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Fatherhood & Cancer: Richard’s Story

Posted on June 13, 2014

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When I was originally diagnosed with colon cancer, I was on the way to meet my wife and son at Bob Evans for a “kids eat free” meal. Unexpectedly, I received a call from the GI. He sounded distraught, so immediately I tried to put him at ease. (You read that right!) He was not used to delivering this kind of news to someone my age. He just kept apologizing to me. He had assured me that I was too young to have this disease at age 41, and with a 4-year-old son. When I got off the phone, I sat in the parking lot trying to determine what it would all mean, and how my family would react; all I could think of was my son growing up without a dad. Being a father to a now 7-year-old son and a 21-year-old daughter has had a tremendous impact on the way I treat my cancer and the decisions I make as I go along this journey. Thankfully, I am still alive and kicking.

From the moment I got the news, we scheduled surgery, went through the procedures for staging and started a chemo regimen with Folfox. We completed the chemo regimen in December and I was declared No Evidence of Disease (NED).

Less than a year later, I was diagnosed with recurring stage IV metastatic cancer. I was crushed that it had gotten to that point. My oncologist explained what this meant: based on the current treatment options, it was highly unlikely that I would be cured. But his goal was to extend my life as much as possible and hope that a cure would be found as I was treating. Knowing that I wanted to be a part of my son’s life as long as I could, I agreed to start a treatment regimen that included Folfiri and Avastin. I made it through the initial infusion and then wound up in the hospital.

"I want to make sure I can still help coach my son’s soccer team, continue pursuing my Master’s Degree (my second one, mind you!) and keep up the date night tradition with my wife because, for me, these precious moments are what living is all about."

“I want to make sure I can still help coach my son’s soccer team, continue pursuing my Master’s Degree (my second one, mind you!) and keep up the date night tradition with my wife because, for me, these precious moments are what living is all about.”

From that point on, my wife and I decided we would make all future decisions in the best interest of our family. Treatments resumed. As we continued to build upon the dosage, my body didn’t do well with the side effects. We tried several different meds to deal with the effects, but the more we tried, the worse my attitude became. We decided that I needed to try another approach because I was alienating the people who meant the most to me.

The change was just what I needed. My new oncologist is outstanding. Not only is she a skilled physician, but also a compassionate person. She really understands that quality of life is the most important decision and my overall health and attitude have been much better since the switch. Most importantly, I am able to participate much more frequently with my son and what’s going on in his life, which gives me so much joy.

I don’t think a cancer diagnosis is ever easy on a family. And for mine, it has been a huge stress. But, making decisions based on quality of life, and not quantity of life, has made decisions more cut and dry for us. Ultimately, I want to make sure I can still help coach my son’s soccer team, continue pursuing my Master’s Degree (my second one, mind you!) and keep up the date night tradition with my wife because, for me, these precious moments are what living is all about.

In February, the doctor suggested using a biologic, Erbitux. I had already been pleased with my reaction to a similar biologic, Avastin, so we decided it fit our tolerance. It was a great decision for us because it worked on the cancer cells (at least to some degree) but did not make me sick at all. In fact, it helped me to feel the best I had felt in some time, again increasing my ability to participate with the family.

Last week I learned that my current status is not good. A CT scan revealed that although some of my tumors have shrunk or disappeared, others have grown, and there is a new one in the lining of my small intestine. On May 30, I had my first colonoscopy in 18 months. The results were a crushing blow. The GI found a tumor at the original site of the cancer, and the biopsy has proven it to be cancerous. We have decided that we will combine two of the meds that we have previously used and hope for the best.

Although this disease has torn me and my family down at times, I’ve made sure to get involved and leave a footprint in the lives of other patients so that our fight hasn’t been in vain. At the Colon Cancer Alliance National Conference last fall, I met several of the people face-to-face who I had been chatting with online for many months and also made new connections and friendships that have continued to flourish to this day. At the conference, I kept hearing the message to get out and spread our message and our story and help educate the people in our lives. I took that message very personally and have acted accordingly. I regularly post status updates on Facebook, both the victories and the defeats, the joys of my life and the challenges I face. My friends have benefited a great deal; they say they feel personally involved as they are able to pray for us and get personally motivated to take better care of their bodies and to overcome challenges in their own lives. I have also made it a personal mission to become more involved with the Colon Cancer Alliance. I have increased my involvement as a volunteer Buddy, have taken on a more active role in the My CCA Support Online Community and am very active on social media helping newer warriors with their personal battles by sharing my experiences. 

