Rituals to Overcome

Editor’s Note: Kevin Zelko was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma last fall. He is currently in treatment at SCCA under the direction of Dr. Ryan Cassaday. Many here in Seattle will recognize Kevin as a beer vendor at Mariner and Seahawks games and as a founding member of Gorilla FC. Kevin, a special education teacher here in Seattle, was also featured last year in USA Today for his role in providing Seahawk jerseys to the more than 400 students at Kimball Elementary School. On February 20, Kevin will celebrate his 40th birthday at an event in Fremont called Life is a Beach that’s aimed at raising money for cancer research at SCCA. Learn more and get tickets for Life is a Beach here. In the post below, Kevin discusses how rituals helped him through his cancer treatment. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @Msbeervendor

The fight against Cancer is a journey that isn’t always clear cut or spelled out. It’s very much a journey with peaks and valleys. In my fight, I reached out to my loved ones to build a strong team of people who would be there to get me through. Together, we developed a set of rituals that made hard appointments less stressful, helped us to connect with others, and provided a welcome distraction.

Zelko-Supporters-ShieldOne ritual that I found particularly helpful was casting chemotherapy appointments as positive events. These sessions can be long and uncomfortable, and involve getting plugged into machines that inject chemicals that leave you with side effects, nausea and bad tastes, while also fighting the disease that is against you. I dreaded these appointments, so I decided I needed to do something about this dread. My girlfriend and I began using reverse psychology when discussing chemotherapy. My infusions were on Friday, so Fridays became known as Chemo Friday. We would joke that these were party days and act as if we were excited to wake up on Fridays and get ready for the sessions. On Chemo Fridays we would enjoy a nice breakfast before the appointment at a special restaurant. We would bring in a funny movie to watch while sitting for hours hooked up to the medicine machines. Never once would we let each other act like Chemo Friday wasn’t a great day, knowing full well that these appointments would restart the cycle of making my body feel like crap.

I added to my Chemo Friday ritual by wearing the same favorite t-shirt to my appointments. The staff at SCCA quickly learned that my favorite band was Jawbreaker. Every Chemo Friday, I would wear my Jawbreaker shirt giving me that extra strength to fight Cancer.

I am very involved with the Seattle Sounders community, and am the steward of this years’ Supporter’s Shield that’s currently residing on my coffee table at home. My appointment scheduler wanted to see it, so I brought it in to share with the staff. There was much excitement at this chemo session, as all of the staff was able to get a photo and hold the large silver trophy that the Sounders earned with their dominant play this year.

zelko-pullquoteAnother important ritual that we added was watching our sports teams. Sure, having teams like the Sounders and Seahawks helps, but knowing you could connect with so many local fans over sports helped me share a bond with my fellow Seattleites. The ritual of watching sports helped to distract us from my own condition or recent medical news, and gave me a break from what was going on in my body. I was able to enjoy watching Richard Sherman intercept balls and not think about how long my chemotherapy sessions would be. I could hope for a Clint Dempsey goal for two hours instead of thinking about how bad my stomach felt. Seattle is also very lucky to have such amazing athletes off the field, and watching the actions of Russell Wilson at Children’s Hospital, Sounders forward Kenny Cooper visiting Cancer fighters, and seeing ex-Mariner Jamie Moyer be such an advocate is uplifting to the say the least.

One of my favorite rituals during treatment has been my visits to the Olympic Athletic Club. A very supportive friend named Andrew made an effort to join me at the gym on days I was feeling strong enough to go. From these visits, my body would break a sweat, removing toxins while also gaining strength from the workout. It helped me to feel normal, while also giving me the social connection of a gym buddy. We would end these with a eucalyptus sauna which really cleaned out the head, which can get really cluttered during treatments.

SoundersBallUltimately, these rituals brought me the routine that I needed to overcome Cancer. Earlier this month, my doctor shared the news that my Cancer is in remission, and my chemotherapy will finish at the end of February. These rituals helped bond me with my loved ones, friends, my health team, and strangers to find strength to beat Cancer. For those on a fight or for those loving someone on the fight (which is often harder), find some rituals to help ease your journey and embrace others to assist in your fight!


