A Lost Survivor

Today, I am heartbroken over the loss of a fellow lung cancer friend.Paul and Cady

Last night, Paul Kalanithi died at the age of 37.   Paul was a renowned neurosurgeon at Stanford, dedicating his life to saving the lives of his patients. Lung cancer, though, reversed his role from doctor to patient, and then eventually took his life.  Paul passed away last night while holding his 8 month old baby girl, Cady, and leaving behind his amazing wife, Lucy.

I met Paul and his wife in November at the Addario Lung Cancer Foundation’s San Francisco Gala.  He was a shy, courageous, loving man.   We stood next to each other on stage when survivors were honored.  We had just met, but we were fighting side by side. Today, I am beyond saddened by the news of Paul’s passing.


I am always reluctant to press upon you all to donate or give to the cause.  I already feel indebted to everyone who reads this blog for what you have given to me in my fight.   However, in Paul’s honor, I am compelled.

I ask all of you to support a cause to stop this disease from stealing any more patients like Paul Kalanithi.   Like me, Paul was a young lung cancer victim.  The Genomics of Young Lung Cancer Study (GoYLC) is specifically geared to study young lung cancer, with the goal of scientifically determining the cause of the disease, as well as how to defeat it.  It is a revolutionary study.  And most importantly, it could have saved Paul’s life.

The GoYLC study is now up on crowd-funding site Consano. Even $20 will make a difference. Please click HERE to donate.


More Info on GoYLC:

If you are interested in learning more about the study, ALCF held an Adolescent Young Adult speaker series 2 weeks ago.  I was a participant, along with other young lung _DSC0025cancer patients, Corey Wood (23 years), Sandy Jauregui-Baza (31), and Chris Draft (lost his wife, Keasha, at age 33).  You can click here to see a recording of the live streamed event in which we reveal our stories and emphasize the need for this type of research, while Dr. Barbara Gitlitz carefully explains the science behind the study.

Gracias a Dr. Flores

Hello from Tulum, Mexico.  I just sent Dr. Flores an email, and I wanted to share it with all of you.  While it may have been influenced by some amazing tropical happy hour drinks, the sentiments are real.  I am so grateful for all of you, and most especially, Dr. Flores.

Dr. Flores -

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It was slow-going, but I made it!

I just wanted to let you know that today in Coba, Mexico, I climbed 10+ stories to the top of a Mayan ruin. It was, in a word, incredible. I’m tearing up just thinking of it, since this is such a milestone.

We rented bicycles to get from ruin to ruin, which in and of itself, in the hot temperatures and high humidity, was difficult enough. Then to be able to climb to the top of that pyramid…to be honest, I couldn’t be prouder.

Thank you for this opportunity. Thank you for a chance at this life. Thank you for hope.

MUCH love.

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“I Feel Normal”

It wasn’t until our flight to New York City that the reality of what she was embarking on finally set in for EmBen.   Midway across the country, thousands of feet in the air, she looked over at me.  Fear had whitewashed her face.   She began to cry, and asked, “Will I be okay?”

Since her diagnosis, EmBen had been hell-bent on cutting the cancer out of her body.  Despite every oncologist and surgeon stating otherwise, she refused to acknowledge that a Stage IV diagnosis restricted her from surgery.   It was her plan and she knew it would be a reality.

When Dr. Flores presented the opportunity for surgery in New York City, she jumped all over it.  EmBen was ecstatic.  She flooded him with questions about how quickly she could have the surgery and any potential roadblocks.  Not once did she ask him a question about surgical success rates, past patients, or life limitations with one lung.  She had blinders on and she was on a straight sprint for survival.

For the next few weeks, my mother and I prepared by spending countless hours researching the internet about complete lung removal surgeries and recovery.  Meanwhile, EmBen planned what tourist attractions she wanted to see while in NYC.  She had this aura of confidence and trust.   It was highly impressive, yet almost inhuman.

But there on the plane, once she knew the plan was in motion, she finally let reality set in.  “Will I ever be able to walk again?”   “Will I ever be able to play with children?”   “Will I be able to pick up a child?”  “Will you have to take care of me forever?  I’m so sorry.”

