... he's on the left. My father. To say that my father is the man would be one thing; to say that my father is THE (note the capslock and bold font) man is another, and the latter is far closer to the truth. I know that a lot of folks out there stake claims: "My dad is great, my pops is greater than yours, my papa is nothing short of the greatest!" I hear you. I'm glad you feel that way. I have to disagree. John Moloney Pfeil of Lockport, NY is the world's best father. He has never touched a cigarette. He's hiked Everest. He is an All-American athlete. He has not one but TWO US patents - I don't know what he invented, but it was something cool. He has a really wicked sense of humor. He's the kindest person I know. His heart is actually composed of pure gold. I've had so many friends tell me that they wish my dad was their dad, and I calmly reply, "He is. He's everyone's dad." That's a fact. My father's door is always open for the poor, wayfaring stranger. Everyone is worth something to my dad, even the liberalist of Democrats. (He's a registered Republican. We disagree there, but he sincerely loves and appreciates the art of musical theatre, so he gets a free pass.)
￼And it just so happens that, because of all his awesomeness, the past year or so has been #JohnPfeilSeason. I'm going to share a sorta-secret with you now. My father got sick last year, and it wasn't until very recently that we got a solid diagnosis: lung cancer. The ugly, ugly C word. Specifically, mesothelioma. We didn't want to hear it, but if you must know, we're glad to at least have a conclusive answer because first they said it was. Then they said it might be. Then they said it wasn't. And then they went back to the cancer answer. And so it went, round and round like this, for ten months. John was passed around for the past ten months, from doctor to doctor, none of whom could provide a solid answer as to what was happening with my dad until very recently when we got the answer, finally. This is the email my father sent our closest family/friends last week:
I went to see a Dr. Takita this week. He is a thoracic surgeon who is 85 years old with a heavy Japanese accent. That would put him at about 14 at the end of WW2. Sadly, I suspect he knows what a B29 looks like. Beth looked him up, and reports he has an excellent reputation. His office staff tells me he still plays racquetball quite often. Ya gotta love it!
I guess the key info in that consultation was that the last PET/CT scan I had showed something on the lower lobe of my right lung (the one that has collapsed 9 times). The "brightness" of a hot spot on a PET scan is measured in "Standardized Uptake Values" (SUVs) which range from 0 for no uptake to 15 for maximal uptake. Most cancers are above 2 or 3. Sometimes, highly metabolic normal tissues can also be in that range. In my scan, the spherical structure, sorry to say, has an SUV of 7.8. High-SUV structures look very bright when one is viewing the scan. Mine looks like a spotlight. : (
There is another abnormality in that lung, namely an area of thickening in the tissue surrounding the lung. This seems concentrated in a small area (less than 1", is my guess). It has a normal SUV, so the doc is not worried about that one.
I have been scheduled for a May 24th surgery to remove the problematic tissue via a thoracoscopy, or more descriptively, a video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS). This will probably involve 2 incisions in my chest wall to insert a camera and the surgical instrument. After slicing and dicing, they will leave a thoracic catheter that allows the lung cavity to drain. I will probably be at Kenmore Mercy Hospital for three days. If surgery removes the cause of my lung collapses, the catheter will be taken out some day. If the cause persists, they will leave it in so that my monthly "oil changes", as Meg calls them, will no longer be necessary. After removal of the tumor, the lab folks check to see if further treatment is indicated (e.g., chemo or radiation therapy).
I remain optimistic, so no worries. : )
"OK. An answer. Let's act," we all said.
Here's the thing, though. Leave it to John to retire and lose good health insurance altogether. The all-star athlete, non-smoker, healthiest dude alive got cancer, had super insurance for years that he never needed, retired, and a few months later got sick. Go figure.
￼I know you see these all the time - which is a terrible, terrible fact in the world. And it's a terrible, terrible fact that our country's health insurance system is in dire need of continued restructuring. My dad is unemployed, and he needs help to solve this issue. (Side note: the issue, aka cancer, was given a name: Clynton.) And it's our plan to kill Clynton. We're going to annihilate her in cold blood, but we need your help.
￼This money is going to help cover the cost of my dad's costly care. That's it. And if you've ever met him, you know that he would NEVER ask for help. In fact, I haven't told him that I'm doing this. He'd rather kill me for doing this than kill Clynton with the help of friends. It's part of his strange loveliness, but that's where we're at right now. If you've never met John, I can make that happen. We can sit down together and FaceTime him, and he can tell you all the stories about his incredible, valuable, wonderful life that he has lived fully and truly, enough that I don't think he should have to stop yet. This isn't the way that my father is supposed to leave this planet; it's not cool enough. He needs to leave it by saving a pile of puppies from a burning building or jumping in the way of a young chap or gal who almost steps in front of a bus or better yet? Peacefully. Not at the hand of his cancerous lungs.
￼Not on my watch. Or yours.
