Crowdfunding campaigns are about being as open and transparent as possible. So I want to take the time to address the rumors, questions, and daily emails I have been getting concerning my health. I’m going to step away from my swaggerific fanboy journo alter ego for a second to talk to you guys as Umberto or Umbe (pronounced um-bay) as my close pals call me.
In early 2012, I started having a pretty weird discomfort in my flank area. Not a specific pain, but something weird that I felt when I would sleep in a certain position. I go visit the doctor, go through a checkup, get the necessary bloodwork, and everything is absolutely fine, normal, and within range. Blood pressure, hormone levels, cholesterol, triglycerides, etc., everything completely checks out. My doctor wants me to get a cat scan but here is the problem, because I’m completely healthy, the insurance company turns my request down for a catscan not once but twice. The doctor informs me if it bothers me that much, to simply check myself into the ER.
So I’m in the ER, and finally get my catscan thinking I have gallstones (since it runs in my family on both sides) or kidney stones. What the catscan reveals is a small benign mass about 3cm above my right adrenal gland called an adrenal adenoma. I get sent home and visit an endocrinologist who orders different bloodwork to see if the adenoma is producing hormones. I pass that blood test too with flying colors. The adenoma is non functional meaning it doesn’t produce hormones. So now we monitor the situation over the next year to see if anything changes. I left weightlifting in October of 2010, kinda let myself go, and got motivated to get back into shape. I started doing cardio, watching my carbs, and over the next year I would drop about 50 pounds.
Cut to a year later, I’m looking great, fitting into old clothes, and feeling good about myself yet the discomfort in my flank area was a little more pronounced. So on tax day, April 15th I got my followup cat scan of my abdomen with contrast. Contrast is the dye they inject in you so they can see better. Two weeks later, I’m sitting in my endocrinologist’s office waiting for the results and I get the terrible news that the benign mass was no longer an adenoma, but a fast growing tumor that pretty much grew twenty times in circumference in the span of the year. On it’s longest side, the tumor was 7cm. I was shell shocked to say the least. I spent a year getting healthy, losing weight, eating right, and doing all the right things you are supposed to do to only find out that tumor grew. I was confused.
Because of the size and location of the tumor, it was considered too dangerous to do a biopsy hence, surgery and complete resection of the tumor was my only option. More blood and urine tests ensue to see if the tumor was functional or producing hormones and luckily my hormones were still within normal range. If the tumor was functional, I would need to take medication to stop the tumor from producing hormones so that they can remove it safely during surgery. Because the tumor was non functional, we can proceed to having surgery as soon as there was an opening in the operating room. I would meet my urologist who would perform the surgery, and he put me through pre-op preparation which included passing a physical and even more blood and urine tests to be absolutely sure that the tumor wasn’t functional. I passed everything again with flying colors.
On May 14th, almost a month to the day of my followup catscan, my urologist and his surgical team performed a robotic adrenalectomy using the Davinci surgical robot. The surgery took four hours. They would not only remove the tumor, but my right adrenal gland as well. I clearly remembered being wheeled into the operating room and admiring all the sick technology they had. It looked like something out of S.H.I.E.L.D headquarters. Raised as a Catholic, and being a former altar boy, I said an Our Father, a Hail Mary, and an Act of Contrition. That is the last thing I remembered before being knocked out by anesthesia.
When I woke up, I didn’t really feel anything because I was doped up on morphine. But the carbon dioxide gas they use during surgery? Now that hurts because it takes a few days for the gas to leave the body. I was hospitalized for a few days as my left adrenal gland picked up the slack. More blood and urine tests at all hours of the day ensued and I would sleep or try to sleep when I could. Once everything checked out, I was discharged and I went home.
Over the next two weeks, while the surgical stitches healed, I would slowly get back into my routine. On the 29th of May, I would have my followup appointment with my urologist, have my stitches removed, and receive the results of the pathology report. After the surgery, the urologist sent my tumor to the pathologist to find out just what the hell that tumor was. It was 10cm when all was said and one. It grew THREE MORE CENTIMETERS in the span of a month between the followup catscan and surgery!
So my urologist has my pathology report and gives me the news.
The tumor was in fact a malignant cancer.
Stage II Adrenal Cortical Carcinoma (ACC).
According to WEBMD:
Adrenocortical carcinoma is a rare tumor that affects only 1 to 2 persons per one million population. Although adrenal carcinoma is potentially curable at early stages, only 30% of these malignancies are confined to the adrenal gland at the time of diagnosis. Radical surgical excision is the treatment of choice for patients with localized malignancies and remains the only method by which long-term disease-free survival may be achieved.
My urologist had to give me the news at least twice because I went numb the first time he told me. The good news is that my pre-op revealed that the cancer didn’t metastasize, and the surgical margins were clear or negative meaning that the cancer was contained only to my right adrenal gland. My urologist told me that there is a strong chance that I might be cured. I am part of that lucky 30% that discover it early. The other 70% find out when it is too late when the cancer is functional, producing hormones, and causing all sorts of nasty problems. Left untreated, and at the rate my tumor was growing, I would have been dead within a year. That kind of news would freak out even the most hardened individuals.