Emily had vowed from the first day of diagnosis to do whatever it took to survive.   The success of the upcoming surgery in preventing cancer recurrence was anything but guaranteed, but it provided an opportunity for life, and with that, EmBen was committed.  It was the emotional commitment to mutilate her body and forever change the way she lived her life that gave her greater pause.  In that, she finally found fear.   I wanted to relieve all of her doubt, but I too didn’t know what to truly expect.  So, I just held her.

By the time we started our descent, EmBen had regained her buoyancy and was prepared for the “new normal,” a life that was perhaps missing past action and movement, but replaced with more appreciation and love.

The months of recovery, as documented on this blog, were incredibly challenging, filled with pain and fatigue.  Slowly, she adjusted.  Yesterday, though, was a significant day.

After I returned home from work, EmBen was recounting how she had exercised for 45 minutes, then went to the grocery store, then the post office, and finally Target before returning home.  As she lay there motionless on the couch, preparing for a nap, she looked at me and said, “Miles, I feel normal.”

Christmas CardSure, in reality, it may be a new normal.  But those words hit me deep.  I’m just so happy for that fearful EmBen on the plane nearly two years ago.  I just want to go hold her once again and tell her to have no fear.  She is embarking on the greatest decision of her life.

Thank all of you for your support and love in 2014.  EmBen and I are so grateful and excited for 2015.    May we all celebrate this year.

Much love.  Live in the Moment.

Miles & EmBen

Dance Dance Revolution

November 8th was the annual Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation’s (ALCF) Gala.

I first attended this event in 2012, only months into chemotherapy and still in the whirlwind phase of diagnosis.  The Gala allowed me to meet other patients and survivors.  It was a pivotal point in my journey as the event filled us with hope.

The following year, I attended while still recovering from radiation and adjusting to a life with one lung.  When Bonnie called upon me to speak to the audience and share my story, my journey once again took a major change.   It sparked a passion in me to join the fight to raise lung cancer awareness.

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Me with new patient, Corey Wood at her first – of many – ALCF Galas.

At this year’s Gala, as the audience listened to the leading oncologists and researchers speak on this year’s advancements and the future possibilities, I found myself holding the hand of a new patient, a beautiful 22 year old woman, Corey.  She was at her first Gala.  Like I did at my first, I watched her grow in confidence throughout the event.    I realized that Bonnie Addario and Scott Santarella have given me the greatest gift.  As a member of ALCF, my fight against lung cancer is not just limited to my personal fight.   I have the opportunity and platform to reach and help so many others.   I am so grateful.

And oh yeah, one more nugget:  Stella’s not the only chick that got her groove back.  After a year break, I found myself back on the dance floor in 2014.  And there’s video to prove it:

Much love. Live in the moment.



A Decade of Love

October 23rd was an anniversary, and finally one not about cancer.

Some of you may remember my post from last year about my wonderful husband, Miles. Throughout my diagnosis, Miles has been by my side as a caregiver, cheerleader, researcher, and best friend.

This past week, Miles and I celebrated the 10 year anniversary of when we started dating. Alone, that’s an exciting milestone.  Coupled with the fact that it signifies that we’ve spent 1/3 of our lives together made it even more special.

10 year anniversary roof

Miles re-created our 3-month date, in which we snuck up to the roof of his dorm, ate Chinese food, and then watched a movie. The 10 year version still had Chinese food, but he upped the ante by adding a projector to our roof which displayed a slideshow of our last decade together.

I don’t know who or where I’d be if Miles hadn’t come into my life.  All I know is that I am forever grateful that 10 years ago, he sent me on an elaborate scavenger hunt before asking me to our college formal. He makes me a better person each day, and I honestly couldn’t be happier.

Thank you, Miles, for making the last third of my life so wonderful. Thank you for making the last two and a half years a time of love, hope, and courage, despite all odds.  Can’t wait for the next decade, when we’ll be celebrating half our life together.


10 years produces a lot of photos…here’s a brief slideshow of the last 10 years:

1st slideshow

Left: The beginning – carving pumpkins in 2004 with webmaster Annie!                                             Right: Our date on the dorm roof, 2 buck chuck included!