    Posted in Personal Stories | 1 Comment

    Five Minutes With Dr. Eli Estey

    Eli Estey specializes in the treatment of acute myeloid leukemia. He’s been treating patients at SCCA since 2008–before that he practiced at MD Anderson for 30 years, treating AML patients almost exclusively. Because of his focus on AML–over 36 years–he reckons that he has seen as many AML patients as anyone in the world. Dr. Estey ran track in high school–his best time for the mile was 4:40. estey-225-2He also spent a lot of time watching football, baseball, and horse racing with his father. His wife, Cindy, is a retired radiologist who worked at MD Anderson, and together they’ve raised two adopted girls from China, Emily and Annie. Here at SCCA, Dr. Estey is famous for his passion for sports, especially football. He is a big fantasy football player, but admits that his running backs let him down this year. He does like to point out, however, that he drafted standout rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. early on, after seeing his potential while at LSU.

    What’s the last book you read?
    Nixonland: the Rise of a President & the Fracturing of America by Rick Perlstein. I like politics a lot. When I was a boy I remember reading The Making of the President, 1960 by Theodore White. The other book I remember reading at that age was The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer. I’ve always liked politics; my parents liked politics, my father in particular.

    What hobbies or activities do you enjoy doing outside of work?  
    I do a lot of exercise–it’s probably an addiction. I average about 2.5 hours a day and I do one of two things for exercise. I live near Franklin High School and walk the track there. And I go to PRO Sports on Eastlake and do the elliptical. And I’m a HUGE football fan.

    Do you have a personal motto?  
    “Be prepared for success.” When people come to see me with a diagnosis of AML, they’ve been referred here by their local oncologist. They’re often told things like “you have three months to live” or that “treatment is difficult” or that “chemotherapy is horrible” and so on. So I try to serve as an antidote to that. Treatment for this disease is getting better, and people do get cured. And while I don’t want to be a Pollyanna about it, I don’t want patients to come here prepared for failure. That’s what I mean by “be prepared for success.”

    Who is the person you most admire?   
    Dr. Emil J Freireich, my mentor at MD Anderson; he plays a prominent part in The Emperor of all Maladies; a Biography of Cancer.

    What is your favorite place to go in Seattle?
    Husky Stadium, Century Link Stadium, or Safeco Field.

    footballIf you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?
    Vietnam or India.

    What is your favorite restaurant?
    Tamarind Tree in the International District.

    Mariners, Sounders, or Seahawks?

    iPhone, Android, or Windows Phone?

    What career could you see yourself in if you weren’t a doctor?
    Mathematician; I majored in math in college and went to medical school as a way to avoid the draft.

    Who is going to win the Super Bowl?
    I have to pick the Seahawks. But on the other hand, there’s a reason no team has repeated in the last ten years. A lot of things that can go wrong.

    seahawksSo how do think the game will go?
    I think it will be competitive and low scoring.

    What’s your prediction for the final score?
    Seahawks 17, New England 13.


      Posted in Five Minutes With | 1 Comment

      Fall Down Seven Times, Stand Up Eight

      Quitting tobacco is a lot like learning to ride a bike: It’s normal to try many times before making it all the way around the block. By examining each quit attempt, one begins to see which strategies work and which don’t. Each attempt brings new learning, insights, and skills. And, if one learns from experience, then there’s really no wasted effort or “failure.”addiction-250

      Every step you take to quit, such as delaying a smoke or exercising to manage stress, is a step closer to living tobacco-free. Perhaps you breathed your way through a craving or went for a walk on a break instead of lighting up. Small behavior changes practiced over time represent real progress toward a goal.

      Some people say, “I slipped and smoked a cigarette, so I failed.” Slipping is a normal part of the quitting process, not a failure. A slip does not have to become a relapse. It’s just a bump in the road on the way to quitting completely.

      So don’t feel bad about slipping–get analytical instead. Ask yourself, “What circumstances led to the slip? What would I do differently next time?” If you’re not using medications, consider trying them. Don’t have a good support team? Then think about and recruit those people in your life who could help you out. Consider calling the quit line (1-800-QUIT NOW) for support and help with your quit plan. Quit coaches answer calls 24/7 in Washington state.

      ge-tanalyticalThe secret to quitting is to keep on trying. Remember the Japanese proverb, “Fall down seven times. Stand up eight.” There is no failure in falling down and standing up again.