If you can toss a few dollars into the pot to help murder Clynton, I'll never forget it. Not as long as I live.
her because the anonymous donor is like a second mother to me in many ways, and I'm so lucky that I have her in my life. She gave me permission to unveil her identity, so here we go.
See, parents are superheroes, no question. At least the parents in my life. And not just the John and Beth immediate parents, my birthers - although how they've survived my "black sheepery" is beyond me. (I can estimate that my colorful relationship with them sets the example of what unconditional love can look like at its earthly purest: with patience like gravity, it's as if John and Beth grew stone-encrusted roots out of the bottoms of their feet during my teens, to ground them to the planet while they've observed my sometimes hilarious navigation of life's roadmap over and through the years. And in return, to watch them learn about and accept my genetics as they are the way only John and Beth could has been nothing short of miraculous. I'm lucky they are who they are, as I know they're lucky I am who I am. I hope.)
But no, not just them, amazing them. I have other parents. I have many sets of people who can take on the mom and dad roles in my life, surrogates who have taken me on and in, via so many of my dear friends. Elena Lebel (and her hubby Carl) are one of those legendary pairs of secondary parents. In college, my Geebs/good buddy Chelsey introduced me to her parents, Elena and Carl, and from the moment I
housesat for them briefly one summer, they have, though they may not
know it, served as beacons of inspiration for me. For example: it was Elena who once, when I was in the thick of a difficult breakup towards the end of college, taught me the single most important lesson on what
unwavering, powerful relationships can be and should be. I don't want to uncover the details of said conversation, but that brief chat in which she simply illustrated why and how she and Carl succeed the way
they do as a couple - and how I might think about applying the same logic to my own romantic pursuits - never left my brain. (Essentially, she was the first person who revealed to me that I should probably really and truly get to know myself before diving into a relationship with anyone else. How novel.
But to a silly college kid convinced he was in love with an asshole, they were words I needed to hear.) Like I said, I'm lucky to have lots of parents.
For this week's donor thank you, I tip my hat to Elena (and thereby Carl) for being like another family to me. I don't think either of them have even met my dad, maybe once after a performance of Into the
Woods senior year, but I know that they'd really have a good laugh together if they did. Elena (and Carl), your generosity of heart and spirit over the almost ten years I've gotten to know you via Geebs/Chelsey is awesome, totally awesome. I love the LeBel Clan. Mwah!
Now for a Papa update: he has schooled his second round of chemo like a true boss. He feels like shit, to be expected, so we're with him the whole way through. The wounds on his legs and feet (the result of his first round of chemo, via a crazy side effect called Stevens-Johnson Sydrome) are healing, slowly. A dear friend introduced us to this medical grade honey that acts as a healing agent that we're going to give a go on the wounds. Also - thank heaven for my sister-in-law Heather who assisted my father in engaging in his own wound care while we waited for his crap insurance to figure out an office within a 100 mile radius that would take him. We're hoping that the condition doesn't
come back with this second round of chemo as he's recovers. In the meantime, my brother and I shaved our heads in solidarity with John on round two of his chemo. Except we don't have the sweet blonde wig. John is now working with a government-funded
mesothelioma victims treatment operation; they're helping him locate and get on the list for experimental immunotherapy treatments he'll try after the last round of chemo. We're hopeful that because of the
severity of his current situation (stage IV) and his awesome/otherwise general state of health, someone will take him on.
Thanks to everyone who has donated, read up on, and/or shared the story of my father's fight with mesothelioma so far. If you haven't had a chance to investigate, please take a few moments to check out my dad's story. I'd appreciate it so much.
Have an awesome weekend everybody!
We are truly grateful to the co-founders (CEO Marcela Sapone and COO Jessica Beck) and entire NYC staff of Hello Alfred (particularly Sarah Erwin for organizing the move) for this extremely generous donation. We are overwhelmed.
I am reminded by my favorite quote from humanist and writer Elizabeth Gilbert:
“In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it's wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.”
Thank you, forever and sincerely... ♥
Blake, Beth, Ryan, Megan, and John
Have an awesome week everyone!
The entire family has gathered in Lockport, NY, a suburb of Buffalo (and my parents' hometown) to be with my dad. His 62nd birthday was a couple weeks ago, my mom's 61st two days after that, and my brother's 33rd tomorrow (they're all sensitive Cancers, no pun intended.) We are so touched by well how the campaign has gone. Thank you to everyone who has donated thus far.
John update time: we're beginning to look at immunotherapy, a new and experimental treatment that scientists are hopeful will turn cancer on its head. My dad reacted very, very poorly to the first round of chemo (he developed massive sores and boils all over his legs, pretty gnarly stuff), so he's decided to forgo round two while we speak with doctors about immunotherapy and try it out. Google it! The idea behind it is fascinating and makes as much sense as anything else we've researched so far.
Please take a moment to read my father's story if you haven't and the updates on his journey to annihilate cancer. Again, a huge thank you to everyone who has supported my dad. If you don't know him and want to meet him, text me. We can set up a FaceTime or Skype date. :) 617-504-9520.
Have a great Tuesday! ❤️