Read the blog: All It Takes is Guts
Written by Shawn Felty
Having 12 to 15 bowel movements a day is not something anyone would want to deal with, especially not a teenager. But that was exactly what started happening to me my junior year of high school in 1987. I was a healthy kid — even playing football on the football team — but I started dropping weight. I went from 132 pounds down to 96 pounds before the doctors diagnosed me with Crohn’s Disease, which is an inflammatory disease of the digestive system. In order to get some weight back, I was placed on steroids. I graduated high school at 110 pounds, but I would not be able to reach my previous weight of 132 for the next 14 years.
All through my 20’s, clothing shopping was a chore. My waist was only about 27 inches and men’s pants started at a size 30. Hello, kids section! But kids’ pants were full of snaps and zippers and looked like a child’s pair of pants. Working for the Department of Defense, I would walk into a meeting with army generals and I could only imagine what they were thinking.I continued on steroids for years and years. There was really no other medication my doctor thought to give me to control my Crohn’s. So, I continued on with my life-long hobby of mentally mapping every restroom in the world. That made dating fun, too. A two-hour date, meant about 75 minutes getting to know her and 45 minutes getting to know the graffiti in the bathroom stall. Needless to say, I only had a handful of dates in my 20’s.
During one of my routine colonoscopies in 2002, the doctor discovered what he called “weird cell formations.” He wasn’t sure if they were cancerous, but even if they were not, they could be a breeding ground for cancer in the future. So, it was decided to remove that section of my colon. My doctor was retiring, so he wouldn’t be around for my surgery in April of that year. The surgeon he set me up with was great and he gave me a lovely eight-inch incision right through my belly button. A biopsy was performed on the section of removed colon. It was benign. Whew! My surgeon then recommended a new gastroenterologist for me.
Right from the start, I didn’t make this new GI doctor’s life easy. My digestive system did not start back up properly after surgery. I was losing weight daily. I couldn’t eat anything. He would phone in different prescriptions for me each day. Luckily I lived with my cousin who was a manager of a pharmacy. He basically brought the store home to me. None of the prescriptions worked. I was really worried that I wasn’t going to make it.
Then we tried a new drug called Remicade. Remicade is a biologic therapy that reduces the inflammation in the digestive system. It’s administered via an I.V. infusion. About two days after my very first infusion, I was seeing results. I could eat again! (That’s always nice.) Plus, I was not using the restroom every few minutes. In fact, my 12 to 15 bowel movements prior to surgery were reduced to one or two a day. I was like Pinocchio…a real live boy, again!
For the next five years, I thought Remicade was a miracle drug. I could eat food and keep it in me. My weight reached a maximum of 149 pounds. My softball coach told me that some of my teammates were asking if I was on human growth hormones or something. Nope! I was just normal again for the first time in 15 years. I was so happy. I could even go on a dinner date. Not to any spicy restaurants, though. Let’s not go crazy here!
For the next few years, the only problem I encountered was incisional hernias. My incision from the colon resection did not heal properly. Year-round, I am always playing sports and lifting weights. That was too much for the internal stitches to handle. I waited the mandatory eight weeks to resume activity, but that wasn’t long enough. So, a year after having surgery, I was back on the operating table to correct the hernia. This time I waited 12 weeks before resuming activity. I caught the flu later that year and a bout with vomiting popped that sucker right out again. Ugh. So, another year had passed and I was having my third abdominal surgery in three years. It was upsetting me and my softball teammates as I was not able to pitch for them. I love playing softball and just sitting around doing nothing was killing me!
Guess what…yep, the hernia came back a third time! I decided that surgery wasn’t working, so I was just going to live with it. It didn’t hurt at all. Instead of an “inny,” I had an “outy” belly button. Oh well. So, for the next two years I was feeling great.
In October of 2007, I caught another bug, or so I thought. I had a low-grade fever that would not break. For the first several weeks, I simply waited for it to go away. Then I went to see my doctor. He thought it was also a lingering bug. Crohn’s Disease lowers the immune system, so it takes me longer to fight off an illness. I went home and waited it out.
