Letters to the editor
Editor’s note: Jon “Eef” Efraimson is sharing several of his letters to friends, family and other well-wishers about his battle with cancer. His letters are poignant and painful. With the sheer number of people in this community pulling for him, we thought it would be helpful to help him share his experience. This letter was written in September.
Dear family and friends:
Lisa and I have to begin by thanking all of you for your overwhelming support recently and really all summer. Your e-mails, cards, phone calls, meals, walking the dog, and just positive vibes and prayers have kept us going.
As I write this letter, believe it or not, our lives are starting to become more normal. With all of the chaos and uncertainty in the past couple of month, it’s nice know what your plan is for the next day or week. Lisa is feeling better and stronger and she looks more beautiful each day. The big reason I know, is that she smiles more and longer, and I can tell that she is starting to feel better.
As for myself, I have begun treatments at CU in Denver. As you know I am participating in a clinical trial with the drug C-225 or Erbitux made by the company Imclone. The theory of this drug is that most cancer cells have what are call EGF and EGFr receptors, this drug is designed to block those receptors, which affects cell growth and reproduction. I had a test to see if I have these receptors and I do.
I also had a port-catheter implanted in my chest on Aug. 27, which is supposed to prevent you from getting poked too many times from blood draws and IVs. On the same day I had my first dose of the C-225.
The next week Sept 3, I received C-225 and my first round of chemotherapy. They are using two traditional types of drugs, Carboplatin and Taxol, that supposedly have a synergistic affect when used together.
I was scheduled to get another dose of the C-225 on Tuesday, Sept. 10. But I developed a bad rash on my face, back and chest that is a side effect of the drug. I was forced to skip a week of that treatment, which I was told was very common, as six of the nine people in the study had had such a reaction. This is the most noticeable affect of my treatment. With the exception of feeling a little tired here and there, I feel pretty normal most of the time. Despite being a little more tired more quickly, the current rash, which is receding, is the biggest discomfort that I’m feeling.
I’m still on par to have another treatment next week followed another triple day of C225 and chemo on Sept. 24. Additionally, Lisa and I have changed our diets to include more organic products – supplements that include beta-carotene, flaxseed oil, shark cartilage, multivitamins – as well as limiting our sugar intake and being careful to avoid fatty foods where we get some of our protein.
Additionally, we are going to be taking acupuncture for its benefits of boosting the immune system, as well as massage. Yoga is also in our future. Although modernday medicine is amazing, I don’t believe that any one thing is going to be the answer.
My theory on beating this thing is multifaceted: our faith in God and the prayers and support by our church; staying positive; support by family, friends and strangers; traditional cancer treatments (chemo and C225); diet and supplements; alternative treatments (acupuncture, massage, herbs, visualization); staying active (exercise and working); smiling; more setting goals.
As I’ve been sitting at the CU Cancer Center and receiving my drugs through an IV, the constant drip of the drugs can be a little hypnotic and make you think about a lot of things.
A lot of the materials I have been reading and even some e-mails from you have told me how important visualization can be. Meaning picture cancer as the enemy and fight to destroy it.
A close friend, Margie Plath, is an inspiration to me. She had a very serious cancer when she was younger. She shared with me that she visualized the game Pac-Man. When she was getting chemo, she visualized the little Pac-Man eating the dots that were the cancer.
I read another story about an individual who visualized the cancer as being a big clear mountainous blob and himself being a fighter pilot dive bombing and destroying the cancerous mountain.
When I close my eyes and try to visualize destroying the cancer, a scene from the classic movie “Rocky” comes into my head no matter what I do. It’s the scene where Rocky is training by punching sides of beef. Pauly, his troubled brother in law, would say “you’re breaking the ribs,” followed by Rocky training and running up the stairs and the music crescendos while he does a little victory dance at the top of the steps. You all know the scene. I saw that that movie was considered to be one of the most inspirational movies of all time.
I close my eyes and start punching at the cancer, trying to get it out of my body.
Some people have written to us or shared their stories about cancer or other tragedies. Often, people ask, “Do you want to hear those stories?” I do, because so many are positive, so many are about how people beat cancer or other great hurdles to be a survivor. I take a little bit from each story and use it myself.