My family and I are taking a trip home to Rhode Island around Father’s Day and we’ve decided to hold off on adding one of the meds until we return so that we can enjoy our visit. Once again, the quality of my life and that of my family dictates our decisions about treatment and has allowed me many special moments with them over the last three years. Because after all, what is important? For me, at the end of it all, I want to be able to look back and see how I was able to spend quality time with the most important people in my life – my wife and children.

-       Richard Mason, 44, colon cancer warrior 

15 Responses to “Fatherhood & Cancer: Richard’s Story”

  1. What a wonderful testimony. You are a very brave person. I really admire you. My sister has just been diagnosed with Stage four colon cancer. She has had three treatments and has nine to go. The side effects have put her down so they are lowering the dosage and adding steroids,changing nausea medicine, etc. she has lost a t tremendous amount of weight. She will get a pet scan after three more treatments to see if it is helping. She is really afraid and nervous. Thank you for your encouragement.

    • Richard Mason says:

      Thank you, Margie! The most important piece of advice that I can share for your sister is to surround herself with positive people. This can be through her friend network, co-workers, support groups (both online and in person), church, etc. I have so many people who have stepped up to support me, that its really amazing. I try to stay as positive as possible, but I couldn’t do this alone. My son is the source of much joy and distraction from focusing on the cancer. My wife is very much a realist, and a source for me of medical information. She grew up surrounded by nurses (mom, sister, etc) and previously worked for a bio-medical research firm before we moved to Florida. She is now a teacher, too. But, whenever I start feeling down, all I have to do is dial into one of my support networks, and it really helps my attitude. Treatments can be very difficult. I had a terrible time with Folfiri, even though I have seen on the CCA Facebook group that others have very little trouble. This disease really targets each person individually. My advice to her is that if the treatments are causing her that much trouble, then she should really take a step back and look at it through the lens of quality of life. Ask herself, and those who help in the decision making process if the current treatments are really worth the outcome. I just had to go through that difficult decision when my doctor wanted me to start irinotecan again. I took one dose (1/4 of the strength that she wants me to treat at) and my side effects went bonkers. Easy decision for me now. I will not continue on that path. It violates my definition of Quality of Life, and it is more important to me to live life to the fullest, not just to eek out more time. But, she has to be honest with herself too. I understand and accept the price of living for Quality of Life. She needs to be sure that she can accept that as well. Best of luck and I will pray for her!

  2. Patricia Mullenax says:

    1119 Montrose Avenue. I am fighting Colon Cancer Stage 3C the second time within two years, with the second occurring below the first and the colon being very weak. I have an ileostomy. I am now having Colonoscopy every month. Third will be due this month. This is to stretch colon little by lite to avoid perforating the colon and the hopes to soon to reverse the ileostomy. My second colon surgery was in December 2013. I have to date taken seven of the 12 chemos. One had to eliminated because I now have Stage 3 Kidney Function which has been a problem since December. I have been in and out of the hospital since December. The last was from dehydration and Steptococcal Pneumonia. My prayers out to you and your famly. God hears and listens to our prayers. God is Good.

    • Richard Mason says:

      May God bless you and watch over you as well! Wow, that sounds like you have had a tough time. All I can say is that I will pray for you that He watches over you and keeps you safe. Thank you!!

  3. Michele Battista says:

    Richard,
    I am also proud to be a buddy for the Colon Cancer Alliance. I hope to see you at the Jersey Shore Undy in July. I went thru surgery and chemo for stage 3c colon cancer in 2012, so attended my 1st Undy 5k last July.

    I wish you the best with your treatments and glad a 2nd Oncologist is working better for you. I love my oncologist from Upenn in Philly because she worked with me tweaking meds all along.

    • Richard Mason says:

      Michele,

      Unfortunately you won’t see me at the Jersey Shore Undy in July because I live in Tampa Bay. That’s why I got involved in the Tampa Undy 5000 earlier this year. But, I wish you luck with your fundraising and with the run!

