We met Ellon and Flannery and Team Dougan at LIVESTRONG Challenge Philly this August. We were absolutely struck by their strength and courage. For those that have been to a LIVESTRONG Challenge, you know how powerful it is to see families come together. In fact, we feel that the whole LIVESTRONG community is like one big family- connected by a the common thread of, not just cancer, but strength. Please join us for our 15th anniversary at the LIVESTRONG Challenge in Austin October 21st. You will not soon forget the people you meet. THAT we can guarantee.
By Ellon Dougan:
Brian and I have participated in 4 LIVESTRONG events, two before cancer was a part of our lives, and each one is special and rewarding in there own way. This year I was able to participate with our 3-month-old daughter but sadly my husband, Brian, lost his battle with testicular cancer the day before Flannery was born. Walking toward the 5k start Saturday morning, a LIVESTRONG photographer (Brooke) took Flannery’s picture and on Sunday we met up again and I was able to share a bit of our story. Brooke then asked if I would share with others on the livestrong blog. Knowing how Brian felt about helping others with cancer I felt it would truly be an honor to share and hopefully connect with others. Brian also had a blog, towards the end of his journey he shared less, but he truly expressed himself there in a way other cancer survivors would be able to relate. Please check it out at brianandhiscancer.blogspot.com.
It began with Brian wanting to do a century ride and thought the new event that LIVESTRONG was holding in Philly would be perfect place to achieve this goal as well as being able to help a great organization. Brian completed the 100-mile ride and again the next year. We were unable to attend the LIVESTRONG event the next two years when Brian joined the Navy. So fast-forward to December 28th 2010, Brian was having pain in his right testicle for a day or two and goes to the ER not sure what was going on. Four hours later he is told there is a 90 -95% chance you have cancer and your surgery to remove the tumored testicle is scheduled for a day and a half later. At this point I don’t even know what to think but Brian after the initial shock took it as a challenge. He isn’t the type of guy to sit back and complain he did his best to live life to its fullest. So he, as the cancer survivor, was the one who kept me positive and strong throughout. The next couple of weeks involved tests and dr. visits that determined that he had stage IIIc testicular cancer, meaning it had spread, specifically to his lymph nodes, liver and lungs. But an MRI of the brain shows its clear giving us some good news. February 14th he started VIP chemotherapy, 4 rounds, a week each of daily treatment. He amazes me to this day how through all those treatments he stayed so positive even through the tough times and moments.
He really believed and said many times “…attitude is everything”. Seeing the opportunity to attend LIVESTRONG Philly again, Brian signed up to ride the 100 miles again. Throughout chemotherapy he and another patient would do laps around the ward, 16 being a mile. His friend was keeping in shape to run a half marathon and Brian preparing for the LIVESTRONG ride. The chemotherapy treatment had done what the doctors expected and reduced the tumors sizes and his blood markers returned to normal. Brian now focused on regaining his strength and fitness while the next step of his recovery was determined.
Throughout everything so far Brian was lucky to have a great team of doctors to work with that were willing to seek the best options for him. It was decided that surgery would be next to remove the residual masses. The surgery will take place at Indiana University because the locations of his tumors were a bit tricky. Luckily the surgery isn’t scheduled until 4 days after LIVESTRONG and Brian gets his wish to be able to ride. That weekend Brian rode 55 and got his yellow rose right before the storm hit. Four days later he had surgery to remove his lymph nodes and a good portion of his liver. This surgery was no joke, he lost 30-40 lbs from loss of appetite but Brian keeps his spirits up as well as the nurses on there toes with his hospital fun. Now all through this he knows he has to do this surgery again to finish removing the liver tumors. I don’t know how tough this must have weighed on his mind but he never let it get him down. I know finding out that in May we would be expecting our first baby helped him keep up being him and take every thing as a challenge. So we head back to Indiana 2 months later for the second surgery on his liver. The recovery again pretty tough especially since he was just felling better from the first. Brian takes it all in stride and his abdomen is cancer free.