One Friday night, my fever shot up pretty high. I couldn’t just sit at home. I checked myself into the E.R. About 14 hours later, my CT scan showed abnormalities in my colon and liver. The E.R. doctor said, “It could be cancer.” The nurse had tears in her eyes, so I knew it probably was. He talked to my GI doctor and they scheduled a colonoscopy for Monday morning. My GI doc was not able to perform the colonoscopy because the cancer cells had almost completely blocked my colon. He could not get the camera through.
While I was still groggy from the medication, the doctor called my mom. He was audibly upset as he said to her, “I don’t know what to tell you. I have not seen cancer grow this big this fast. I don’t have any answers as to why.” I had a colonoscopy two years prior and everything was perfect. So, in two short years, I went from healthy to colon cancer stage 4; it had spread to my liver.
An appointment was set up for me to see an oncologist at Georgetown University Hospital. The first thing we had to do was place a stint in my colon to make sure the cancer would not completely block my colon. I had a choice of doing that the day before or the day after Christmas. Knowing that the day prior to the procedure I would be drinking a gallon of ex-lax, I opted for the day before Christmas, so I wouldn’t be drinking it on Christmas day. I thought a lump of coal was a bad gift!
The procedure with the stint worked well and it was time for me to begin chemotherapy. Because I was “young enough and strong enough” no one at Georgetown was receiving more chemo than I was going to receive. My first treatment knocked me for a loop. I didn’t even have the energy to watch TV while lying on the couch. I couldn’t keep my eyes open. My red blood cell count had dropped, so I needed a blood transfusion. I was wondering if this was going to happen every treatment cycle. Luckily, I never needed one again, but I didn’t know that at the time.
The next few cycles of chemo led to various side-effects. Insomnia was one and the drugs to put me to sleep gave me nightmares of clowns trying to kill me. But, the “best” side-effect was constant hiccups for four days. Try that one sometime. It was such a joy! And, of course, there was the vomiting and the diarrhea.
After several cycles of chemotherapy, I had another CT scan and my tumors had all shrunk. But, instead of receiving good news, my oncologist said, “You’re inoperable because there are too many tumors in the liver. We are just going to keep you alive as long as possible.” That is not something you ever want to hear. I chose not to listen and I went for a second opinion at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. The oncologists at Johns Hopkins concurred with my oncologist at Georgetown. But, they sent my case to their tumor review board. One of the members of the board was an oncologist liver surgeon. I received a call from his office and paid him a visit. “I have a risky procedure we could try. I’ve only tried four of these in the past, but they’ve all worked,” were his words to me. Risky? Not doing anything is more risky, I reasoned. Let’s do it!
I stopped chemo after three months so my liver could be healthy for surgery. “How about April 23rd for surgery,” he asked. “Perfect. That’s my birthday!” We actually moved the surgery date up one day, so it didn’t end up being my birthday. The risky procedure consisted of two surgeries. The first surgery would remove the tumor portion of my colon. It would also remove the three tumors on the “good” lobe of my liver and cut off the blood supply to the “bad” lobe of my liver that had nine more tumors. Essentially, the bad lobe of my liver (as well as the tumors) would die inside of me in the coming weeks. The cool thing about the liver is that it regenerates. While the bad lobe was dying, the good lobe would be getting bigger. The surgery was a complete success!
I spent the next eight weeks recovering and then it was time for follow-up surgery on 1 July 2008. Great, I’ll be able to watch the fireworks on PBS! That surgery was also a success and by 2 July there was no visible evidence of cancer in my body. Unless you’ve been there, you can’t imagine how great it was to hear that.
The worst part of this surgery was that I put on over 30 pounds of water weight in less than 24 hours. I couldn’t wear socks or underwear for about a week because they wouldn’t fit! I was in bed looking down at my body and wondering whose body it was, because it couldn’t be mine.
