Help Corey Defeat Cancer!
Our delightful Corey Drayton has been diagnosed with Stage IV Adenocarcinoma. He needs your help.
On 12/14 Portland-based cinematographer, Corey Drayton was officially diagnosed with Stage IV Adenocarcinoma. This is a rare, aggressive form of cancer that demands equally aggressive treatment of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. Help Corey fight this cancer!
Few of us are strangers to exorbitant healthcare costs. Beyond surgeries and medicine, there are also day to day costs, such as rent and bills. Corey will be unable to work for at least 6 months while undergoing his cancer treatment. We asked The Great MaterialContinuum to pause that whole rent and groceries costing money thing, and it was all "nah." What a jerk.
Treatment will begin right after Christmas, which means the hardest is yet to come. On 12/18 doctors surgically inserted a Chemo port in Corey's chest that will soon deliver 24/7 IV chemotherapy directly to his heart. Radiation will be administered 5 days a week, the dosage high and difficult. Corey will have to endure 6 weeks of this treatment for the first phase, before his care team can assess his progress in fighting the disease. Further chemo and radiation may be needed at that point, and it still may take 10 more weeks before the mass can be surgically removed. This is no Street Fighter arcade game, folks. Corey is one tough fellow, and he's ready to TKO cancer with the "Hadouken smash!"
Nothing could have prepared us for the new reality we're facing. At 36 years old, it's the last thing we would have expected. We want to focus on Corey's healing and comfort, and not worry about how to pay the bills. Your donations will help to carry the weight of this tremendous financial endeavor so we are able to do so.
Help us reach our goal! We truly appreciate any support you can offer, as well as sharing this link so Corey's loved ones far and wide can contribute during this difficult time.
As Corey always says, "Cheers!"
This may be the most difficult update I have had to write yet. With that in mind, I shall endeavor to refrain from belaboring the point. Just under two weeks ago, I had a CAT Scan and a follow-up/ consultation with my oncologist. Many of you reached out that weekend and during the week to receive news of the results only to be met with radio silence on my end. For my part, I hope that you’ll forgive me for keeping you in such suspense. The results and news from subsequent analyses have been decidedly mixed… I’ve needed to take some time to sit with and reflect on the sheer torrent of information I’ve been inundated with.
First the good news: My latest CAT scan showed no masses, one cm or larger, anywhere in the primary sites of my body - that would be my pelvic region and abdomen. This is a extraordinary response to treatment against the aggressive form of cancer I have, and at the advanced stage of cancer I was in (stage IV) when I was diagnosed in November of 2018. Further the swollen lymph nodes have all receded, every one of them. This evinces a 180 degree reversal. There are some caveats here: CT machines, taking images at their maximum resolution, can only detect tumors at a minimum of one centimeter in diameter. One cm is roughly equal to one million cancer cells. Any mass smaller than one cm will not show up on a CAT Scan. Now, I may still have hundreds of thousands of cancer cells throughout my body, but further CAT scans will not detect them.
Now, for the not so good news: General consensus amongst the community of physicians that specialize in cancer treatment is that the minimum amount of time that must pass, without a recurrence of disease, in order for a cancer patient to be declared “cancer-free” is five years. My cancer has an 80% recurrence rate within the first two years. I’ll have to have regular CAT scans, every three months during that time, and every six months for the following three years after. This is to catch any recurrences as quickly as possible. If/when they occur, I can expect further radiation and/or surgery to remove them - depending of course on contextual factors.
