max is now 7, and doesn’t really understand yet. I still play soccer when I can. I coach all 3. I’m still on the Council and up for re-election in Fall 2011. I’m on the board of the Bergen Volunteer Center and Community Blood Services. I still have the family business. Robin still has her invitation business. I’m turning AliveandKickn into a foundation promoting early detection of colon cancer. I’ve launched the mail order ostomy business, as part of Acorn Medical Supplies. If I can use my business to help those out there, as well as support the grassroots movements out there, it’s a win-win scenario. I’ve also re-launched my VoiceOver career. After working with a V/O coach for several months, the new Demo is done, and I’m ready to take on the airwaves in my pajamas from the home studio. There’s not enough time in the day to get done what I want to accomplish. 2011 will mark the 5th anniversary of the “Dave’s not Dead Yet” BBQ. Robin wants to change the name. Robin worries about me. I don’t blame her.
As a parent, I fully understand the angst my father feels knowing that his sons have his cancer. The math is against my boys as well. I worry that one day I won’t beat it. I want to be remembered the way you see me in the picture, alive and kicking.