And Here’s the Next Chapter

Let me start by sharing that Janet and I became grandparents on August 31st at 8:05 AM. Becca and Chris do not plan to post baby pictures on social media so just imagine the most beautiful baby you’ve seen and that’s a good place to start. Jacob Christopher Philip O’Hara weighed in at 8 lbs and 1 ounce with a perfect APGAR score. Yesterday we took a picture with his 94-year old Great Grandmother Sampson. With Janet, our son Christopher, and Jacob, that’s four generations in the same Picture. We are so proud. 🙌🙌

So my esophageal cancer metastasized in my liver and there is no cure. It was a lot to process emotionally and we needed time to discuss the future with our children, consider the best ways to proceed and share our decision with our Oncologist. Officially I am a Palliative Care patient with Stage 4 cancer now.

The options are:

  1. Do nothing.
  2. Start a moderate Chemotherapy treatment plan.
  3. Start an aggressive Chemotherapy treatment plan.

The basis of this decision wraps around picking quality of life or quantity (duration) of life.

Everyone in my shoes is unique so what I share below reflects what is typical and there are no absolutes. The time lines can be longer or shorter.

I feel healthy. I am gaining weight 74.4 kg (164 lbs) today. I eat everything I want. I am past the nausea I was having with milk. My upper body strength is starting to improve. We have a gym in our building that I will start using soon but for now I’m pretty active on the boat which is a solid workout.

If I do nothing, I will continue to improve for six to eight months and then as the cancer consumes my liver and spreads to other organs, my health will fail quickly and I will die. The upside of this option is the quality of my life will be the best until it’s not.

I case you don’t know, Chemotherapy is the administration of drugs which seek out and prevent the replication of cancer cells. These drugs also interrupt the replication of fast-replicating healthy cells such as hair, the cells lining the inside of my mouth and the cells in the stomach. Since I no longer have a stomach, I guess that won’t be a problem. White blood cells rapidly replicate so when the drugs kick in, they’ll compromise my immune system.

If I chose moderate Chemotherapy, the side effects will diminish the quality of my life as I experience side effects from the drugs. With a compromised immune system, I can expect to get sick more frequently and need additional treatment to combat infections. The quality of life will be impacted but if effective, my life expectancy could be a year or two. The drugs are taken orally and I’ll have scripts for nausea and to help with other side effects.

I decided to pursue the most aggressive Chemotherapy treatment. I can expect to be sick much of the time but if successful, it will extend my life for a couple of years. All the drugs are administered by IV and this treatment plan is the one with the greatest chance of success to interrupt the replication of cancer cells.

The Chemotherapy treatment, if effective, is continuous. I will learn to live with feeling sick all the time.

I am scheduled to have a Portacath inserted under the skin of my left chest on September 15th. This remains in me although it may need to be changed from time to time. Part of my Chemo treatment will be in the clinic. Then I will wear a pump for 46 hours to keep administering drugs.

I have one treatment day in the first week referred to Week 0 of a 6 week cycle. The next week, or Week 1 is a rest week, Week 2 is a treatment week, Week 3 rest, Week 4 treatment, and Week 5 is rest. And then the six week cycle starts over. I need to double check but I think the drug concoction with each treatment week is slightly different.

So that is what lies ahead. Between now and when treatment starts I plan to live large. If you’d like to sail or just hang out, this is the time while I feel so good and my immune system is in great shape.

Should I end up testing positive for COVID, I will not be able to enter the Chemotherapy clinic and my treatment will be terminated. This is also the case if I have to self-isolate for 14 days. It can restart but every interruption allows the cancer cells to replicate. As I’m sure you can appreciate, there is a lot of mask time in my future. I expect I’ll need to step up to hospital level PPE when out and about or when people to visit. We will be sanitizing a lot in our household. Good thing we have two bathrooms.

Obviously this is not a good news but as I said in my last post:

Clearly this sucks, but the best way you can help is to join me with Dignity facing the time ahead, Courage to cope with the next treatment and obvious eventual outcome of death, Humour as we reminisce about past and present times, Grace to share love freely and without reservation, and Faith in God when my time here comes to a close.