Now for the bad news: I can expect that, during the first two years most likely (and possible even after) I will need to keep my port installed. As a refresher the port is a medical device, installed in my chest, that runs a catheter up through my neck and directly into my heart. It’s what my treatment team uses to draw blood for my labs, and to administer my chemo and will be part of any future cancer treatments I can expect, especially during that two year period. This means no heavy-lifting during that time. In short, no camera department for me for the foreseeable future. For those of you who have worked with me on film sets over the years I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how devastating this news is. I have been working with professional motion camera picture systems since 1999 - 20 years. It has been my life, and resides at the very core of my identity. I’ve built two businesses around working with Panavision, Arri, Red Digital Cinema and countless other camera systems. I’ve been around the world as an operator, Director of Photography, 1st AC, 2nd AC and technician. I’ve worked on everything, from Television and Commercials, to Academy Award winning features. I have been so lucky to be able to do this kind of work for so long, but I have to leave it for a little while - not permanently - only for a period of time I can’t control or specify. It’s a terrifying prospect, as I haven’t a solitary clue what the Hell I’m going to do with myself professionally while I’m fighting to shift this cancer. The loss of a raison d’être in the midst of mortal crisis isn’t something I’d wish on my worst enemy. In the motion picture industry the chief currency is credits. With a credit gap of two to five years, I imagine I’ll have to rebuild my professional credibility from a state of irrelevance. It’s infuriating, as this disease has already taken so much away from me. I intend no hyperbole when I say that cancer is burning my life to the ground.
As Captain Kirk put it, “I always like to think there are… possibilities.” If I stay in the business, I’ll have to learn a new role, from the bottom, and establish credibility in a different department. My experience is vast enough to make that feasible, but I highly doubt I can ever love another role nearly as much as I do Camera Department. It’s where I always wanted to be, where I always saw myself, and nothing has been as fulfilling. Admittedly I had, even before my diagnosis, considered taking a break and doing something else, as I find myself increasingly at philosophical odds with certain prevailing trends within the industry - which I won’t elaborate on in this writing. Suffice it to say, this could be a blessing in disguise. Only time will tell. Daily I curse my naiveté with regard to how my treatment would go. I never imagined it would be such a slog; such a war of attrition. Never have I felt so disempowered. Over the coming months, once I get closer to a place of certainty as my cancer journey continues to take shape, I may reach out for help transitioning to another line of work, or another industry entirely. As of this moment, I don’t know quite what I want in that regard.
Now for the ugly news: Yesterday, I met with my surgeon and underwent further exams. He concurred that my response to treatment has been extraordinary (his words). My entire cancer team have confirmed that my already excellent health has contributed to my overwhelmingly positive response to treatment. Couched in such great news however, is a certain reality. A positive response to chemo and radiation - even if the cancer is eventually eliminated - is no guarantee of a return to normalcy. The physical exams have corroborated all the findings of the CAT scans. However, there does remain an as yet unidentified “pressure” detected within the tissues near the front right side of my body. Another round of MRIs have been ordered to gather more data. The cancer did metastasize, and so I remain at risk of developing more tumors elsewhere in my body - part of what the upcoming MRIs are meant to shed light on. In the worst case, exploratory surgeries would be required to effect confirmation. The surgeries could involve the removal of significant tissues, including, part of my colon and - most distressing - my prostate. Without being too graphic, such removals would mean the following: That I would require the use of a colostomy bag for the rest of my life, that I would loose the ability to have children (in fact I may’ve already) and that I would forever lose all sexual function. As I’ve only had 24 hours to absorb this information, I can’t elaborate, although I have no intention of living out a bleak 40-50 years as a cancer-ravaged eunuch. I would stress that this is the worst case scenario (yes, worse than death) and more data is needed to determine the likelihood of things taking such a turn. I may come to need a second opinion. I may find myself weighing the benefits of continuing my treatment against my future quality-of-life. I’m hoping it won’t come to that. I do think that my positive results thus far and current lack of symptoms are positive indicators. Nevertheless, fear and trepidation are creeping in at the margins. Some of you may know, but for those of you who don’t, I knew Hunter S. Thompson and when I got the call one morning that he’d shot himself in Aspen, I understood. Facing a life of infirmity isn’t something to be taken with a pinch of salt. I want to have a future worth living to look forward to. Continuing treatment would be tough to reconcile against dismal prospects. I’m not saying that I would follow Hunter’s example in this regard. I promise I will give everything possible to remain optimistic, but cautiously so, out of necessity.
