I'm a Fitness Professional, and I have Cancer - Part 1

It all started with swelling in my head and neck any time I would shower, have sex, work out, put my head below my chest…basically anything that caused a lot of blood to go into my head. This started in late 2015.

To be honest, it was pretty pronounced swelling. But that was it really. No other symptoms and my lifts were going great! I was PRing (setting personal records) in my workouts on the way to a comeback powerlifting meet in April. My goal was to bench 300 lbs, squat 400 lbs and deadlift 500 lbs at a BW of under 181. I was already at 181 at 15% body fat, could already hit my squat and bench numbers, but needed work oh my deadlift numbers. I thought to my self, there can't be anything wrong with me, I would feel differently and my performance would suffer!

I would occasionally get some night sweats, but since I was eating about 100+ grams of carbs in the evening with 100+ grams of protein and about 20 grams of fat, I figured most of my night sweats were attributed to my high caloric intake and meal choices before bed. I figured I had the “meat sweats”.

Not familiar with the meat sweats or protein sweats? Excess carbs can cause it too, as does excessive fat. Although, it does seem to favor, protein, carbs and then fat. I was introduced to the meat sweats by a buddy in the Army Rangers, named Ben oddly enough, even had a simliar last name as mine that started with a D. We would tell people you don't want to get a case of the Ben's. The guy was built like a house and he could easly eat someone out of their home. But he was lucky, because he had the 3rd Army Ranger Dining Hall - arguably the most celebrated dining hall in all of Special Operations. The chefs there wone countless army culinary awards (true story) and the food was OUTRAGEOUS! All you could eat buffet style with lobtster, filet mignon, crab legs, etc. all kinds of MEAT! A Rangers diet is mostly composed of meat...and souls of the dead, but mostly meat. Some guys are vegans, those guys generally go onto Special Forces (inside Spec. Ops. joke). Anyway, this guys would eat so much meat, like POUNDS of it during feeding times that he would literally sweat. Hence...the meat sweats.

A very real phenomenon brought on by the act of digestion via theromogenesis. Protein just happens to release a greater amount of energy then any other nutrient when digested.

Basically...she saved my life.

After a few months of my “issues” with my head and neck, I finally went in to see a doctor in January after being urged by my girlfriend Jamie. Her urging…some might say nagging (BUT NOT ME!) is what probably prevented me from dying. With no other symptoms, the Doc said “I have no idea what this could be, so let’s start with a thyroid assessment since you are complaining about neck issues.”

Thyroid panels and ultra sound came back negative. So he ordered a chest x-ray. Chest x-ray came back showing I have a tumor compressing my superior vena cava…essentially the main highway letting blood drain out of my head. That explained it…and…shit.

But…I didn’t like the word tumor. Tumor meant uncontrolled growth and that meant CANCER.

Things progressed quickly. That same week they performed a CT scan with contrast to get an idea of how big the tumor was. I later found out – 8.5 CM (updated 3-05-16 the tumor is actually 10 CM's) That doesn’t seem that big, but your body isn’t really designed to house things that are not supposed to be there. There is only so much space in your body.

That’s a main problem with Cancer. As cancerous cells grow and divide they push on, steal from and generally cause havoc to surrounding healthy tissue. One way to think about it is – imagine a baby that continues to grow past the point where they should be born. That bundle of joy would slowly and surely kill the mother eventually.

From the time I met with the P.A. to the time I was on the operating table for a biopsy it took about two weeks.

Those two weeks were the longest two weeks I have ever had to go through.

When I met with the surgeon to go over the possibilities I was still in science mode:

  • What does this mean?

  • What are the implications to my health?

  • What is the treatment plan?

  • What is the average prognosis?

  • What is MY prognosis?

  • What are my next steps?

I have a degree in Exercise Science and am pursuing a degree in Nutrition Science – I like my world concrete, able to be manipulated in logical and orderly ways with out a lot of emotion coming into play with my decisions.

I was proud that I was able to keep my head on straight while this news was delivered to me. But even me, the scientist, broke down and cried a few times while the surgeon informed me of the possibilities.

Possibilities –

  1. Lymphoma – cancer of my Lymph System.

  2. Germ Cell Tumor – basically a cell that is left from development and gets lodged some place and just keeps on growing.

  3. Thymoma – cancer of the thymus.

I was devastated…but still kind of in disbelief. I didn’t accept it until I sent text messages to all my friends and family telling them what was going on. Some of them called me right away…I couldn’t talk to them because I would start crying.

I have done FOUR Tough Mudders! Cancer can't mess with me!

CANCER!!! This has to be some kind of a sick joke (I still think that to my self). I can’t have Cancer. I mean it’s impossible! I do all of the things you SHOULD do to not get Cancer! I eat mostly organic foods, fruits and veggies, take a host of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, consume fish oil, D and Curcumin, wear sun block, exercise vigorously and mildly at least 4 times per week – I lecture nationally and at our gym on HEALTH! I can’t have Cancer…and yet…my surgeon assured me it was true.

I talk about health, fitness and wellness! To people! Not just my self...

Side Note – stay tuned for my top 10 list of things that cause cancer. Researched, scrutinized and written by someone that has worked with 1000’s of people to revamp their lifestyle. You won’t find things on my list that don’t pertain to the average person like “check your home for lead or asbestos”. Come on people – who builds homes with those compounds any more! A very small percentage of the population has to worry about lead or asbestos causing cancer.

