Well, it’s been a long time since I’ve updated. There’s quite a bit going on, but I will try to keep it short as I think most of you know what’s going on anyway.
I found out in the beginning of September that my cancer, which had been in complete remission for a couple of months, had returned. The same spot on my right rib from before was back, as well as a few tiny spots on my lungs that had previously disappeared. There are also a few spots on my spine. We quickly came up with a new chemo plan but decided to hold off for a week. I ended up booking a last-minute trip to New York before the new chemo started and ended up having a roller coaster of a trip. My first night I had to go to the ER because I was having trouble urinating (meaning, I couldn’t. At all.). They ended up doing an MRI of my spine and realized that there were two tumors causing problems by pushing into my spine and causing nerve compression. At this point, they admitted me to the hospital (where I stayed for 10 days) and immediately started radiation therapy on the two spots on my spine.
It’s been extremely difficult being in New York without my family to take care of me – I guess I have been truly spoiled having them in Georgia, and this was a terrific reminder of how special family is. I finish radiation tomorrow and then I’m heading back to Georgia immediately on Wednesday. I haven’t really been in contact with my oncologist in Georgia, so I assume we will start the new chemo when I get back and that will be the next course of action.
The news that the cancer had spread, again, was maybe the most difficult news I’ve yet received in my life, mostly because when I got the news, I had actually expected to hear that there was no cancer and that I was *finally* done with this entire fight and could move back to my life in New York. Unfortunately, life had other plans – but it is what it is. I can’t control it. The only thing I can do is keep up the fight. I’ve beaten it before, and I’m going to beat it again!
“I’d venture to say you’re in remission.”
On top of last week’s awesome news with the results of my CT scan, those above words uttered by my doctor this morning were just what I wanted to hear. Things are finally heading in the right direction. I also feel better now than I’ve felt in a year. I can’t say for sure that my new vegan diet (day 15!) is helping me feel better, but it’s certainly not hurting me, as I’ve only gotten good news since I started the diet!
I wish I knew more about my future treatment schedule, but I still don’t really know much. We will for sure do two more rounds of chemotherapy (including the one I started today), and then after that it’s up to a sarcoma specialist in Atlanta who I should be meeting within the next 2-3 weeks. Hopefully I will know more then. They’re not sure if I will be a candidate for the bone marrow transplant (not necessarily a bad thing), since there’s still so little data on a procedure of that magnitude for a cancer like mine. My doctor has already spoken with the sarcoma specialist in Atlanta, and she’s going to speak with other specialists about my specific case, and then let me know the options when I meet with her. (I don’t know how realistic this scenario is, but fingers crossed that the transplant isn’t even necessary, and I can get by with just these next 2 rounds of chemo and be finished, amirite???)
Adding to the fantastic news, I mentioned wanting to plan a trip to New York, and my doctor encouraged me to do it! So I booked my trip – July 24 to August 1! This will be my first time to New York in over FIVE months. I could not be more excited!!! I will also be able to have an early birthday celebration while I’m there. It just feels like everything is finally coming together
The results from my CT scan are in: Everything looks good! The soft tissue that they had found growing out of my rib is completely gone, and the doctor is “very, very, very pleased.” I only got the chance to speak with his nurse, and not the doctor himself, so I’m sure I’ll found out more information on Monday when I go in to see him, but for now, this is all I need. She told me that he has been on the phone with Emory, a huge hospital in Atlanta, in regards to the bone marrow transplant. That’s all I know for now in terms of future plans, but it’s all very, very, very exciting! I’ll keep you updated when more information comes in.
For the past week or so, I have been in a HUGE movie-watching mood. That probably doesn’t come as a surprise to most of you, but I haven’t always been in the mood to watch movies since this whole situation began. Oftentimes I find them too long/involving to really wrap my mind around during all of this. But lately, I’ve been watching like three movies per day, and it’s been awesome. I thought as long as I keep this up, maybe I could do a weekly (or so) series where I recommend something that’s available on Netflix Instant to give you some ideas for your queue!
Let me start this week’s by first talking about a different movie, The Last Days of Disco. My friend John recommended it to me, and let’s just say, it’s scary how well John knows me – I LOVE this movie. The Last Days of Disco is a very talky, Woody Allen-esque film about… well, not much, but centered on a group of friends in New York. The film has an incredibly unique atmosphere, one that had a smile on my face from the very beginning. Kate Beckinsale, in a phenomenal performance as a hilariously frank advice-spewer, sealed the deal – I LOVE this movie. Doing some research after watching the film, I found out that The Last Days of Disco is actually the third part in what’s referred to as the “yuppie trilogy” by writer-director Whit Stillman. Loosely related in themes, though not in story or characters, the yuppie trilogy began in 1990 with the release of Metropolitan, then came Barcelona, and finally The Last Days of Disco.