Thus I would say to anyone, facing trepidation over whether or not to take that new job, marry that man, ask out that woman, buy that house: Live in urgency. You do not have all the time in the world. Get out of your own way, and seize the best life you can. Because, at any moment fortune can shift and take away everything you’ve built for yourself.
I regret having to post such a sombre note, but I feel it is important to face life with open eyes and if the naked reality of this experience can be helpful to others, then it’s worthwhile. Hopefully my next update will bring positive news. Until then, I appreciate so much, all of your continued support, thoughts, prayers, donations, care-packages, jokes, requests, contact and consideration. Thank you ever so much.
That’s all for now.
Time for another update. It pleases me to report that I’ve just completed 18 weeks of FOL-FOX Chemotherapy. Some of you may recall that the objective of this round has been to continue to shrink the tumor at the primary sites, killing any cancer cells roaming free in my bloodstream, preventing such cells from invading my liver and lungs. Critical to the success of this part of treatment is preventing DNA changes from occurring that will reinforce the cancer. As a general must read the terrain, picking the most favorable ground to deploy his forces, the body is the terrain which must be read and whose impacts must be predicted. My medical team has found me a rather challenging case. My complex DNA (Afro-Caucasian-Ashkenazi) makes interpreting lab results tricky and my chemo dosages - usually at 100% given the aggressive nature of my cancer - have needed adjusting more than once. My liver, which primarily filters the chemo drug, has been pushed to the red-line. To analogize my particular fight with Cancer so far (it’s different for everyone who faces it) one might imagine The Western Front in 1917; a long, slow war of attrition where the objectives are often hazy in the distance, and the daily metrics of progress aren’t always clear.
In fact, I don’t have much to report, except that I’m due for a full battery of CAT scans on 9 July, and a panel review of said CAT scans three days later on the 12th. Ideally, MRIs and Endoscopy would follow shortly thereafter, in which case I’d have some hard data regarding my progress, at the very least. Further, MRIs and Endoscopy would be a sizable milestone; the first steps for the surgical team and my looming next step in treatment. The less ideal case would be, that my CAT scans show middling improvement, in which case further chemo may be ordered.
One would be inclined to think that, given the fickle nature of my line of work, the “hurry-up-and-wait” game would be more tolerable. It isn’t. There is a pernicious myth about battling Cancer that can leave one with a false impression of the nature of that battle; that the fight is against the Cancer itself. What I’ve come to understand in the six months I’ve been engaged in treatment is that one actually doesn’t fight Cancer. That remains squarely in the province of mathematics. The Cancer is going to act in accordance with its own nature. At all times it can still kill you. All you can do is create the conditions that hamper its progress and deny it enough purchase in your body such that it can be contained and removed. I’ve done that through a clean diet, exercise, showing up for my treatment regime, listening to my oncologists, and taking as much enjoyment of the outdoors as my body (and our capricious Oregon weather) allows. The rest is up to time and the calculus of nature.
When in the brutal grind of chemotherapy and the endless cocktails of steroids, the only battle that seems immediately tactile enough to fight is the battle of the will. One’s morale fluctuates wildly - some days I’m just happy that I was able to eat a meal without immediately throwing it up like some Vampire. Other days taking my dogs to the duck pond is exciting as going to Jupiter. Other days I have to pep-talk myself to show up for chemo and trick my doubting mind into believing there’s a point to all this for just one more day.
The great Roman statesman Lucius Annaeus Seneca maintained that the greatest obstacle to living is expectancy. It is often misunderstood that the Stoic Philosophy is merely a grim resignation to the vagaries of life; an acceptance of the inevitable. The goal of the stoic is not to eliminate the emotions, to become devoid of feeling, but to attach the right judgements to them. We can enjoy love, happiness and beauty as long as we don’t desire more than is within our control. We can enjoy music, if at the same time we can not wish for it never to end. We can enjoy a cold drink in the sun, if at the same time we can not wish the moment never to pass. It is better to expend yourself against a goal with an uncertain outcome, than to experience the fear of a life without purpose. Whatever purpose you do find, do not stress about its achievement, for that is not up to you to decide. Stress instead, about the virtue of your commitment, and embrace the beautiful foolishness of acting without expectation.