2nd slideshow

Left: Thanksgiving 2004 – first time we said “I love you”                                                                     Right: When I landed after studying abroad in Spain, Miles picked me up with flowers and a kiss!

3rd slideshow

Left: He brings out the goofball in me…sumo wrestling!                                                                 Right: Celebrating our favorite holiday – St. Patty’s

4th slideshow

Left: In Memphis with my parents, celebrating our engagement!                                                 Right: We love a good costume party!

5th slideshow

Left: Supporting our Steelers at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh                                                             Right: Enjoying post-treatment life with friends at my dear friend Chelsea’s wedding

Much love. Live in the moment.




Getting My Butt in Gear

Sometimes, I lack the motivation to work out.  I assume (hope?) this is a common issue for others, but if not I’ll just pull the one-lung excuse ;)

Sure, I feel a lot stronger these days.  And yes, I attribute that to my regular workouts, which are expanding my left lung capacity.  But every once in awhile I just want to regress by about a year and spend an entire day binge-watching a new TV series.  You know, the good ole’ days, when radiation side-effects had me so exhausted I could barely walk to the bathroom, and literally lay on the couch…for months.

But today, I was given a wake-up call.  A reminder that no, the past few years weren’t just a bad dream, and yes, I am determined to do everything in my power to prevent this awful disease from ever returning.

EmBen walking 3.5mi

Here’s today’s walking stats – San Fran 5k, here I come!

That wake-up call came via this very new study, not even out in print yet. To summarize, “Daily cardiovascular exercise appears to mitigate the growth of lung adenocarcinoma tumors.”   If “adenocarcinoma” sounds familiar, that may be because it’s the exact type of lung cancer I had.

So does this research apply to me? Yes.  Are these results exciting? Double yes.  Are they motivating me to get my butt in gear and go out for another training walk for the San Francisco 5k with ALCF? Hell yes.

If this study motivated you, too, click HERE to join Team EmBen and come join us on September 21st for your daily cancer-fighting exercise! Or hey, if you just want to fund life-saving research that’ll someday allow me to pop an anti-cancer pill so I can stop this silly workout fad and get back to curling up on the couch, we’ll take donations, too ;)

Much love. Live in the moment.


One Step Further

18 months.  1.5 years.  One step further from cancer.

Last night we received the results of my 1.5 year post-op scan, and I am ALL CLEAR. That’s right – 3 more cancer-free months have passed since the last scan, and we expect nothing but NED in our future.

8.6.14 scan results

Miles and I took a walk last night to celebrate – and brought along some to-go adult beverages for a “cheers”!

In fact, Dr. Reckamp now wants to push my next few scans to every 4 months, and then, once I pass the 2-year mark, to every 6 months thereafter.  The idea behind this is to lower my long-term radiation exposure, because, well…we can now start thinking about the long term.

This all comes as an incredible relief.  While Miles and I have been busy enjoying life these past few months (traveling to visit family and friends, giving interviews to increase lung cancer awareness, celebrating birthdays, attending friends’ weddings), my health is never far from our minds.  I still need about 10 hours of sleep a night, I’m still incredibly susceptible to getting a cold, and I’m still working to increase my endurance with the hope of expanding my lung capacity. But these are daily battles we fight in order to keep on winning the greater war.  This latest scan is welcome confirmation that we continue to move in the right direction.  And we couldn’t be happier.

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Yes, I am a dork. But, thankfully, my amazing sister, EmTay, is still willing to train with me so that I can proudly cross the 5k finish line!

Speaking of moving in the right direction:  I’m working my way up to 3.1 miles so that I can speed-walk at this year’s Your Next Step is the Cure (YNSITC) 5k in San Francisco on September 21st. Your participation will help eradicate lung cancer, and Team EmBen needs YOU!  Don’t let a one-lunger out-do you – bring your two healthy lungs out to join me in this race!

CLICK HERE to register for Team EmBen and select “Join Our Team” in the right hand column.  It’s only 1.5 months away, and I would absolutely love to see you all there!

If you can’t come to SF but still want to donate to support Team EmBen and the cause, please CLICK HERE. Thank you!


Much love. Live in the moment.