Metropolitan could be described exactly the way I described The Last Days of Disco above: very talky, Woody Allen-esque, centered on a group of friends in New York. His ideas are plentiful, the dialogue extremely witty, the characters memorable. While I think The Last Days of Disco is the better film (that Kate Beckinsale character…), Metropolitan hits most of the same marks and it would be a good way to be introduced into the unique Whit Stillman universe. And hey, he got an Oscar nomination for writing it.
Watch Metropolitan here: http://movies.netflix.com/Movie/Metropolitan/60010649?trkid=2361637
My doctor called this afternoon with the results of the biopsy of the soft tissue on my ribs. It’s as expected – Ewing’s sarcoma. Considering that the results could have come back with something even worse (and the fact that I’ve now had three days to get used to this), I’m feeling okay with it. The new plan is a new chemotherapy – and frankly, one that sounds like it has less side effects than what I’ve been having. So at this point, it doesn’t really seem like it changes much for me – I’m still going in for chemotherapy like I’ve been doing since September, it’s just a different drug now. It’s basically a one-day-at-a-time thing now, so I don’t really know what the long-term plan is (and I’ll have more information once I actually see the doctor on Monday), but I’ll keep updating as I hear more.
In semi-related news, I’ve become obsessed with this new artist, Emeli Sandé. She’s already huge in the UK and will release her album here in the States on June 5. Here’s her wonderful song, “My Kind of Love,” which was inspired by the interactions she saw between patients and their loved ones when she was studying medicine.
Sorry about the lack of updates, but there really hasn’t been much to report up until now.
As a companion piece to my article about Georgia, I present, in no particular order:
Derek’s Five Best Things About Living in New York
In New York, you’re never very far from anything you might need. Everything is crammed together, which is super convenient. The downside to this is that it means living space is tiny, but it’s totally worth it. I remember I met some people at a hostel while traveling abroad and I told them that if something was more than five blocks from my apartment, it wasn’t worth going. That was obviously an exaggeration, but it is true that almost anything you could possibly need or want is a short reach away.
02. Public Transportation
Going along with convenience is public transportation. I haven’t driven a car in nearly five years, and have no desire to do so. Almost nothing about it is appealing to me: the stress, the expense (car payment, gas, insurance, repairs, etc.), not to mention how bad it is for the environment. The subway, on the other hand, is great! It’s easy, it’s relaxing (try reading a book on your drive to work!), it’s cheap, it’s environmentally friendly. Sure, you don’t usually get dropped off exactly where you need to be, but then you get in a bit of exercise walking a bit to your destination. It’s a win-win.
I’ve long said that NY is the land of opportunity. With so many people, there is simply a wide range of things to do. My friends have jobs ranging from the finance industry to film (both production and distribution) to concert pianists and beyond. How does this make my life better, you might ask? Quite simply, diversity. And also, you never know when someone in the film industry might have an opportunity to attend a star-studded movie premiere. In December, a good friend of mine attended the premiere of Sandra Bullock’s new movie. Seated in the front row, she got to be incredibly close to Sandra, and I could have been there had I been in New York. I’m not ashamed to admit, that made me cry.
04. Something for Everyone
I have to break this one down into several categories:
- Culture - Film, theater, ballet, art, music, etc, etc, etc, the list goes on. You name it, we have it. Want to go to the zoo? Take your pick – we have three! How about the beach? Hop on the subway down to Coney Island (and while you’re at it, satisfy your craving for thrills by riding their famous roller coaster, the Cyclone). Want to try local craft beers? Walk into any number of bars. I could go on and on, but you get the idea. If you can’t find something interesting to do in New York, you’re doing it wrong.
- Food - I’m ashamed to admit that, before I moved to New York, I had no idea that Japanese food was different from Chinese food. But it is! It’s also different from Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, Serbian, German, French, Italian, Polish, Greek, Afghan, Spanish, Mexican, Peruvian, Brazilian, and any number of other delicious cuisines I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing in New York. Again, one of the main things that makes New York so special is its diversity, and that’s never more apparent than in the wonderful array of food options. Even more exciting? See point #1 – you’re never very far from any of these cuisines. So take your pick! If you can’t find something great to eat in New York, you’re doing it wrong.