If, after this round of scans, I’m cleared to move on to surgical prep then I can look forward to something I’ve missed. Driving. At least for a little while. I haven’t been able to drive in nearly 7 months due to neuropathy (inability to feel my extremities), loss of balance and slowed reaction-time all caused by my chemo. My ability to get more enjoyment out of Summer has been stymied as a result. Every morning, while my dogs eat their breakfast, I go out and start my car - to keep the battery flattening from being parked all the time. I listen to the hum of the engine, and think about my next drive through The Columbia River Gorge, or to my choice spot under the airport glide path where the planes roar in right over your head at dusk. Being able to see friends and get on with things without feeling like a burden for others to schlep around. Independence isn’t just an abstract. It’s foundational to one’s sense of self and all too easy to take for granted.
There remains some pressure this Summer as finances are getting ropey and while giving my apartment up was a massive savings, I still had to create another bill to keep my things locally in storage. I’m planning to set up a small stretch goal to take the edge off the budget, If you out there wouldn’t mind taking a second to spread the word. It’s tough, because as a professional I’m always seeking to provide a clearly articulated ROI. In a case like this, such is tricky to actualize. I can offer an honest account of the experience and hope to transmute it into something helpful to other Cancer patients and those who care about them. So many of you have already donated to me, a few more than once and you got me through six long months. I remain forever in your debt.
Many of you have reached out to check in, which never goes unappreciated even if I don’t always reply straight away. I’ve come to notice that Social media is a somewhat precarious thing for me at present. It’s hard to not feel like life is passing me by while I’m stuck on the sidelines with Hodor’s evil cancerous twin breathing down my neck and no clear end in sight. I decided to take some steps to digitally cleanse, and so my social media time is strictly limited to (and enforced by software) to a mere 30 minutes per day. Email and snail-mail are the best way to communicate with me. Texting to a lesser extent - I’m trying to break that Pavlovian response to the machines that go PING! and DING!
That’s about all there is, for now. I will update all of you again after my next round of CAT scans. Thanks again, so much, for all of your support, patience and understanding. I’m still here and still cracking on. Stay safe, hug your loved ones, and enjoy the Summer - and for my Antipodean friends Down Under I’m insanely jealous of your weather this week.
Ahead, is 18 weeks of more intense chemo (three cycles of which behind me so far) the objective being to continue to shrink the tumor as much as possible before it can be removed, and to prevent cancer cells -- freely riding around in my bloodstream -- from invading the rest of my body. In a downturn, the typical vector for my type of cancer would be for it to show up in my Liver next, then Lungs. Both are monitored closely. That’s where things stand. The chemo has been different this time around; much harder than before, as bad as that was. I’m hooked up every other weekend, and spend about five days feeling like the living dead: Fatigue, lightheadedness (I’ve had a few falls), neuropathy (a feeling of ants crawling around in my extremities 24/7) a bizarre sensitivity to cold -- I have to wear ski gloves to grab anything from the freezer and can forget about ice cream or cold drinks (#first-world problems). There are days when I’m too sick to talk to anyone. Then there’s the nausea... For my fellow D&D nerds out there, every time I eat, I make a saving throw/constitution check at d20 -12! On the upside, No neutropenia -- fingers crossed -- although I am on watch for it. I have lost some body hair, but miraculously (absurdly?) not a single strand on my head has gone AWOL yet. If it does, I’m ready for the Spider Jerusalem look.
