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The Scariest Mountain Climb

A life altering diagnosis.

I've climbed all 17,051 feet of Mount Kenya, I've trekked through the Alaskan wilderness completely off the grid for 3 weeks, I've done a Gorilla Trek in Uganda where the Guerrilla warfare was a real threat, I've had a blessed and adventurous life, and cancer is the scariest thing in the world to me. I lost my mom to it, she was only 64; I've lost good friends to it, and we all know people who’ve had cancer.

Imagine how I felt January 2022, when I learned that I had cancer. I was afraid, I was scared and I was in shock. My diagnosis, stage 3 Mantle Cell Lymphoma, with a life expectancy of 1 to 2 years. The second scariest thing to me is chemotherapy and radiation, I was with my mom through her chemotherapy and radiation treatments and it made her life worse, it didn't extend her life, and each visit to MD Anderson it felt like the treatment was going to kill her before the cancer.

I heard the Doctor tell me my diagnosis, my best friend was with me, she heard it too. We looked at one another in disbelief. I felt fine, I'd been hiking and skiing and did not feel sick. When I asked the Doctor my options, he said he'd recommend treatment, and he said to me, "It's going to make you feel really sick and miserable before it makes you better." What a sales pitch! I said, "no thanks!" We walked out of his office in shock, and then the emotion hit me and it hit me hard.

If you know me, you know that I'm not someone who sits idle. After allowing myself to feel the emotion I quickly moved into action. The words, "you have 1 to 2 years left", were ringing in my head. There's nothing quite like being told you have an expiration date. It kicked me into gear to find a solution.

Skiing is my jam, and for the better part of the past year I’ve been in complete isolation. I’ve been susceptible to Covid. And I've been in treatment.

I work for a great person who stood up for me and stood by me, who allowed me to work from home and allowed me to continue to be on my team at Beaver Creek. I feel so fortunate and grateful. While I feel I may have let down people by not performing at the level I have in the past, every day I was in my condo alone, working and contributing in the only way I could. In isolation, I knew the best skiing was happening and I couldn’t participate. After a year of going through this protocol, my life has changed, I’m out of isolation.

In December 2022, I almost lost my struggle, the toxicity of the drugs put me into danger, my WBC was so low any slight infection would have killed me. I was admitted to the Vail Hospital where I was placed in isolation for a week, and cared for by the amazing team there. Until this point, my attitude and mental state had remained quite positive, but this experience tipped me into the dark side. I felt defeated. I felt like I might not get through this battle. I had to dig deep to get myself back to a positive place.

This morning, a dear friend of mine let me know she's been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. I packed up my backcountry ski gear, and my friend Ryan and I went into the wilderness. We skinned up a beautiful snowy drainage gaining elevation and reached an open expanse of a field where we skied fresh tracks, During the hike on my skis, I couldn't stop thinking of my friend and what she's about to endure. And it hit me, I need to share my story. If my cancer story will inspire someone or give someone hope, then it's my duty to share it.

Writing this post has required me to dig deep, feel courageous and be willing to put myself out there in an authentic and vulnerable way. I've continued working through the most difficult year of my life, and now I'm out of isolation and back to working in person. My perspective has changed dramatically, and my level of gratitude has increased significantly. Very few people knew about my diagnosis, I chose to keep it private. I chose to fight this fight with my family and a few close friends, it's how I chose to survive. I believe in mind over matter, and I didn't want anyone to look at me the way the Doctor did when he gave me my diagnosis, his look was telling me I was dying, and soon.

When I returned to working in person, I could feel the questions before they were spoken. "Where have you been?", "Why haven't you been here?" I was then reminded that I don't look sickly, and I haven't lost my hair, so people don't look at me and know, or understand what I've endured.

How was my cancer discovered? December 2, 2021 I felt great. I watched the Men's World Cup at Beaver Creek. It was a sunny, blue bird day. After watching the race, I returned to my office and joined a Teams meeting. The meeting ended and within minutes I was doubled over in excruciating pain on my lower front side. The pain came on quickly and was incredibly intense. Stupidly, I walked out of my office, didn't tell anyone, and drove myself to my Doctor's office in Edwards, CO. When I got to their office I could barely stand up, they made a quick decision to take me to the Vail Emergency room.

After a series of tests and scans I was informed that I had a 10mm kidney stone, and would need surgery to remove the stone. This was a first for me, I'd heard that kidney stones are horribly painful and so far, my stone was living up to that reputation. About ten minutes after receiving the news of the kidney stone, another medical person came into my room with a less than happy expression. He said, "Stacey, there is something else we've discovered." My heart skipped a few beats. He then went on to tell me that I have too many lymph nodes in my groin area and it's cause for concern. He told me I needed to first schedule my kidney stone procedure with the urologist and then I needed to schedule an appointment at the Shaw Cancer center to see an oncologist. I was in complete shock. How could this be possible? Only a few hours prior I was feeling great and watching World Cup alpine racing in the sun. This had to be a mistake.