- Quirkiness - I’m not exactly sure how to explain this point, but let me just say, there are certain things that are simply, uniquely New York. Like the secret bar called Please Don’t Tell, in which you enter through an unmarked telephone booth inside a tiny dive of a hot dog joint. Or the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop. Or the Halloween dog costume parade. The type of stuff that you really can’t get anywhere else. If you can’t find something unique to do in New York, you’re doing it wrong.
05. My New York Family
I saved this for last on purpose, because it’s actually the most important and best thing about living in New York. I’m not gonna lie, it took me quite awhile to find where I fit in, but it’s entirely safe to say that I have found my New York family. A lot of people, like me, come to New York and don’t have any other actual family there. That’s why the people you meet there are so very important. And the friends I have made are, without a doubt, absolutely family to me. I’ve come to learn so much about myself with the help of these people. I’ve made New York my home with the help of these people. They have stayed by my side through thick and thin. When I got sick, I had people at my apartment every single day visiting me. My mom said I would light up whenever people would come over, and it’s true. Even before I got sick, I was simply living the dream, with these people by my side. To all of you, I can’t name all your names but you know who you are, I love you very much!
My nieces have been over at their other grandparents’ house this week, but they got back tonight and immediately wanted to come over to see Uncle Derek walk without his crutches.
That’s right, I’m free as a bird! As of yesterday morning, for the first time in over six months, I am finally able to walk without the aid of a walker or crutches or anything else. It’s definitely an odd feeling, and I have a crazy limp going on at the moment, but I’ll be going to physical therapy to get back to normal. I better hurry, though, because I will be back home in NY in 9 days for a visit!
This is completely unrelated to anything else on this site, but I don’t care – it’s my site and I’ll post what I want As most of you know, I’m a huge movie buff. With the Oscars coming up (and rarely getting anything right), I thought I’d share my own personal awards. Hopefully it could shed some light on some great films you may not have seen or heard of!
Best Picture: A Separation
Unfortunately, neither of these films made the cut in Oscar’s Best Picture list, though they’re both nominated in two other categories (including Best Original Screenplay, which they will both lose to The Artist or Midnight in Paris). Fortunately for A Separation, it stands a good chance of winning the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. The Iranian drama, which will likely not be playing at a theater near you unless you live in New York or Los Angeles, is a stunning masterpiece blended with marital discourse, Middle Eastern politics, moral ambiguity, and one of the most tantalizing legal thrillers ever made. It’s gripping from the opening scene and you never quite know which direction it’s going to turn (I highly recommend not reading any plot summaries before watching and just let the film organically unfold before your eyes). On the other side of the spectrum, Bridesmaids (which, if you haven’t already seen it, you’ve surely heard plenty about it) proves that broad comedy can successfully have a voice of its own and mean something. Never a film to milk laughs unless they’re serving the story and the characters, Bridesmaids also boasts perhaps the best ensemble cast of the year led by the ridiculously funny, and surprisingly touching, Kristen Wiig.
Best Director: Nicolas Winding Refn, Drive
(runner-up: Wim Wenders, Pina)
Neither of these made Oscar’s list, either, though Drive competes for Best Sound Editing (a sad lone nomination for such a spectacularly crafted film) and Pina is nominated for Best Documentary Feature. Both directors bring not only a terrific energy to their films, but, more importantly, they simply speak the language of cinema. From its stylized night drives through Los Angeles to the scene which will go down in infamy as “the elevator scene,” Drive oozes cinema at its most interesting. Wenders took a topic I’m not necessarily interested in (his film is an ode to the late modern dance choreographer Pina Bausch) and turned it into a riveting and moving piece of work. Smartly employing the use of 3-D (if you have the chance to catch this in theaters, you MUST do so to take advantage of the 3-D), Pina is a film that easily could have fallen flat with boring dance performances, but instead feels thrillingly alive.
Best Actor: Ewan McGregor, Beginners
(runner-up: Michael Fassbender, Shame)
With supporting co-star Christopher Plummer taking the lion’s share of attention (and likely the Oscar) for Beginners, it’s awful that McGregor’s less-showy turn has been sadly overlooked. When his widowed father reveals at age 70 that he’s gay (and, oh yeah, has cancer), McGregor’s character learns to come to terms with himself and start a new relationship (with the wonderful Mélanie Laurent). McGregor’s performance is beautiful and tender – it’s no wonder that whenever Plummer wins an award, he singles out McGregor as a great screen partner. Fassbender, on the other hand, gives a performance the very opposite of beautiful and tender as a sex-addicted New Yorker. The pain and struggle in Fassbender’s performance is sometimes difficult to watch yet you can’t look away. It’s no wonder the Oscars, who like things warm and cuddly, passed over him for a nomination when just about every other organization saw fit to honor his brave work.