My identity was rocked, but not lost. I am still a health professional; I just now have something else to focus my attention on as it relates to health.

After meeting with the surgeon I went into research mode…hard. As a scientist I knew that if I could understand the disease I could help with my outcome and at the very least not develop unwarranted fear. That’s when I came up with the first rule of “Fuck. Cancer.” as it relates to the unlucky person that gets it.

DO NOT RESEARCH CANCER ON LINE BEFORE YOU HAVE A DEFINITE – TYPE, STAGE, LOCATION AND NEXT COURSE OF ACTION.

The lay person is ill equipped to sift through the Cancer bull shit on the web. Cancer is not something that comes up in day to day conversations, unless it has something to do with FEAR - “Avoid these 10 cancer causing foods!”, “Study says MEAT causes cancer!”, “Eat more curcumin to fight cancer!”. The list goes on…all fear based.

So the biopsy was set. They would go in through three incisions on my right side, deflate my right lung and take a large enough piece of the tumor to get a good sample for the biopsy. The surgeon assured me that it was a relatively routine surgery. I later found out the location of the tumor and size was a big issue for the anesthesiologist.

10 days was the amount of time it took to get me in for surgery. I was told that this was VERY quick for a big hospital like Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. Pre-surgery came with a bunch of blood tests and phone calls. The rules were simple – don’t eat or drink anything prior to your surgery.

Second rule of “Fuck. Cancer.” and just a good general rule going into any kind of surgery.

ASK WHY. “WHY SHOULDN’T I EAT OR DRINK ANYTHING AFTER THIS TIME.”

I should have done that. But…I know my shit when it comes to nutrition and the human body! “Yea, yeah…ok..no food or drink with in 6 hours of the surgery. Got it.”

I ate 4 cashews 4 hours before my surgery…that pushed my surgery back 8 hours! My surgery was scheduled for 11:45…I finally went in at about 8 PM. Generally you need to be at surgery about an hour or so before your scheduled “table date.” From 10 AM to 7:30 PM I laid in a hospital bed with IV’s set and all hooked up…all because I ate 4 cashews.

Bet you didn't know that shit. Who know's if it's true. Found it on the internet.

So…what’s the deal with the cashews? Well, it turns out that the location of my tumor complicates things A LOT. The surgery itself was minor, but the anesthesiologist and later the nurse installing the port said - not so much. The nurse came in to explain the procedure. I was like “4 cashews…what’s the harm? I chewed them really good!”.

She informed that I could aspirate. Shit, that doesn’t sound good…what’s that?

Choke on my own vomit if I threw up during surgery. Ok then – why didn’t someone tell me that!

Here’s an observation – the medical field bases dissemination of information on a need to know basis, similar to the military. However, for different reasons, the military is need to know for protection of information. The medical field is need to know because they don’t understand how to break complex medical talk down to simple non-complex terms. It’s like explaining how a car works to your 10-year-old. I simply did not need to know why not to eat anything 6 hours before surgery.

So I asked the anesthesiologist – what’s the deal with the cashews? Apparently, nuts and cashews specifically contained an oil that when digested caused some inflammation and if I threw up while under anesthesia can prove very toxic to my lungs…assuming I don’t choke on my own puke.

FYI – the oil is arachidonic acid, a specific Omega-6 found in nuts that is pro-inflammatory. I knew this, but I simply forgot.

Right then…no nuts before surgery. Every person that came in “cracked” a joke about the nut guy. At least I brought some humor to the ward!

The procedure ended up taking WAY longer then anticipated, not really sure why. It was supposed to be about an hour and a half, it lasted almost 4 hours.

In one night, I went from this...275 pound front squat at 178 to a 12" box to this...

They kept me in an observation room from midnight until about 7 PM the next day. Post surgery I had a gigantic tube sticking out of my side that helped to drain any fluid out of my abdominal/chest cavity. Let me tell you – you haven’t lived until you have experienced a tube draining fluid out of you! I hope none of you ever have to go through it. Every time I moved it tugged on me and was a constant reminder, through my doped up brain, that shit just got real.

FYI – if you think everything is cool after being sedated and you just get to chill out and sleep…you don’t. Every hour they come in and wake you up to check on you. I had to try and pee (even though I hadn’t eaten or drank anything in OVER 24 hours) because of how anesthesia messes with your system.

I didn’t know this but anesthesia is essentially a central nervous system relaxant. To put it into lay terms – when you sleep and enter REM sleep (one of the 5 or so stages of sleep, arguably the deepest level) your body shuts off messages from your brain. This is so if you are dreaming about fighting angry clowns riding huge sharks shooting laser beams out of their eyes (or your eyes…hey…it’s your dream) you don’t end up attacking your loved one next to you. However, all of your body systems run by your CNS are still active. WELLLLLLLL……with anesthesia, not so much. Anesthesia puts you OUT. And, since the tone of all of your muscles is dictated by your CNS, if your CNS is “subdued” you lose tone in your muscles, and in my case, that loss of tone could potentially cause the tumor to completely compress my superior vena cava…causing me to die.

Yeah...the food was as bad as you thought it was going to be...and I found a hair in my eggs.

Stay tuned for the surgery outcome, what type of cancer they found, life after the biopsy (shit they don’t tell you!) and what ever else I feel like writing about.

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