Conversations with Cancer Survivor Mike Eidlin

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Mike Eidlin is a Seattle-area resident who was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2006, one month after his 60th birthday. While everyone reacts differently to a cancer diagnosis, and to the disease itself, Eidlin's perspective, then and now, is fairly unique in that he says cancer has changed his life very little. By his own admission, that perspective is rooted both in his spiritual faith and in the definition of a single word:

Pragmatic: practical as opposed to idealistic; a practical approach to problems or affairs.

"Cancer really didn't change my life that much," says Eidlin today, two years after he was determined to be cancer free. "Sure, it was the damnedest thing to walk into the doctor's office for a colonoscopy, thinking you're fine, and then walk out knowing you have cancer.

"It was my annual physical and I mentioned that I had a little discomfort in my abdomen; it wasn't painful and I wasn't feeling bad.  My doctor suggested getting a colonoscopy even though it had only been four years since I'd had my previous one. I felt like I had been doing everything right, at least from a health-care standpoint.

"Fortunately, I have a tremendous faith in God and a lot of spiritual support. And I'm also a pragmatic kind of person, so my life really hasn't changed a lot."

Eidlin followed up the colonoscopy with CT and PET scans to confirm the initial diagnosis, then had surgery within the week to remove the tumor and part of his colon. Four months of chemotherapy were followed by another surgery to remove about 75 percent of his liver (the tumor had metastasized). After a two-month recovery period, there was another two months of chemotherapy.

Then, says Eidlin, who is both a mining engineer and a lawyer, it was back to work, and back to life, with just a few lingering reminders of his cancer. These included a large Y-shaped scar on his abdomen, plus a little residual neuropathy in his feet, caused by the chemotherapy, which makes it feel like he's walking on "bunched socks."

Overall, he says, "The treatment regimen worked exactly as it was supposed to work. I was glad of that. I had no active disease at the end of treatment. It's all good."

Eidlin gives a lot of credit for his successful outcome to medical oncologist Philip Gold, M.D., as well as everyone at Swedish involved with his care.

"My wife works in medical research and she identified the leading oncologists in Seattle. We chose Philip Gold, the director of Research at the Swedish Cancer Institute, who specializes in the treatment of colon cancer. It was an excellent choice, and so was Swedish. All of the people there — the doctors, the nurses, the receptionists — were just great, and they all went out of their way to be helpful.  As part of the aggressive treatment plan, Dr. Gold recommended Dr. Andrew Precht, a transplant surgeon at Swedish, to do the liver surgery. This was a great recommendation.

"I feel so lucky," says Eidlin, who, along with a demanding career that involves a lot of travel, is also a race-car driver. "I believe that God healed me and I absolutely believe that I'm here for a reason. I don't know what it is, but I've had my fat pulled out of the fire a couple of times and know I've got to be here for a reason."

Still - in spite of his spiritual belief, and never mind his pragmatism — Eidlin does admit to "absolutely" being a little nervous about recurrence every time he goes in for his scheduled, six-month check up. "I believe that with God's intervention and excellent medical care that I've been healed. I don't obsess about it, but I do think about it," he says.

"I have anxieties like everyone else. I acknowledge that these thoughts are there — just like a lot of other thoughts I have on a daily basis. Then, I just go in, get tested and that's it. I deal with it."

The important message here, says Eidlin, is not that he had cancer, or that he has survived cancer, or how he's reacted to his survival, but that cancer is showing up in people you wouldn't expect to see it in. "One of my doctors told me she is seeing colon cancer in more people as well as in younger people," he says.

"I've always had regular care ... but I still got cancer, and though I had no real symptoms, just some discomfort in my abdomen, but by then  it had already metastasized.

"Have good, regular health care, have regular check ups and pay attention to what your body is telling you. "My wife also tells me that eating more fruits and vegetables is valuable." That's what I would recommend. Cancer didn't change my life a lot — but you definitely don't want to get it if it can be avoided."