Now I had a challenge. I had five weeks to lose this water weight and build back enough strength to pitch in the season-ending softball tournament for my alumni team. Normally after liver surgery, the rule is no physical activity for six weeks. I was determined to ignore that rule. Three weeks after surgery, I was able to get off the couch and walk a few laps from my kitchen to my living room. That gradually turned into walking outside and then jogging. My surgeon cleared me to play softball! I was so happy.
Allow me to brag for a minute. I pitched seven games that weekend for my team. Out of 70 teams, we finished in third place. Everyone on the team hugged me after the first game and they all wore gold arm bands in my honor for the entire tournament. I cried countless happy tears that weekend.
Now that I was recovered from both my surgeries and was in remission, it was time to see my oncologist at Georgetown again. He told me that I am “living data” because my procedure is so new that we don’t have a lot of statistics on it. Normally, he preferred to have his patients do a total of six months of chemotherapy. I had already done three months over the winter, so that would mean three more months. But in my case, he wanted to be sure it doesn’t come back, so I began a full six months more of chemotherapy. It wasn’t what I wanted to hear, but I couldn’t argue with being sure. Those latter cycles of chemo made me extremely fatigued, but that was pretty much the only side-effect. Having no visible cancer and being declared in remission is such a great feeling!
2008 was not the favorite year of my life, but I got through it. I wasn’t alone, though. There were so many great people that were there to lend a helping hand or ear. Too many to name, but the phone calls, emails, greeting cards, and text messages were always appreciated. It was incredible to see how many people cared.
It’s ba-aack… 🙁
Did you miss it? I sure did not. But some cancer has surfaced again. June 2009.
I was at the Nationals/Red Sox game last night and my oncologist called. “Did I catch you at a bad time?” “I’m at the game.” He paused. “The CT showed something, didn’t it?” I asked. “Yes. Come in and see me tomorrow morning.”
So, I was home all night not knowing what to think. Surprising, without drugs, I had the best night’s sleep in weeks! I’m weird.
At the appt. today, I was with my cousin and my neighbor. The doctor walked in and said, “well, it doesn’t look good. Let me show you on the computer.” The computer didn’t work so he had to leave the room to get a portable one. We were all just sitting there on the edge of our seats. He came back with a computer.
The CT scan showed 4 small nodules of cancer in the liver, right around where my previous liver resection was. He is going to call my oncologist liver surgeon at Johns Hopkins, who is the best there is. So, I’m happy with that.
Also, there were 3 small nodules on my lungs (2 on one lung and 1 on the other.) They are too small to do radiation treatments. I guess that is a good thing.
What’s the course of action? I’m going back on chemo starting in two weeks. I will have the 5FU (48 hour pump bag I carry around), Irinotecan (makes me lose my hair) and a new drug that is an antibody. I’ll get this treatment every two weeks with no definite end date. If I respond well, some of the nodules could shrink or be gone by the next scan (2 months or so). I’ll keep at it until they are all gone again.
My oncologist said, “It’s not good, but I said that about you twice before and you proved me wrong both times.” I asked him “If you had two patients…one who had the diagnosis I had 1.5 yrs ago and one with the diagnosis, now…which is better?” “Definitely the diagnosis, now.” So, that’s good.
It sucks that I have to do the chemo again. I’ll be fatigued, lose my hair (I HATE that), and have the usual vomiting/diarrhea bouts here and there.)
Softball Tournament — 2009 style
As you may remember from last year, I love playing in the DC alumni tournament. Last season, five weeks after liver surgery, I helped my team finish in 3rd place out of 70 teams. Well, today was the first day of that tournament this year.
Wouldn’t you know it, today and tomorrow are pretty much my worst days on my chemo two-week cycle. Normally, this weekend, I’m asleep the entire weekend. Last night, I practiced 200 pitches, came home, took a nerve pill for the jitters and slept 11 hours. I woke up this morning and went to the fields (after puking once to make me feel better).