According to the American Cancer Society, the 5 year survival rate after surgery for my particular cancer is 65%. The one thing about this rare and lethal cancer is that it has a high rate of recurrence. That fact alone made me make militant spartan changes to my lifestyle which is now about prevention and making sure recurrence doesn’t happen.
Although nobody knows what causes ACC, my endocrinologist has a theory. She asked me a simple question…
“Do you drink a lot of diet and zero calorie soda?”
I in fact indeed do or did. PepsiMax, Coke Zero, Sprite Zero, and even Crystal Light were my favorites. I would go through 2-3 liters of this junk a week. As I play back the last year of my life, I did all that I was supposed to do to get in shape and remain healthy yet, I downed zero calorie sodas as if it was water. I like my coffee light & sweet so I would also take at least two tablespoons of splenda a day with my coffee. What chemical does splenda, crystal light, and all these zero calorie sodas contain?
I am beyond convinced that aspartame in fact poisoned me. I found a groundbreaking study that links the consumption of Aspartame to increased risk of Lymphoma and Leukemia. This new study suggests that as little as a single 355ml can of diet soda daily greatly increases the risk for cancers in men and women. It can also increase the risk of multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma in men. You can read that study HERE.
I was a damn fool. If consuming a can increases those kind of risks, imagine what 2-3 liters a week can do. How could I have been so stupid? Which now brings me to the point of this piece. I’m not looking for sympathy, but hoping to raise awareness on the dangers of aspartame.
Folks, please do yourselves, your children, and your loved ones a favor. Eliminate all sorts of regular, zero, and diet calorie soft drinks from your lives. Crystal light too. Artificial sweetners like aspartame are pure poison. If I can positively change the life of just one Latino-Review reader to eliminate aspartame from their lives, then sharing my story served it’s purpose. I say this modestly, having some sort of online popularity as a fanboy journo, having a tad of pull with the press, and having a popular platform like this website, I hope my story gets out to as many people as possible because I might just be saving lives. Also, with the upcoming holiday and comic con season around the corner, please stay hydrated and have water on you at all times. Avoid sodas at all cost.
I don’t wish the horror of what I went through and what I luckily avoided on absolutely anyone. I’m exploring the feasibility of filing a class action lawsuit against the soda companies but wanted to use our website as a platform in the interim to get the word out on the dangers of aspartame.
So where does this leave me?
I become an overnight expert on ACC, did my research, poured over all the data available, and sought out other ACC survivors. I made profound lifestyle and dietary changes. Everything I eat now is organic and I juice fruits and vegetables daily, multiple times a day. The only beverage I consume is water and lemon to keep the body alkalized. That and green tea. My biggest hope is a politician who is also an ACC survivor named Steve Kubby. Kubby outlasted ACC and still going strong for forty years since he was given only six months to live. I will be moving back to California to live full time in the fall and will be sitting down with Steve Kubby for reasons that go beyond the scope of this article.
Being a cancer survivor, you can live your life in one of two ways, you can live your life in fear or you can live to the fullest. I chose the latter. Surviving ACC gave me purpose.
Will metastatic cancer cells overwhelm me one day like Xerxes hordes overwhelmed the 300 Spartans at the battle of Thermopylae? I honestly don’t know. But this much I do know…
…not without a fight!
No retreat, no surrender. That is Spartan law.
And by Spartan law, we will stand and fight.
I am doing everything possible and utilizing everything available in both modern and alternative medicine to keep ACC from returning. Am I scared to death? Absolutely. But John Wayne said it best, “Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.” These last few months have been the most challenging of my life. As a part of the campaign, regardless of what we raise, I’m going to be making a donation to Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C). SU2C is a groundbreaking initiative created to accelerate innovative cancer research that will get new therapies to patients quickly and save lives now. SU2C is bringing together the best and the brightest researchers and encouraging collaboration instead of competition among the entire cancer community.
Speaking of Spartans, fifty five so far have joined our indiegogo campaign. We can certainly use more. I hear the whispers about the campaign, read the comments that trolls have left, and read the anonymous emails that spineless cowards have sent me. Sorry haters, I’m not the quitting type. I’m not the type to throw in the towel after the first or second quarter. In fact, the negativity only fuels my motivation and strengthens my resolve.
No retreat, no surrender. That is Spartan law.
And by Spartan law, we will stand and fight.
It’s now halftime with a lot of the game still left to play and a lot of fight left in me. I have quite a mountain to climb and the determination to see it through no matter what. So thank you for taking the time to read my story, and at the very least I hope you consider eliminating aspartame from your lives. If you wish to join our campaign, please click on the widget below because we can certainly use more Spartan warriors. Thanks again everyone.