December 5, 2021 I had kidney stone surgery. Five days later I had another procedure to remove the stent they'd placed during the surgery. The kidney stone saved my life!!

December 30, 2021 I had lymph node biopsy surgery at the Vail hospital. They removed two of the suspicious lymph nodes from my groin to test them and determine what was going on. And then, the waiting began. I waited an agonizing three weeks to find out the results.

January 10, 2022 I saw an oncologist at the Shaw center and received my diagnosis. He said, "if I treat you, I will put you through aggressive chemotherapy and then you'll be hospitalized for several months to undergo a stem cell transplant." NO! My almost immediate response was NO, hell no. He recommended a second opinion, which I agreed to, and I scheduled an appointment at Denver Health. I had to wait until February for that appointment.

In the meantime, my family and I decided to do our own research. I learned a lot. I searched on Facebook for others who had my same diagnosis and I found 3 different private groups. I joined the groups and spent a few days reviewing all of the posts and comments, I kept track of the Doctors they referenced and of their results. And within a few days I discovered Dr. Wang at MD Anderson in Houston, Texas. He had a recently approved protocol for MCL patients and his protocol did not entail intense chemotherapy or stem cell transplant. I contacted his office and within one week I was on a plane to Houston to meet Dr. Wang and his team.

I went to the appointment at Denver Health when I returned from Houston. The Doctor there was kind and honest, and told me that if I qualified for Windows 2, I should do it. He said, if I were to be treated at Denver Health I'd receive aggressive chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant.

By mid February, 2022 I made a decision to go with Dr. Wang and my treatment began. Windows 2 protocol means receiving a drug through an IV, and taking two different medications orally daily. It also means having my blood checked weekly, and returning to Houston for scans, testing and procedures over the course of the next 12 months. Fortunately I was able to receive my IV medication locally in Edwards, after having the first dose in Houston.

Beginning in March 2022, I received the IV drug Rituximab once a week for 4 weeks, then the schedule changed to once a month. Receiving the IV drug is a full day event in the cancer center. While the 3 drugs in this protocol have allowed me to keep my hair, there have been plenty of other side effects, none of which have been enjoyable to experience. In addition, I chose to give up alcohol as soon as my treatment began, and in June, 2022 I chose to give up all added sugar.

December 2022, and January 2023 were long weeks for me. Long weeks of being alone, working a lot from home, refraining from doing the one thing I love to do in the winter, ski. I Missed being up at the resort and interacting with people. I had to keep myself healthy. January 31st, 2023 I was in Houston for a procedure to determine if the protocol was working, as you might imagine, this was a big deal.

February 9th, 2023 I received the wonderful news from Dr Wang and his team, I'm in complete remission! We don't know how long I'll be in remission, but I'll take it! I'm beyond grateful to Dr. Wang and his research.

Mantle Cell Lymphoma (MCL) is a scary diagnosis, and a difficult journey. MCL is not curable. I don't know how long I'll be in remission, however I will continue to do everything possible to remain healthy. Dr Wang has given me a 3 month medical holiday, in May, 2023 I'll resume my 3 medications for two more years as maintenance.

I have 3 months to enjoy life without the side effects of the medications, and Dr Wang said if I want to travel internationally now is the time. Attending Interski has been on my bucket list for nearly 30 years, and I finally have the opportunity to attend. In late March, I'm going to Finland for Interski 2023 as part of the U.S. delegation. I'm pretty sure if you were in my shoes, you would make the same choice.

Life hands us all kinds of opportunities and challenges, and we only die once, but we have every day to live! This experience has changed me, it's literally changed the cells in my body, it's changed my mental fortitude, it's opened my heart, it's made me more empathetic, it's shown me the strength of family and of true friendship. And it's reminded me the importance of saying yes to anything that lights me up.

My survival through all of this is the result of Dr. Wang’s protocol which I was lucky enough to be able to participate in. I’m also fortunate to be a positive outcome instead of a negative statistic.

While I didn’t lose my hair or look sick, my success is the exception not the rule and I’m so grateful to be in remission today. Even in remission, I have the fear that it will return. What keeps me going and excited about my life are the things I do that make it special. Doing what I love to do everyday. I am so lucky that I can still ski, hike and do all the things I enjoy.

It is the scariest thing to hear you only have two years left. We all have choices. I chose to fight with an experimental protocol. I’m grateful to be a success story. The love from my friends and family kept me going, their support kept me on track. To the leadership team at Beaver Creek that supported me I will forever be thankful. The support of those close to me helped me to tackle life's scariest mountain climb. For now, I'm on the other side of cancer mountain and saying thank you doesn’t seem like enough, please know my gratitude is immense. If you have questions or want to know more, ask me, I'm open to sharing my experience.


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