My Pitt team was seeded #16 out of 70 teams. In the first game, we played the #48 seed, so my coach benched me. No sense wearing me out when they might need me later. My team went on to win 17-2 over U of Dayton. Next up was U of Arizona (the #17 seed). I got the starting pitching nod. I was a little worried that some weird chemo side effect would hit me in the middle of the game. I chugged as much water/Gatorade the whole day as possible. I heard that dilutes the side-effects of everything. It must have worked. I felt like I had unbelievable control the whole game. Even the couple of times I let the other guys gets hits, my teammates made some unbelievable fielding plays (Mark over the shoulder and Erin stretching to be about 8-feet tall come to mind). We won 16-3 and that put us in the Sweet Sixteen of the winners bracket starting up again tomorrow.
The last two innings of the game, I was holding in the pee like crazy (see chugging water/Gatorade comment earlier). I ran to the port-o-potty. When I cam out, our team had finished taking our team photo. 🙁 I missed it. But the team mom was having none of that. When she heard, she gathered everyone again and put me front and center for the photo. (I don’t have it yet, or I would post it here.)
I came home a little bit after my game ended. The rest of the teams stayed at the fields enjoying the other softball games, drinking and eating, and playing games like bocci ball and corn-hole toss. But, for me, it’s a night of trying to eat anything (due to mouth sores) and trying not to vomit.
Tomorrow at 9am, I will start my day with a shot at the hospital to boost my white blood counts. This shot gives me flu-like symptoms for a couple of days. My only hope is that the “flu” stays away from me until after I can pitch in my games on Sunday. All I want to do is help my team win, but it seems that it’s never as easy as just that. I just hate it so much. So, I hope you’ll be rooting for me tomorrow because being sick AND losing would be the worst. Being sick and winning…now that, I can tolerate.
Monday, August 17, 2009
Tournament — Final Day…
I don’t even know where to begin. I guess I’ll start at the beginning. “Well, let’s see. First the earth cooled. And then the dinosaurs came, but they got too big and fat, so they all died and they turned into oil. And then the Arabs came and they bought Mercedes Benzes.” Wait, no…that’s from the movie, “Airplane!”
Saturday was the last day of this softball tournament and it was also the first time my mom was ever going to see me play softball. So, I really had two separate goals for the day: one was to win the entire tournament (as the goal has been all year) and the other was to at least have her witness one win. I just wanted her to see me happy because I knew that would make her happy, too.
We arrived at the fields around 10am for our first game at 11:15am versus whoever won the game currently being played. After everyone had gathered, I asked the team if anyone would do the honors of shaving my head (because it’s falling out like crazy!) Ryan and Erin volunteered and I ended up with a mohawk for the day. Not what I planned, but hey…why not??
The # 4 seed in the tournament, Florida, ended up winning the right to play Pitt. Earlier in the season, they beat us to win the division title. Ugh. Our coach’s pep talk included “we have one game to win. That’s all. We’ll worry about the rest later.” And I kinda thought that too…for my mom. The game started off back and forth for a few innings as they grabbed a 5-3 lead after 3 innings. The score remained the same until they tacked on an insurance run in the 6th. So, we had one more at-bat in the last inning and trailing by three. It wasn’t looking good as we only scored three in the previous six innings combined. First batter — base hit, next batter — base hit, next batter — base hit, next batter — base hit, next batter — base hit, next batter — base hit (that was me), next batter — base hit, next batter — base hit. I kid you not. Eight straight hits to start the inning and we took an 8-6 lead. It looked like that Bugs Bunny cartoon where the Bronx Bombers got hit after hit as they rounded the bases in a conga-line. We were going crazy…I literally was hoarse for the rest of the day because of that inning. Florida had the final at-bats. But, I knew I was not going to let them get anything easily. How’d they do? Well, as the Soup Nazi would say: “No runs for you! NEXT!” What a comeback. My mom got to see us win and we were moving on in the tournament. SURVIVE and advance. Our coach smiled and told us, “we have one more game.”