Hears where the story gets scary, as if what he went though so far wasn’t tough enough. Brian goes back to his doctors for his follow up from surgery and to discuss what the plan for the lung tumors will be. He mentions that he noticed he lost his peripheral vision on his right side. So he goes to see the ophthalmologist who tells him he really lost a quarter of his sight in both his eyes, and because of his medical history he is worried about a brain tumor. Remember his head was checked 10 months ago and it was clear. So he goes for an MRI and before he gets off the table he has an appointment with his oncologist the next day, not very reassuring. Hears another remarkable thing about Brian, he goes to this appointment knowing they found a tumor and feels bad for his doctor because she has to give him the news. Turns out the tumor was good size but operable. He gets all the tests done and surgery is set up. But the tumor has other plans, the Friday before surgery he ends up in the ER with uncontrollable pain causing him to black out and put him in ICU with his condition getting worse. (His blog goes in depth if you are interested) He ends up with emergency surgery on Saturday and after a couple of days of not knowing if he would be able to see at all, he begins making a great recovery.
I’m not even sure what got me though that scare I think deep down I knew we would be ok and make it through. So we made it to his cancer birthday later that month, a big goal of his. Just a month before we were making really good progress with the surgeries and the thought that he would only have to lung tumors left, which hadn’t changed since chemo and surprise a 9cm tumor shows up in his head. But again and again Brian is keeping that positive attitude and his recovery is going well and he starts to begin running and biking again two things he has missed greatly. As February comes around we are getting excited for the pending little one and working on the preparations for his/her arrival. A couple of days after our baby shower Brian has a seizure ultimately showing that there are new tumors in the lining of his brain and they aren’t operable. This is where some of the things start to get hard for him, as now he is unable to drive, due to the seizure, making him dependent on others. He keeps his focus starting radiation and learning how to work with all the new side affects that come with it.
Partway through the radiation for the brain, new tumors show up on the nerve bundle at the base of his spine causing him a bit of pain. This has made him reliant on pain meds, which throughout the past year he has taking very little of because he didn’t like the way they made him feel, another difficult thing to get used too. In hindsight I can see him preparing for the worse, talking about what his wishes are and what he would like for our future. He was of the thought better to be prepared then surprised, like carrying an umbrella on a cloudy day to keep the rain away.
Following the radiation treatments he is to start high dose chemotherapy to target the central nervous system. He received the first round of chemo, which as expected hit him pretty hard. He came home and was recovery as usual when he realized he was having trouble eating and having pain in his chest. In the hospital again they discover he has a white blood count of 0.01 (really none) and an infection in his esophagus. It looked like the doctors were able to get his infection under control and he was going to be coming home. But as he was preparing to do so that day he tells me he “I’m very tired” and suddenly he isn’t doing as well again. The infection had gone to his intestines and later that night we try surgery to remove the infected area.
After surgery it was apparent that he was up against some big odds. Cancer was just working a little too fast for him and the doctors to keep up with. He decided he would go on his terms. Since cancer became a part of our lives we have had this discussion many times, when things got tough. At the time I was unsure of how I would be able to do what he wished and we agreed upon when and if the time came. But in that moment when he asked me to let him go, it turned out to be automatic and I was there to back him up and do what he wished. Am I saying it was easy, no, it just felt right. He wasn’t living the life he would like, in pain all the time, not able to bike or run. I’m glad he had his say in the end, his way of beating cancer.
Brian missed his goal of meeting his our baby Flannery by less then a day; we were keeping the gender a surprise. In a way I believe this was a well laid out plan, he knew she would be arriving the next day, because she was breach. This way he was able to watch over us and keep our family together instead of being separated in ICU one floor away. Of course he is missed greatly by many and I wish he could of met Flannery, but she is an amazing reflection of him that I cherish every day.
Ellon and Flannery Dougan