What continues to occupy my thoughts, in the infusion ward, is the degree to which I was convinced my cancer was a result of poor health; that I’d somehow brought it upon myself. My oncologists reassure me of the wrongheadedness of that notion; it was my good health that enabled my body to respond positively to treatment. Granted, I should have acted sooner at the first sign that something was wrong. At the time I was working hard to keep my head above water, I didn’t feel I had the luxury of illness. Plus, I was strong enough to work what exiguous shoots I could get, drive a truck and do manual labor 30 hours a week to make ends meet, look after two dogs, cook, clean, maintain a relationship, and hold down a household. I never had any reason to believe that I was as badly anemic as I was, let alone had stage IV cancer.
March ended. I spent a week packing up the flat, moving out officially two days before another cycle of Chemo. I’m only now feeling rested. Equal to the difficulty of that undertaking, was leaving the neighbourhood. My neighbours were simply incredible; bringing fresh cooked meals, or cooking with me, joining me for dog walks, and simply passing the time. My industry contacts in the neighbourhood were tremendous; the gang over at Studio 3 sent along a care package which I’m still enjoying, ( see attached photo), Picture This have have my back as well as countless other colleagues and friends. I have felt incredibly fortunate to be supported by such great people, both locally and abroad; some of them complete strangers.
Going forward, I have a long cycle of chemo ahead. Some time after, I don’t know when as yet, major surgery. After that, a recovery period determined entirely by my body. Finally, further chemo. Hopefully, once I’ve traversed that uncertain terrain, I’ll be able to report that I’m cancer-free. For now all I can do is stay in the fight. Enjoying my dogs, and the dramatic Spring weather. Yesterday, I sat in my car for the first time in five months. I still can’t drive (doctor’s orders) but the time will come when I regain my life. I don’t know when I’ll be able to return to work; that’s a source of no small degree of anxiety. I’ve had to turn down quite a few shoots as the production season comes out of hibernation.Hopefully I’ll raise a little more of a cash reserve to recoup expenses from my unplanned move. So many of you donated before and I remain grateful for your support, so If you have a moment, I hope you’ll spread the word.
For the locals, I’ll continue to make an effort to get into town as much as I can and won’t be a stranger. For those of you in more distant places, I hope this update has been helpful, and I’ll be responding to each of you personally over the coming days. I’ve even considering setting up livestreams to better keep in touch. More on that as things develop.
That’s about all from the “Chemo Pass” for now. I’m wishing all of you a great week, and thanks again for checking on me.
Posted by Corey Drayton
I’ve been home nine days now. Little has changed. I shower, cook, make tea and look after my dogs. Yet everything has changed: I receive high doses of radiation daily. I’m attached to a portable pump sending chemotherapy cocktail directly into my heart 24/7. Through it all I reflect on the whirlwind events of the bygone Holiday season, where I’ve been, where I am, and I find here at the top of 2019 a curious absence of worry.
I have all of you to thank for that. Because of your contributions, your generosity, I’m not worrying about bills, obligations and the hornet's nest of responsibilities that makes up modern life. I can focus my energies on fighting this cancer.
That is a tremendous gift.
Each and every one of you gave me that gift. You helped me to clear my first and biggest hurdle - YOU rose to the occasion, spreading the word, donating, leaving messages of support and encouragement ensuring this GOFUNDME campaign was a success. You made a difference in my life that I will cherish and remain forever humbled by, and grateful for. From the bottom of my heart, Thank you.
Even now, many of you continue to reach out and ask “how can I help?” “What do you need?” You’ve done so much already and yet here you all are, still in the fight with me. Sarah and I wanted to find a way to coordinate all of the continued offers of support we’ve been getting. We’ve set up a website through a nonprofit called CaringBridge which helps families facing medical emergencies coordinate their support network. On our CaringBridge site we’ve set up a planner detailing ways you can help out during my ongoing treatment. It can be providing a meal, taking our dogs for a walk, or just hanging out and shooting the breeze with me in chemo.
Feel free to take a look: https://www.caringbridge.org/public/teamcoreyfightscancer
The generosity this community has shown is a testament to how much you recognize what a hurdle this could have been without your support. Thank you all again for everything you’ve done, and continue to do on my behalf. I’m lucky to have so many people in my corner.