We then waited to find out our next opponent. It turned out to be the #1 seed, Villanova. We had just lost to them a few weeks prior, 9-1. Our team had a mental block against them and I was hoping we could fight through it. We batted first…we were out, 1, 2, 3. Then in the second inning, we had base-running errors and errors in the field and we found ourselves down 4-1 after the dust cleared in the 2nd inning. The following two innings were scoreless. We were just marching through the innings in what could be our final game. Luckily, the 5th inning arrived. We got some life in us and got some people on base and scored 4 to take the lead. As I arrived at 2nd base, the shortstop said to me, “You guys just never quit.” I responded, “I can’t.” He just smiled…as he knew my situation. I don’t think Villanova quit, either, but they couldn’t manage to score again and we pulled off another comeback win, 7-4. SURVIVE and advance. Our coach smiled and told us, “we have one more game.”
We had about 10 minutes to grab something to eat or use the port-a-potty or whatever before facing #3 Auburn. What the heck is up with us? We fell behind 3-1 after one inning. For some reason, other teams loved to jump out in front of us and we seemed helpless to stop it. I’m glad games last seven innings. I was comforted that we had just come back from deficits in the previous two games. And it worked that way again…we scored runs in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th innings as Auburn never scored after those three in the first inning. Our defense has to be the best in the league. I didn’t mention it in my writings about the other two games, but we commit very few errors and make unbelievable plays. There were diving catches in the outfield, double-plays, diving stops by the infielders, complete splits by the firstbase girl! (Just like Geena Davis in “A League of Their Own.”) Amazing stuff…you had to be there. I can’t do it justice. I makes my job as the pitcher so nice! I just have to make the batters hit the ball. Anyhoo… The Auburn game was over as we won 7-3. SURVIVE and advance. Our coach smiled and told us, “we have one more game.”
Next up? #8 Virginia who had sent us packing to the losers’ bracket the previous weekend. How would we handle that fact? We exploded for five runs in the first inning. I was psyched! I finally had a lead to work with at the begging. Well, that didn’t last long as I had my worst couple of innings of the tournament. It seemed like anything I threw they hit well. It must have gotten in my head a little, too. Virginia had a pitcher who is about the same age as Mr. Burns on “The Simpsons.” I can joke about it because his jersey read “Fossil” on the back. Well, he batted and I knew he wasn’t going to swing the bat. Sure enough, he didn’t. But I threw three straight balls to walk him. That was so foreign to me. I walk a batter about once ever 10-15 games, I think. I still don’t know what came over me there! Okay…back to the game. After two innings, we lead 8-6 because my team was hitting a groove with the bats. I got my head straight, our defense did it’s thing, the bats continued and after six innings it was 13-6 in our favor. Now, give me a 7-run lead and one inning to pitch…and I’ll take that every day of the week. I just threw pitches so they would hit them…they scored twice, but that wasn’t nearly enough. Another win. We were still playing (four hours after the first pitch of the first game). SURVIVE and advance. Our coach smiled and told us, “we have one more game.”
Well, look who we had next. #10 Maryland. The team that beat us twice last year in the tournament for our only two losses. They are traditionally one of the best teams because of all the local alumni. But, now we knew we could beat them because we came close twice last year. Our coached asked before the game “is anyone intimidated?” We all knew we were not. Our great hitting continued with three runs in the first inning. They scored twice that inning, though. We both added a run in the 2nd, none in the 3rd, and none in the 4th. After four, it was 4-3 with Pitt in the lead. This was too close for comfort. What is a cure for that? How about our biggest inning of the tournament? Okay, by this point in the day, chemo boy (me) was a little out of it. So, I cannot remember what exactly happened that inning. I know it included one of the following (the others were in other innings or other games)…either Ryan hit a bases-loaded double or Carrie did…or Brittany hit one to the fence…or John did. They all were hitting great, so I can’t recall exactly. Blame the drugs. We ended up plating seven runs that inning. We added another two in the last inning to take a 10-run lead on the team everyone loves to root against. Remember what I said about the previous game and having a 7-run lead in the last inning? Well, a 10-run lead is a done-deal. I came to the mound and our coach said, “No smiling. We can’t smile yet.” But that’s what I do! Ask anyone. If I’m pitching well, there is a smile on my face as I’m ready to release each pitch. I wasn’t going to stop (but I knew what he meant.) They had the top of their batting order up. So, I knew they could score and I’d then get to the lesser hitters. Sure enough, they scored three with their big hitters. But then it was my time. No one else crossed the plate. A 13-6 win for Pitt. I have to mention the one play that is my absolute favorite of the weekend. There was a runner on first and the batter hit the ball right back to me. I immediately turned to 1st base where our firstbase girl, Erin was on the base (right where I know she always is). As I threw to first, it was fun to watch the runner saying to himself “oh crap” as he uselessly tried to get back to the base. The runners are never in time. Erin and I have turned that same play countless times and it never gets old to me! Where are we? Oh yeah…SURVIVE and advance. Our coach smiled and told us, “we have one more game.”
