Cancer Sucks

Cancer is beating me up pretty good.


On Thursday, June 24th at 5:07pm, I was diagnosed with cancer. Specifically, stage IV diffuse large B-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma transformed from follicular lymphoma of the duodenum. I was scared, sure, but I was also convinced I was going to get through this. I was young-ish and healthy-ish. Overall, it is a fairly easy cancer to deal with.


Within a month, I was scheduled to begin eighteen weeks of chemotherapy. Two weeks later, I lost my hair. That was hard but I knew it was coming and I wasn’t too embarrassed about my new baldness. That first round was fairly easy — I was eating and exercising and felt pretty good. All the side effects except the hair thing were minimal.


In August, the cancer caused a stricture in my duodenum (blockage in my intestine) that had prohibited me from eating or drinking anything. I lost even more weight— I’m down to just 112 pounds. Eventually, in October, they installed a PICC line in order for me to “eat.” A PICC line is a couple of tubes that run into my arm through a vein to my heart. I’ve been eating this baby formula through my bicep for months.


And throughout all this, I also developed gallstones. They had to install another tube to my gallbladder so it could empty into a rubber ball. I couldn’t have surgeries because of the chemo.


I had three tubes sticking out of me. I’ve lost over fifty pounds and all my hair. I haven’t eaten any food for weeks but I’m being fed baby formula through a tube in my arm. I’m unable to work, so we’re living on savings. I can barely walk. I’m in constant pain. Life is miserable. I didn’t think I was ever going to leave the hospital alive.


At this point, I just had to laugh at the absurdity of it all. I wasn’t ready to die. I wanted to see my kids grow up. I reprogrammed my brain to just take it all one day at a time. There were a lot of days ahead of me, but I just didn’t have a choice.


I had my gallbladder removed a couple of weeks ago. Last week, I had surgery to bypass the blockage. I’m down to 109 pounds but I’m finally able to eat again. I should be going home soon without being attached to any external bags which means I will finally be able to leave the house again.


I need to get my weight up and strength back, because the first round of chemo didn’t kill all the cancer. I have to go through another more aggressive round of chemo and then a long hospital stay while I get a bone marrow transplant.


My war with cancer is far from over.


Cancer will change your life. It makes you pause and reflect on what is truly important. You will reemerge a different person — it’s up to you to determine how.


If you'd like to help out:


https://www.gofundme.com/f/team-bob-and-fam-cancersucks


Update -- January 14, 2022:


I'm home again and able to eat again after the surgery. I've already gained about ten pounds and walking about a mile a day.


Update -- January 27, 2022:


My PET scan from from last month showed an overall increase in the cancer even after months of chemotherapy. A couple of weeks ago, my oncologist suggested we schedule another scan before moving on to more treatments. Last Wednesday, they injected me with "radioactive sugar water" and put me in the nuclear reactor to photograph my cancer. On Friday, my oncologist called me with "cautiously optimistic" good news: the cancer is essentially gone (it's below threshold levels.) He said cancer doesn't just go away on its own, and I haven't had any treatments since the chemo ended in the middle of November.


I consider that a miracle.


The Napa Valley Register also ran a story about me today:


https://napavalleyregister.com/news/local/napa-photographer-bob-mcclenahan-fights-cancer/article_41b1c93f-2bba-5812-a64b-b05ecac4debf.html