Dear Family and Friends,
Thank you all so much for your healing thoughts and prayers as our family learns to live with cancer. Both Mike and I were born and raised on the East Side of Des Moines and lived in the area for over 40 years. We have a lot of family in Des Moines and we have accumulated many long-time friends through school—Dowling for Mike and East High for Vicki—as well as work, church and play.
We moved to Windsor, Colorado, 14 years ago when Mike was offered a job in the printing industry with a company with more flexibility in his schedule than what he had at RR Donnelly. We truly enjoy our Colorado lifestyle, but we love our visits back “home” to Des Moines and reconnecting with our Iowa family and friends.
March 13, 2013, was a beautiful spring day. Mike had gone on a motorcycle ride with one of his friends. After he got home and cleaned up, we headed to Old Chicago in Loveland for a dinner date. We sat down and ordered our drinks and an appetizer. During the next five minutes, our lives were completely turned upside down and would never be the same.
Mike had a Grand Mal Seizure right there in the restaurant. I replay this moment over and over in my head. It was terrifying but I actually handled it pretty calmly at the time. I jumped to his side of the table and asked for help. We immediately had people coming to assist. We got him down on the floor without him getting hurt. An ambulance was called and they were there within five minutes. Fortunately, we were very close to the Medical Center of the Rockies (MCR).
They ran a few tests and admitted him for the evening. Kristi was able to get off work; she was actually right across the parking lot from the restaurant. She rode with me to the hospital. They told us there was a spot on the CT scan they were concerned with and they wanted to do an MRI the next morning for a closer look. It was that next afternoon we got the news that they suspected— it was an aggressive type of Brain Cancer and they needed to perform surgery the next week.
On March 20, 2013, Mike had brain surgery. We had a hospital room full of Iowa and Colorado family and friends. Their support was amazing and so appreciated. Mike came through surgery with flying colors. He was really worried about not being “himself” after the surgery.
The good news is that all went well and they were able to remove all of the cancer. The bad news — it was the aggressive form of cancer that they suspected. Glioblastoma Multiforme. This form of cancer returns within an average of two years and is very aggressive. We have researched the internet and found several five-year + survivors, so we have hope.
Mike started a six-week run of chemotherapy and radiation on April 17, 2013. On April 19, we were getting ready to leave for his 3rd radiation treatment. He had just taken his chemo pill and BAM; he hit the floor again having another seizure. He had a second seizure an hour later, so the ambulance was called. Another seizure happened in the emergency room, three seizures that day.
The doctors attributed this setback to brain swelling and added an additional anti-seizure medicine, as well as putting him back on steroids. We spent the weekend in the hospital. His 56th birthday was April 20, and we had planned a surprise party for him at home, so we ended up having the party at the hospital.
Mike is participating in a clinical trial. He feels good about being on the trial drug. It’s the latest product on the market for this type of cancer and he’s happy that he’s helping future cancer patients by participating in the trial. The trial drug does cause a few side effects that results in more prescriptions and more side effects, we seem to add 1 or 2 more drugs on a monthly basis.
Mike had his first checkup and MRI post-surgery on June 26. He had been feeling great and recovering nicely so we expected an “all clear” report. But there was a spot on the MRI that they hoped was scar tissue, but would have to confirm with the next MRI scheduled in August.
They told us not to be too concerned, but a week later, Mike started feeling really bad and it lasted for over a week. We couldn’t help but think the cancer had come back. We took him in to see his oncologist and she sent us to MCR for more tests. He has now developed blood clots.
Mike had to start giving himself a shot twice a day of Lovenox to thin his blood. Lovenox had a co-pay of $15 per shot. They switched him to Coumadin at $4 a month (a huge difference) but his numbers weren’t good enough so we’re not sure if he can continue on this lower cost option. We just learned that we will receive financial assistance for the Lovenox for the next 12 months and with the Dr’s advise, he will now switch back to the preferred drug, once a day, so that will be a great help.
It has been a very emotional and scary time waiting for this new MRI. We had our August follow-up this week and the Doc comes in with the results with a big smile on her face and the first words out of her mouth were “The Scans are Clear” That was the best news we’ve heard in a long time! They were right about the spot, just scar tissue, the cancer has not returned this fast, what a relief, we were overwhelmed with gratitude. She did have to add one more prescription but that is now secondary.
Mike has now been off work since mid-March. His employer, Quad Graphics, has been wonderful. They doubled Mike’s FMLA leave so Mike has been able to maintain his benefits through September 13. He has a little over a month of vacation time accumulated, so that will extend his benefits to early November.
Mike wants to go back to work, but he is weak and tires easily. He is on many medications. He will do five days of chemo every 28 days, indefinitely, as well as the clinical trial drug daily. Mike’s not sure if he will be able to work around the heavy machinery again. He doesn’t want to put his crew in danger either. We still have a little time, but we really are unsure what is going to happen next.
We do have health insurance and disability income, but with co-pays on both medical visits, hospital visits, procedures, prescription and maximum out-of-pocket amounts, our finances have been greatly challenged. We cannot fathom what it would be like to go through this process without it.
We are so grateful and appreciative for all of you and for all the help that comes our way. Our family appreciates all of your healing energies and prayers. More than anything, we hope to see you at the benefit on October 12, 2013, that Rhonda Parr, Kathy Carlson and Tina Moore are hosting for us at Hilltop Lounge. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
Spend time with your family and loved ones. You never know when something can happen to drastically change the course of your lives. People can be taken away from us so quickly. During times like these, our family realizes how much our family and friends mean to us.
Thank you all so very much.
Mike, Vicki and Kristi Conley