You know where we are now? “You’re in the jungle, baby.” No, wait…that is Guns and Roses. We are in the championship game of the Capital Alumni Tournament. That’s right…out of 70 teams. We are in the final game! Last year’s tournament run (last year’s blog) was amazing and we finished 3rd that year. We had just outdone “amazing.” But you know what? We were about to play our 6th game in about six hours and 45 minutes. Let me run down where our lineup stood as the game was about to start:
Ryan — twisted his ankle in an earlier game
Sam — playing with a bad back
John — awaiting an ambulance because of severe cramping and dehydration (he is fine today)
Mark — playing with a sprained knee
Jake — trying desperately to keep bandages on his knee to stop the bleeding and allow him to still play
Wayne — cramping muscles
chemo boy (me) — the only “healthy” male starter on the team.
One of the substitutes we put in to replace some of these guys had a fractured wrist! That should give you a clue as to how we were doing.
How was the James Madison team we were about to face? They had played two games earlier that day and had an hour(s) in between each game. They were ready to run. Not great odds. In the first inning, we each scored a run. Then nada for each team in the 2nd inning. We were hanging tough. (I’m not a New Kids fan.) Unfortunately, we were pretty much too tired to put together any type of offense. We didn’t score for five straight innings. If only we could have held them silent, too. But they were just too good and too rested. JMU took an 8-1 lead before we (in our never-quit style) added a couple of runs in the last inning. Final score…8-3. Our streak had ended. But it was a hell of a run. We actually won more games than any team (including the champion) because of our route to the championship game. I mentioned our defense earlier. We played for 41 innings and in 25 of those the other team did not score.
A few years ago, the U of Pittsburgh beat Notre Dame in football on NBC tv. After the game, the quarterback said on live tv, “I’m so proud of this f***ing team.” Well, our coach quoted that in the post-game speech. I was thinking the same thing he was. We have the best group of friends (who happen to be teammates). It’s so great. You want to know what kind of teammates I have? The entire event had a food drive for charity. All 70 teams combined to donate 10,000 units of food. Pitt, alone, donated 1800 of those units. In doing so, we won a gift-certificate to a local bar/restaurant where we will hold our end-of-season party. It will be such a fun time…getting together and talking about how incredible our season was yet again.
As I was packing up my gear, two random girls from the Virginia team approached me and introduced themselves. “We heard your story…can we hug you?” OMG. I was a little shocked, but it was very sweet. For anyone who has been on chemo…you know hugs help a lot.
I cannot thank my team enough. You have no idea how much it helps to be laying in a chemo bed and having the past season to reflect on and the next season to look forward to. It’s just helps so much. It’s such motivation to get strong again. Although, next season…healthy or not, I’m told I have to keep my mohawk for good luck.
As I’m typing this, I have tears in my eyes. And I’m sure my mom does right now, too, as she is telling her friends about how great the weekend was for both her and me.
Shawn battled cancer for the next 4 months in typical Shawn Felty fashion, with a smile and a NO Quit Attitude. Never giving up hope and never losing faith. He stared adversity right in the face and said, “Bring it on” with a style only Shawn could do. Shawn passed away from this Earth on December 13th 2009. He may not be here physically with us but we all know he is watching over all who cared about him with watchful eyes. Especially his family and his beloved Alumni of the University Of Pittsburgh.
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