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Brian has been a member of TuDiabetes since mid-2008. In this spotlight, he tells of his 3rd chance at life, after being diagnosed with diabetes in 2000 and colon cancer in 2009.
1) Can you tell us a bit more about you?
My name is Brian Novak. Often people tell me “You only live once!” but I’m on my 3rd chance at life! I’m a survivor.
My first life:
I was born and raised in Detroit, MI. I am the second youngest of seven children in blended family.
I currently reside in Boulder, CO with my fiancé Karen. We share a love for the outdoors and are very active running, snowboarding, hiking, mountain biking etc. By day I am a freelance web designer.
2) When/how did you get diagnosed with diabetes?
My Second Life: As a Diabetic
Just after the New Year in January of 2000 I moved from Michigan to Colorado. I had just started a new job and was getting used to my new life when I started having some trouble with my health.
Within weeks of being there I started shedding pounds and developed an insatiable thirst. Because I was so busy at the time, I hadn’t paid much attention to my weight loss, thirst and fatigue until people started commenting on how thin I was. By that time, my vision started going blurry and I was feeling really bad. Something was definitely wrong.
On January 27, 2000 age the of 27, I went to a local clinic where I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and sent home with a meter, Glucophage and wished “good luck!”
The following day I called the clinic and told them that I thought the meter wasn’t working because I couldn’t get a reading. It just said “check ketones.” At that point they instructed me to go to the hospital. I had to get a ride to the hospital because my vision was too blurred to drive. When I finally got checked in, my blood glucose was over 900 and my hemoglobin A1C was 13.4%.
In the hospital, I was later diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and began my life on insulin. I still remember my first injection. What a surreal experience! I thought this was a disease that children and older people got. Where did this come from??? Nothing made sense… I spent four days recovering in the hospital and learning how to live life as a diabetic. It was another week before I could see well enough to return to work.
3) How did you find out you had cancer?
My Third Life: As a Cancer Survivor
Being diagnosed with cancer is not an easy thing… First of all, the diagnosis itself took six months! A little over a year ago I started having abdominal pain. Having just traveled to Central America, I thought some parasite or bacteria that I may have picked up caused the digestive trouble and pain.
I went to several doctors, took antibiotics, probiotics, digestive enzymes, herbs… you name it. But nothing seemed to help. None of the doctors I went to could figure out what was wrong with me and were quick to dismiss my situation… Because of my age no one (myself included) suspected it was cancer. I had no answers. It was really terrible. All the while I blogged about my trouble on TuDiabetes.com.
By last fall, the pain seemed to subside a bit and I had all but given up on my doctors. By the time Christmas and New Year’s came the pain was back with a vengeance. I could no longer ignore it. Something was very wrong. I went back to my gastroenterologist and he ordered an ultrasound. The ultrasound showed no problems so they sent me home again…
Finally, after I insisted that there was a problem my doctor ordered a colonoscopy. I had to wait several agonizing days before I could get the procedure. When I eventually went in for the colonoscopy it didn’t take long for my doctor to see that my colon was nearly completely blocked by a tumor. I was immediately rushed to the hospital. All I can remember is waking up in an ambulance. Again a very surreal experience!
I had a CAT scan and then met with a surgeon that told me they need to operate immediately and that more than likely I would wake up with a colostomy bag. I could not believe what I was hearing. I pleaded with the surgeon to do their best to make sure that didn’t happen. At this point I still didn’t know that I had cancer…
The surgery went well and I luckily did not end up with a colostomy but I was in major pain having just had my abdomen split open and reconfigured. I spent ten days in the hospital recovering. I didn’t eat anything for eight of those days. I was subjected to what seemed like torture… four days after my surgery my doctor came in my room and told me that it was confirmed that I had cancer and that it had spread to my lymph nodes.
There is nothing like hearing the words “you have cancer”. It’s a serious mental and physical blow… Because it had spread to my lymph system it was considered stage 3B colon cancer, which meant that I needed chemo. Six months of chemo… a few days later I had another surgery to implant a port in my chest to receive chemo. That surgery did not go well. A surgery that normally takes 20 minutes took two surgeons four hours complete.
On February 12th I began chemo. Chemo has been difficult but has been pushing through. I have just completed my 11th round. I have one more to go. I can’t wait to be done! A party to celebrate life is in the works!
4) How has your cancer treatment affected your diabetes management?
That is an interesting topic especially as of late with the recent news regarding Lantus and its possible link to cancer.
We all know managing diabetes when you are healthy is not particularly easy. But when you are sick it’s much harder. In the days after my chemo treatments my BGs tended to run high and I required a lot more insulin. I find that I am adjusting my dosing daily. It’s tough to figure out. The worst is having a low when I’m already feeling bad because of chemo.
Because of the studies suggesting a possible link between Lantus and cancer, my doctor is playing it safe since I already have cancer and has decided to switch me to NPH. It’s a short-term solution for now until we come up with a better plan maybe a pump or going to Levemir.
5) What has been the most difficult thing you’ve had to go through since the start of your treatment?
I think the most difficult thing has been having my own existence challenged. I am fighting for my life right now. Mentally and physically, this is a test like no other. Like I said I am a survivor and I am doing everything I can to beat this disease and get on with my life.
Two weeks ago, I ran a 5k after 10 rounds of chemo. I had to fight my way to the finish line. It was really tough! The race was the Undy 5000 for the Colon Cancer Alliance. I finished 2nd out of the survivor runners. The good news is that my doctor says that with chemo my chances of being cured are 75%. I think they are even higher! Having a positive mental state can do wonders. Being “cured” is when there no evidence of disease after five years.
6) What would you recommend to others with diabetes living through cancer?
First and foremost, for anyone with cancer I would recommend establishing a support system. You need people’s help more than ever. Having friends and family to help you during a time like this is essential. Some people will really rise to the occasion and you will appreciate these people more than you can imagine.
Aside from that, I would recommend doing your best to stay positive. It’s so easy to get down and dwell on “why did this happen to me??!” but it feels a lot better to accept it and then kick its ■■■!
7) Anything else you would like to share?
I would like to thank everyone in TuDiabetes community for their support during the biggest challenge of my life. I wish you all the best!
Previous Member Spotlights
- Gastric Bypass Surgery: Debb's Journey (June 2009)
- Kitty's insulin-free life after 40 years of diabetes (March 2009)
- Doug Klein: 50 Years With Diabetes (January 2009)
- Sandy dreams of a kidney transplant... and having a baby (December 2008)
- A conversation with Captain Glucose and Meter Boy (September 2008)
- Meet Chuck: a fun guy that makes you reflect (August 2008)
- Meet Mr. Peachy: a person with type 2 diabetes who loves to answer people's questions (July 2008)
- Olaf R. Saugen: Memories of a Great Life With Diabetes (June 2008)
- Charlie Cherry: Inspiring People With Diabetes Through His Podcast (Nov. 2007)