My name is Geoff Meisner. I’m a Lymphoma survivor and I’ve been in remission for 2 years. Getting diagnosed and going through cancer treatment always seemed like a deeply personal thing to me, and it’s never easy to tell my story, but I’m happy Dan gave me the opportunity to share my experience with you, because one thing I’ve learned while going through treatment is that there is a real sense of community surrounding this disease, and it feels great to get involved. So, here it goes…
During the spring of 2006 I started feeling sort of…off. I was being woken up with excruciating headaches every morning. I had a cough. I was run down. I just felt sick. I went to my school’s health clinic and was prescribed some cough medicine, and told to come back in three days for X-Rays.
So, three days later, on May 5th (my wife’s birthday, back then she was still my girlfriend), I went in for X-Rays, and they found what they thought to be a collapsed lung. They told me it wasn’t too uncommon in tall, slender guys my age, and sent me to the ER at UCSF. So, we canceled our birthday plans, and I ended up in intensive care. After they ran some tests, I was told I didn’t have a collapsed lung.
Instead, I was told my left lung was nearly full of fluid. At this point I had no idea what was going on. My doctor came back later – and I’ll never forget what he said – he said, “I have to tell you something, and it’s going to change your life”. And he was right.
I was told I had a lemon-sized tumor between my heart and my lung, and two smaller masses in my abdomen. I was diagnosed with Acute T-Cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma, which they told me wasn’t too uncommon in tall, slender guys my age. The first thing that needed to be done was to remove the fluid from my lung. They had to stick a needle that was about as long as my forearm (I’m serious, the thing looked like it was from a cartoon) through my back and into my lung. It hurt…a lot, and would only be the first of many excruciating procedures over the next ten months, including spinal taps (which also hurt…a lot) and chemotherapy. After that the rest of the day is pretty blurry, as my world really did seem to completely flip upside down.
I started chemotherapy two days later. Three weeks after that, I was released from the hospital, bald – everywhere, and about ten pounds lighter on my birthday. I was turning 26 years old…not what I expected it to be like.
My parents had flown out from Detroit the same day I entered the ER, and had been staying in San Francisco. Since it was my birthday, my Mom wanted to bake me her famous chocolate cake, which I wasn’t about to turn down.
Unfortunately, due to an allergy from a certain drug I was on, that cake plus everything else I was eating combined to spike my blood sugar to 796. I was seriously about a bowl of pasta away from a diabetic coma. So, instead of a week away from the hospital, I was right back in.
I was in and out of UCSF hospital for the next ten months, during which time I experienced all sorts of crazy and trying side effects from chemotherapy; like, neuropathy (numbing of your fingers and toes), and kidney stones. Passing those was almost worse than cancer. Honestly, I’d take a month of chemotherapy before I took 5 minutes of trying to pass a stone.
After almost a year of intense therapy, I was told in March 2007 that I was in remission, but that I’d have to continue chemotherapy treatments for the next two and a half years. I will take my last treatment this September, and I can’t tell you how excited I am about that.
Since March 2007, I got married last August to my beautiful wife Michelle, who was by my bed every difficult day, and finished my bachelor’s degree at San Francisco State University this January. Obviously my timing was horrible for trying to enter the job market, but what can you do? I blame cancer.
This past month, as I felt this disease continuing to get further behind me, my father-in-law’s cousin, whom Michelle and I are both very close to was diagnosed with Follicular Lymphoma. It’s a terminal diagnosis. For him, it’s not if, but when, and that’s really hard to take. But, the more people like Dan get involved in organizations like the LLS, campaigns like the Man & Woman of the Year, the closer we get to finding a cure for ALL blood cancers; as well as being able to continue funding the research that lead to the excellent care that saved my life.
I’d also like to say that although money is important, it is really family and friends that help patients through the treatment and healing process. Without my wife, Michelle, my parents, my brother and sister, my in-laws, and my friends, my fight would have felt a million times harder than it already was. That being said, the money is pretty important. My mom had to quit her job to stay out here with me, and the $500 in financial aid we got from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society to help with prescriptions, gas, parking and other expenses really meant a lot. And obviously, these days every dollar counts.
So, thank you all very much for your time and your interest. Dan, keep up the great work. You have no idea how many people appreciate it.
All the best,
2 years in remission!
As I was heading to church with my mother today we spoke about a difficult decision that I was facing. Given two fantastic options, how does a person decide which decision to make? My mother told me to ask God. She says things like this often. I tend to smile and nod. I don’t consider myself a terribly religious person and when forced with a difficult decision there are only a few people whose counsel I seek and God is not one of them.
While I was sitting in church, three amazing things happened. The Priest was Father Jeff who I hadn’t seen in 10 years. He was instrumental in my Catholic education and had spent many hours talking to me about God and the importance that he plays in our lives. The second was the gospel passage and the homily. Father Jeff asked if anyone was a gardener; I most certainly am not, but the analogy wasn’t lost on me. Our lives are in constant development and in order for us to reach our potential we must water and feed ourselves and those around us. We must prune away the distractions and obstacles that prevent us from doing great things. His words and the passage made my decision an easy one. I want to spend my time investing in people and organizations that I believe truly make a difference. So I guess sometimes God answers your question even if you don’t ask directly.
The third and most moving part of the experience was that two pews over there was a little girl of no more than 4 years old. Pretty little girl, very well-behaved, yet light-hearted and content. She had obviously been through chemotherapy as her hair had just begun to grow back. She was so full of life and you could see how happy her mother was to be sitting next to her. For the past 7 weeks I have been heavily involved with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society as a nominee for the San Francisco Man of the Year. I’ve spent most of my time putting together an event at City Hall called Monte Carlo Night. My friends and family have been extremely supportive and engaged by helping find donations, corporate sponsors and silent auction items. I hate asking for things; I’d much rather provide something I feel is of value and have people feel like they’ve received something in return. I need to get over that. I can’t let pride get in the way of the cause. That little girl is alive because the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society has been active for 60 years providing much needed patient services, education and acting as advocates for patients in Washington by securing the money needed for research.
We are given precious few opportunities to do great things. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society has blessed me with the honor and responsibility of raising funds for the essential services they provide. I’ve been continually impressed by the people who work for LLS and have given so much of their time and energy to such a worthy cause. I know the economic climate is challenging and that we are clouded in uncertainty and fear. It doesn’t matter if you donate $5, $50 or $5000, it only matters that you donate. I know a number of people have already donated, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. The campaign is over on May 28th, that’s only a little over two weeks away. Thank you for your consideration.
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