Best Actress: Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
(runner-up: Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn)
It’s hard to complain about the biopic (one of my least favorite genres) this year, as these two Oscar-nominated performances based on real-life women are truly exciting. No surprise that Streep once again knocks it out of the park. In a film tailor-made to win awards for its leading lady, she portrays Margaret Thatcher in a tour-de-force performance laced with Streep’s trademark knack for technical mastery. Williams was a bigger surprise for me. Shedding her usual dark characters and shy real-life persona for the gigantic charisma of the one and only Marilyn Monroe, she’s electrifying to watch, and proves that she’s one of the best young actresses we have.
Best Supporting Actor: Nick Nolte, Warrior
(Runner-up: Christopher Plummer, Beginners)
More than 40 years after The Sound of Music, Christopher Plummer finally earned his first Oscar nomination in 2009. Two years later, he’s back again and this time he’s a lock to take the statue for his performance as an old man embracing a newfound joie-de-vivre by finally coming clean about his sexuality. Nominated against Plummer is another Oscar-less vet, Nick Nolte, for his shockingly moving performance in the little-seen Warrior. Playing an ex-alcoholic seeking forgiveness from his two sons (who, in turn, are literally battling each other for the title in an MMA Championship), Nolte, of whom I’m not generally a fan, is heartbreaking. The “grizzled old man” role might not seem like such a stretch for the actor, but it’s a terrific turn. It’s hard to argue against Plummer finally winning an Oscar, and for such a joyful performance with a twinkle in his eye, but in this race, my vote goes to Nolte.
Best Supporting Actress: Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
(runner-up: Rose Byrne, Bridesmaids)
There’s little-to-no precedent for the Academy to nominate a performance as broadly comic (and unashamed of that fact) as McCarthy’s in Bridesmaids. Yet her performance, widely beloved in a smart film, managed to crack Oscar’s list for Best Supporting Actress. McCarthy takes a character that could easily have come off as the dumb sidekick the audience laughs at to being a character who’s in on the joke herself. There’s nothing dumb about her confidence, and that makes her performance all the more riotously funny. Add in a touching (but still humorous) motivational scene late in the movie opposite Kristen Wiig, and it’s clear to me that Melissa McCarthy gave my favorite performance (in any category) of 2011. It’s too bad her costar, Rose Byrne, couldn’t have joined her in this category at the Oscars. Playing the annoyingly perfect Helen, Byrne never forgets to add the factor of likability that is crucial to the character’s success. In the hands of a lesser actress, Helen could have become a cartoon villain, but Byrne is smart enough to know that adding shades of understanding and likability is what creates conflict and interest to the character and, hence, the film. I’ve already said the film contains the year’s best ensemble cast, and these two are the MVPs.
Best Original Screenplay: A Separation
(runner-up: Another Earth)
I’ve already talked about A Separation, the best film of the year, but its labyrinthine screenplay is its strongest asset (thankfully, Oscar took notice and nominated it in this category). Slowly building tension, the screenplay is smart enough to know when to show its cards in order to provide a massively intriguing drama that will keep you thinking long after the final credits roll. Another Earth, too small an indie to gain any Oscar traction, takes a sci-fi conceit (the discovery of, well, another Earth, where a parallel you is living his/her own life) and turns it into a somber study of grief. The unique idea for the screenplay also provides one of the greatest endings of the year.
Best Adapted Screenplay: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
(runner-up: The Descendants)
The Descendants will fight it out with Moneyball in this category at the Oscars, but for my money, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (also nominated) is the most accomplished. Adapted from what is said to be a massive book into a two-hour feature, the screenplay is intelligent enough to use sparing but crucial details to tell the story of a British Intelligence agent searching for a mole within his group. While some audiences have had a hard time following the twists and turns of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, no such problem exists for The Descendants. Bogged down by heavy voice-over narration, it’s still hard to deny the gorgeous dialogue the actors get to say in The Descendants.
And that concludes my awards for 2011! I hope you enjoyed reading them as much as I did seeing the films and writing about them. Most of all, I hope they inspire you to take a chance on some films you might not have even known about before.