I heard the other day that singer Warren Zevon (“Werewolves in London”) was recently diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. I was curious to hear his real story, so I sent him an e-mail.
I also read another story about a successful executive who started many cable channels that we know and love. He had a very advanced form of stomach cancer. He elected not to take treatment, but enjoy the six months or so that he was given to live. His name was Peter Barton. He was president of Liberty Media. They started things like The Discovery Channel, Starz/Encore, and Fox Sports.
I met him once through a mutual friend, Brenda Buglione, and he was a wonderful person. There was a very good article about him in the Denver Post Sept. 14. Although he chose not to battle the cancer, he chose to focus on what was important in his life. He focused on his family and enjoying the things that he liked the most, and he set goals for himself about things that he’d like to do. Like skiing in Vail, spending time with his family, and watching as many sunsets as he could.
Even though I will fight this thing as hard as I can, I’m still going to try to catch as many sunsets as I can. Thank you, Peter, for sharing with us what’s important in life.
One thing that I got out of the article about Peter Barton was that he set goals for himself. Many of his were finite or based upon a date. He was a very goal-oriented person, as am I.
Here are some of my goals: Pray every day. More quality time with Lisa and family. Laugh more and cry when I need to. Be healthy (eat, exercise, feel good). Don’t miss any treatment and continue to seek alternatives. Ride my bike up Vail Pass before winter. Play a full round of golf before winter. Continue working and being productive. Watch every sunset I can (sunrises too).
We’ve got more to think about. But as I said, Lisa and I are getting back to normal. I’m working as much as I can. I really like what I do and feel so fortunate to do the work that I do because I enjoy it so much. Most of the time it feels like a hobby.
All of the people in my company are so special and talented, they have been so supportive and have all stepped up their efforts to cover for my absence. I can’t thank them enough.
It is also rare in my business to have clients who are also friends. Everyone has been so supportive and I cannot thank them enough, as well.
There have also been so many close friends to Lisa and I that have done so many great things, from walking the dog, to making meals, to just calling to see how we’re doing we’re really at a loss for words. But thank you.
As we move forward, we will be spending a couple of days in Denver each week and really appreciate the people who have allowed us to stay with them, as well.
When I think about all support that you all have been giving us, it reminds me of when I was in high school when I used to run the mile on the track team. I was actually a decent miler for our little town and region, and usually was a top 3 finisher. But anyway, when you look at me now with my stocky build and recurring Buddha belly, you wonder how could he have even run a hundred feet.
Nevertheless, so much of distance running was mental toughness and strategy. When I used to train, my head was never clearer. I used to think of so many things and come up with some great ideas. I would run home from school for training. It was eight miles, but it went pretty fast.
When I competed in the mile, I also had a great “kick,” which means at the end of the race I saved enough energy to sprint the last quarter mile to the finish. Usually, I would pass a couple of people with that kick.
Probably the best memory of running the mile was when the rest of the track team and some fans would be a different points around the track and cheering me on: “C’mon EEF!” It would make me feel special and helped me to keep pace and in some cases pick up the pace. It kept me going. That’s what all of you have been doing with you cheers.
As you know, our fight against cancer is going to be a distance race and it is sure to last more than four minutes and 40 seconds, which was my fastest time. The gun has just sounded and I’m rounding the first corner. I can hear your cheers up ahead and behind me, and I know I can win this race. I am confident that I will win this battle and live to tell about it.
Meanwhile, I want to enjoy everything that I can – more family, more friends, and more sunsets. Lisa read in a book recently that some people have looked at getting cancer as a blessing because it reprioritized their lives and really simplified it as to what’s really important. I can only second that.
I hope that all of you can take a little bit from this. Don’t wait to give your kid an extra hug. Tell your spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend that you love them. Make someone’s day. And don’t be afraid to laugh or cry.
Life is a gift and should be enjoyed.
I leave you with the words that are imprinted on a coffee mug that someone recently gave me; “Nothing is more important than this day.” We love you all!
Jon and Lisa Efraimson