      Tip: Treat yourself well during your quit attempt to increase your chance of success. Eat well, sleep well, spend time with supportive people and pets, do something you enjoy every day, and practice self-compassion. Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward one’s self when suffering or feeling inadequate and less-than-perfect. Treat yourself as you would a dear friend.

      Need support? Need help making a quit plan? Check out these resources:

      • SCCA Living Tobacco-Free Services at 206-288-7766, a free service for SCCA patients and caregivers.
      • 1-800-QUIT NOW (1-800-784-8669), a free service available to everyone in the United States. In Washington state this service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
      • The SCCA website also has a list of helpful resources designed to help you quit smoking and using tobacco products.

      Donna Manders is a Tobacco Cessation Specialist at SCCA.

        Posted in You're Greater Than the Addiction | Leave a comment

        United Luv Project Donates iPads to SCCA

        UnitedLuv-iPad-Donation-1The Eaton family recently visited SCCA to donate 20 iPads, a gift from the United Luv Project, which was started by brothers Ryan and Dallas Eaton. The iPads will be available for patients’ use in the clinic and at the SCCA House.

        Soon after being diagnosed with sarcoma in 2011, Ryan Eaton began spending a great deal of time in hospitals, and noticed that many patients attended treatment alone, with few activities to help pass the time. He wanted to give back to others who were also fighting cancer, and came up with the idea to provide hospitals and cancer units with iPads, which patients could use to play games or connect with friends and family, providing a welcome distraction during treatment.

        UnitedLuv-iPad-Donation-2Ryan, a graphic designer, and his brother Dallas, a business major, started United Luv and committed to donating 10 percent of the proceeds from its apparel sales to fulfill the mission of purchasing iPads. Ryan, who traveled from Montana for treatment and stayed at the SCCA House, lost his battle with cancer in early 2013, but the Eaton family has continued to work to fulfill Ryan’s vision for the United Luv Project.

        To date, United Luv has donated 145 iPads to hospitals throughout the region. In addition to the 20 iPads they presented to SCCA last week, the Eaton family also donated iPads to our partners at UW Medicine and Seattle Children’s. Learn more about Ryan’s story and United Luv by visiting the organization’s website.

          Posted in General | Leave a comment

          A Different Way to Quit

          Dishing out advice such as “be willing to have your cravings to smoke” to someone desperately trying to quit smoking may sound counterproductive, if not a little cruel. But that’s the approach that Jonathan Bricker, Associate Member, Public Health Sciences Division at Fred Hutch,addiction-250 is taking with his groundbreaking research into helping people overcome addiction. His work is based on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), and it has already found its way into the marketplace via a smartphone app designed by Dr. Bricker and his team called SmartQuit.

          Most quit-smoking programs are based on the principles of avoidance and distraction–identify the triggers that lead you to want a cigarette, avoid people who smoke, do a crossword puzzle, go for a walk, and so on. The ACT method is different. Instead of avoiding cravings to smoke, Dr. Bricker wants you to notice those cravings in your body–in your chest, your throat, your stomach–and focus on them. Says Dr. Bricker, “If you watch your cravings for about two minutes, they go away. For someone who has been smoking for 20 years, this is mind-boggling. It’s a discovery.” He explained his approach in a presentation at TEDxRainier last November, which was captured in the YouTube video below:

          Dr. Bricker and his team started developing the SmartQuit app based on ACT in 2012. They tested SmartQuit in a randomized clinical trial against the standard smoking cessation app, QuitGuide, which was developed by the National Cancer Institute. Data from the trial showed that the quit rate for the government’s app was 5 percent–for SmartQuit it was 13 percent. smart-quit-iconHis goal is to get SmartQuit’s quit rate up to 20 to 25 percent, which would make it comparable to the quit rate of smokers who get individual counseling. Click here for more information about the SmartQuit app for iPhone and Android. And learn more about Dr. Bricker and his work at Fred Hutch.


            Posted in You're Greater Than the Addiction | Leave a comment
            • This-One-Thing-260