By Alyssa Mahoney – photos courtesy www.lauracoppelman.com
The cover of the 2012 LIVESTRONG Annual Report features layers of textures and patterns. They were inspired by one man’s extensive medical binder and serve as a visual representation of his cancer journey. That man is Mike Amann, and this is his story.
“We have a friend who beat cancer,” Lesley, Mike’s wife and caregiver, said. After Mike was diagnosed, “We contacted him because where do you start? He gave us great guidance. He said to stay organized and document everything. So our journey of building Mike’s cancer binder began. The binder holds all the knowledge: his blood tests, information about his meds and all of the research we found about clinical trials. We’ve learned more than anyone outside of the medical profession ever cares to know about this terrible disease.”
Before Mike’s diagnosis, Lesley said she could count on one hand the number of times that Mike had been sick in the 11 years that they have been together. He was “super healthy.”
Lesley was eight months pregnant. On the same weekend that friends and family were in town for a baby shower, Mike had, as he calls it, “a suspect bowel movement.” He contacted his doctor, who ran some tests, assuring Mike and Lesley that it was probably nothing. Mike was young and healthy and the tests were precautionary. However, the tests showed that Mike had a tumor in his colon and it had metastasized to his liver. He was later diagnosed with stage four high-grade neuroendocrine cancer.
Lesley said, “Every time we went to the doctor, we got more bad news. We were all shocked, even the doctors. He had no prior symptoms, no indication. He was a healthy 33-year-old guy who was about to be a new dad.”
“When I contacted LIVESTRONG, I was on information overload,” Mike said. “At a certain point you shut down. You need help sifting through all of the stuff. I contacted LIVESTRONG. There are other resources, but LIVESTRONG seemed like the right fit for me.”
About two weeks before Lesley’s due date, Mike had to travel to Houston, Texas, to get a second opinion on his diagnosis. “The last thing Lesley said before I left was, ‘You go fight this cancer thing, and I won’t go into labor,’” Mike said. “I was about 10 hours into my trip when she called me and said, ‘Mike, my water broke!’ I watched the birth of my first born via FaceTime. It was pretty amazing; 800-plus miles have never felt so close.” Kaizer was born at 5:45 a.m. and Mike made his appointment at 11 later that same morning.
Another amazing friend, who also happens to be a stage four breast cancer survivor, worked some travel agent magic. She got Mike on a flight home immediately following his appointment in Houston so that they were all able to spend Kaizer’s first night together in one hospital room in Kentucky.
The support of friends, family and coworkers has been invaluable to Mike and Lesley during their cancer journey. “From covering at work, to taking care of Kaizer, to bringing us meals; our support system is extensive and thorough,” Lesley said. “After Mike’s diagnosis we were focused on finding him the best care. The nursery wasn’t finished, and we were going to doctor’s appointments what seemed like every day. My coworkers designed, furnished and finished our nursery.”
Mike and Lesley are both graphic designers and say that they’ve received incredible support from their friends in the design community where they live. “Jay and Chris [Mike’s company partners] are rock stars,” Mike said. “They’ve been keeping our company afloat. We’re actually expanding. I work as much as I can, but between chemo and doctor appointments I’m out a lot. They’re two very patient people. When I’m receiving treatment, just knowing that our business is still flourishing, it’s been a relief.”
“For us, our support system has been huge,” Mike said. “I lie down at night, and think: How can I possibly tell the world how grateful I am for everything they’ve done for me?”
“I think it was important for us to share our story because we know there are thousands of other people walking the same path, getting diagnosed as we speak,” Lesley said. “Just reading someone else’s story can be that one thing you need in that moment to keep you going. If our story can do that for someone else, it makes some of what we’re going through worth it.”