Professionally, I am the City Forester in Aspen, CO. By City Forester, basically I mean I take care of the trees in town. I’m a pretty lucky guy to take care of the trees in Aspen. I really do enjoy my job and surprisingly, I have missed very little work because of this whole lung cancer thing. The treatments I have been on are targeted therapy drugs and they seem to be working pretty well (I should tell you that I have the ALK mutation and the drugs they have to treat this mutation come with few side affects). So, getting up and going to work every day is an opportunity that I have enjoyed and an opportunity I do not take for granted. Side note, this is one of the ways I hope that I am being a productive member of society – I get up, I go to work.
The thing is, these drugs only work for a certain amount of time. The cancer slowly recedes and then the cancer slowly creeps back. But how long does it take to become resistant? It’s a waiting game and it’s different for each of us. I wake-up every morning and do a self-check. I ask myself – “is it harder to breathe? Am I short of breath? Is that itching in the back of my throat a cough? Is that subtle cough just a frog in my throat? Does my chest hurt?” and the list goes on. I don’t have it written down, I’ve memorized it. This waiting doesn’t overwhelm me; its just there and I know that soon there will be treatments to deal with the resistance issue. So for now, I’ll hope and wait.
Tomorrow I will wake-up and do my self-check. I will feed Reina (my brown dog), drink some coffee and make a smoothie. I will get in my truck and make the morning commute into Aspen where I will spend the day caring for trees. It’s business as usual.
Hi – My name is Ben. I’d like to share my story with you. First, here’s a picture.
I want you to have some context. That pretty girl taking the picture is Katie and she’s my girlfriend. We hiked up to Grey Rock, just outside of Ft. Collins, CO recently. What a beautiful hike! And how thankful I was for that day, spending time with my best friend and my favorite brown dog, Reina.
Here is where my story will start.
First, though, you should know where I have come from.
Two years ago, I got a cold. The cold ran its course, except for a dry non-productive cough, and it persisted. A trip to the family practice doctor ended up in a trip to the hospital for a CT scan, then an ENB procedure (fancy bronchoscopy) and finally to a lung cancer diagnosis by a doctor that would eventually become my “running buddy” (I think that’s code for friend). Looking back, I guess there were signs – being a little out of breath while walking up a hill or a little out of breath at the start of a run. I’m not a smoker though and I thought I was just out of shape – my family practice doctor would probably say, “…that’s reasonable”. So, I exercised more. I skied the Grand Traverse, a 38-mile ski tour through the mountains from Crested Butte, CO to Aspen, CO. I ran the Aspen Backcountry Marathon, a 26-mile run on a single-track trail up, and down the mountains, reaching elevations of 11,500 feet. None of this would keep the disease I didn’t even realize I had, at bay.
Now back to the present. It has been two years since diagnosis. I’m on my second targeted therapy drug, Lorlatinib, (Crizotinib was the first). This past summer I ran the Aspen Backcountry Marathon again and the New York Marathon, both as a stage-4 lung cancer patient – other people like to say survivor. I enjoy moments like never before, and that day on Grey Rock was a wonderful keeper.
I hope you check back in from time to time – there’s a lot to cover and we’re just getting started. – Ben