From my post on August 28, 2020

As always, the support of all the family and friends at my side, and with God holding my hand is a source great comfort.

Peace, Love and Laughter

Phil ❤️🙏

19 Replies to “And Here’s the Next Chapter”

  1. Oh Phil, you still sound so positive in the face of the worst news for you and your family. I know you’re supported and your new faith is helping you through, but I thought I’d let you know of my friend Andrew.

    Some six years ago, at the age of 46, he was diagnosed with liver and bowel cancer. He hasn’t had an easy journey, but he is still here and enjoying his life and family. He works part-time, he still complains about having two teenage daughters, and he’s still thriving when he isn’t undergoing treatment.

    I hope this may give you a shred of hope to know that not all people follow the statistics. With your good health, other than the cancer, the love of your family, and God by your side, I know you’re in the best possible place to fight.

    All the best Phil, and good wishes to your family. 😘 Karen

    1. It is such a joy to hear from you. Your message is a source of hope. I have a lot of living left in me so I plan to make a good battle of it. Three years ago at 170 kg (280 lbs), the idea of riding a bicycle around Denmark in 2018, and meeting such wonderful people like you, was inconceivable and yet It happened. I refuse to allow cancer to define my future now or ever. I think a new friend, Caitlin, offers an insightful perspective.

      “We are all living but we are all dying too – and it’s painful to know you’re further along on that timeline than you’d hoped. I think you are so wise to focus on what it means to be living.”

      Peace, Love and Laughter
      Phil ❤️😖

  2. Our hearts are with you, Phil! Keep fighting, you’re giving others hope. We will continue to pray for you, as god holds you. 💜 Anna and Rick Montgomery

  3. Sorry to hear the news Phil. Life from here on will be what you make it. You are strong and courageous and will make the best of it. You have a lot of people in your corner. Live, Love and Laugh as long as you can.

    1. Gloria – You have always been one of my heroes. I admire how much you care for the people of Dartmouth which is the location I’ll always think about as home. We made the jump to an apartment in the west end of Hali where Janet’s Mom lives but every time I cross the bridge I glow.

      Cheers, Phil

  4. Hi Phil,

    Must say that I love your philosophy on life, and to see photos of you living it is amazing.

    We barely know each other from Dal, but I would like to get together. The boat sounds like a good idea, as I have never been on one in Halifax. Not sure if you are inundated with people waiting to join you. As you can imagine…as a crew member I may be all but useless…but willing to learn a few things to be helpful.

    The photos of you on your sail boat are wonderful. You look as though you do not ha e a care in the world.

    I am so hapoy you are able to spend time with your new grandson! You are blessed for sure.

    If your life is becoming too crowded with friends and relations I understand completely and will continue to follow your progress and enjoyment of life on FB.

    Every best wish,

    Leigh

    1. I would love to get together. I really needed some time through the last couple of weeks to reflect on what lies ahead. That is now in my six so I have lots of openings on my calendar. Would you like to join my daughter and I for a sail Friday (Oct 2nd) afternoon? It will be our last sail of the season as the mast is coming out on Saturday.

      Cheers, Phil

  5. Sorry to hear the news Phil. You are strong and will make the most of every day. You have a lot of people in your corner, on your team, cheering for you. Live, love and laugh!

    1. My son Chris and I discussed travelling to Quebec to do Mass at the churches known for miracles. That plan is now on hold as it would require a 2-week self-isolation on return. That would interrupt my treatment schedule so it’s not an option at this time.

      I pray frequently for the courage it takes to face what’s ahead. I can feel the grip of God holding my hand in all of this. My faith is a source of great comfort.

      Cheers, Phil

  6. Per Richard Jones’ comment above, you really are, Phil. But with all you have to live for, your decision makes sense to me.

    Here’s hoping the docs are absolutely right about everything — except how much time the aggressive chemotherapy will give you.

    Prayers always.

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