      Honestly, I am on my fourth oncologist now. The first was when I treated as a stage 3 in 2011. Then I went to a quack who shall remain nameless at this point – lol. I started treating with an excellent doctor through the Tampa office (I live south of Tampa, in Manatee County- near Bradenton). My sister-in-law who is an ER nurse and was my primary source of rides last year after my seizure is so impressed that her husband, who was recently diagnosed with lung cancer with mets to his brain that required surgery, will start seeing this doctor in September when they snow bird to our area. But, between the drive, and their office staff, it became a burden that was negatively impacting my treatment. So, I switched (same practice – Florida Cancer Specialists) locations to Sarasota and doctors to my current doctor. She and her staff are incredible! I have full trust in them, and I am actually able to partner with them and participate in making treatment decisions. I couldn’t be happier now!

      Michele, have you been to the National Conference? I just learned that the location for this year’s event will be disclosed within about a month. If you have been, you know how great it is. If you haven’t, I strongly urge you to attend, and will be looking for you!

  4. shelley stover says:

    keep fighting I have stage4 colon just had in april part of my liver removed just had scan done they found 3 more on my liver more chemo they told me I could live for 10 more years God bless you

    • Richard Mason says:

      Thanks! You keep fighting too! This isn’t something that we can ever really give up on, is it? Nobody knows how long we’ll be here or what will happen in the future. In the meantime, don’t ever give up!!

  5. Sindy Flores says:

    May God bless you and your family. My 77 yr old mother diagnosed one year ago today…baseball size in her colon. She had a mother and sister die from the disease, then a sister that was being tested had the bad luck of doctor rupturing her colon and thus having a bag on her side for last 20 yrs. Due to this my mother would never go have the scope done and her growth was determined to be at least 10 yrs old. She is now in the final month or so of her life and has been hard hard to watch.She did radation for 25 treatments back in Oct 2013 and it helped to shrink main tumor but it has spread to liver and bladder.Will now add you to my prayer list. I salute you for the hard decisions you have made and sit here feeling like you are an incredible man and something good will come from your ability to share your story. God Bless and keep your family…Prayers

  6. Melina Huerin says:

    Dear Richard

    I am doctor (cardiologist) and I am a colon cancer warrior too! (at my 45 y). I was operated (two times). I am not sure but you could have a Lynch Syndrome. Do you know about this?
    it is important, specially for your kids.
    Answer me and I can explain to you
    Love, Melina Huerin, MD

    • Richard Mason says:

      Hi Dr. Huerin,

      Thanks for your post. Lynch syndrome has been ruled out for me. I just went through genetic testing through Sarasota Memorial Hospital. There is a genetic link, but it is not Lynch Syndrome. That is why I am able to treat with Erbitux. Yes, I am very familiar with Lynch Syndrome. The link is in another gene (I don’t remember off hand what the gene is, and I am 1500 miles away from home right now). The interesting thing with the gene that is effected is that the counselor explained that typically it requires a matching pair of this genetic mutation, but I only have one of the gene. Previously, it was believed that a complete pair was required, however the researcher found a limited amount of info on people who have just the one mutation and testing positive for Colon Cancer. Honestly, I was disappointed by the final results with the testing. I was under the impression that the testing would help with treatment options, but in the end, the researcher was more interested in next generation links (my daughter is 21 and my son is 7). My wife will be making absolutely certain that they begin testing early anyway, so it didn’t lead to a whole lot.

  7. KATHY Carrow says:

    You have certainly inspired me to get more involved in the community that I belong to as a colon cancer survivor. Thank you for sharing.

    • Richard Mason says:

      You’re welcome Kathy! Like they told us at the National Conference, we have an important story to tell, and if we aren’t going to tell it, who will? I’m glad that I have inspired you. Try to find outlets that work best for you and get out there and tell your story!!

      Best wishes!

  8. Vicky Hester says:

    My Husband Has Stage 4 Liver Cancer. In 2010 They removed part of his colon, but it had already spread to the liver. He has been battling it for over 4 years now & is still hear by the Grace of GOD. I know what you & your family are going thru. At times I feel so helpless, but I Love Him with all my heart & then some, I Pray God will Heal Him & Now I’ll be Praying for you. Your story was very touching, & a Blessing. Please, Keep us in your Prayers.

    • Richard Mason says:

      Thanks so much Vicky! I will be adding you and your husband to my prayer list. I really think that, no matter what physical pain that I am going through, and how frustrating things can be for me, that the people that it is hardest on are my family members. They have no idea what is going on in my mind or in my body other than what I let them see. When I am in a good mood and things are going well, it’s great. However, especially when I was treating with FolFiri, I could switch into a bad mood, and even act on that bad mood without warning. Nobody was good with that. I wish you the best of luck and hopefully you can find some relief soon.

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