Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Transitions...

Hey Alex-fans!

So my name is Blase and I’ll be updating Alex’s blog on his behalf with the help of others. Please bear with me as this is my first time blogging.

I’m a friend of Alex’s and have truly enjoyed our growing friendship over the years. He’s an amazing fellow – friendly, caring, smart… could work on his climbing footwork… but otherwise an all-around great guy. I met Alex when I taught the Strength & Conditioning rock climbing classes at Stanford University and we continued to be friends afterwards. Working for Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital (and having an understanding boss) has afforded me the ability to be near him throughout all of his treatments. My previous experiences of having a grandmother who passed due to cancer and a sister who just won her 4th battle with it, has helped me to have an understanding of what to expect next… not that it made it any easier.

So… now for the hard part.

On Monday March 15th the doctors decided it was best to stop the chemo and Alex was given weeks to live.

He’s done a valiant job fighting off the cancer over the last – almost 3 years now (6/2007) – and has come through some rough surgeries and hard times. But now it’s time to just make him comfortable and prepare for his departure from this world.

At a high level…

Since then I’ve seen him slip away – watched as he went from being able to move and feed himself on his own to requiring help with everything he does. Mentally he’s gone from making wisecracks to having a hard time processing simple questions. Some of this is may be the drugs, some his condition.

… I’m losing my buddy… and it really sucks.

Despite this – over the past week we have had some excellent visits and we’ve made excellent progress on preparing for end.

The week in review…

Alex Tung, PhD.

Serena has been doing an amazing job working on pulling together his thesis. His committee has agreed to review it and will be awarding him a PhD shortly! Thanks also to Serene and Ray for running around and getting signatures.

On Sunday, Serena made delicious tonkatsu:

Alan then labored away in the kitchen to bake us some yummy sugar cookies. We did a comparison of square versus round cookie dough, which does actually yield slightly different results.


On Tuesday, Mary and Brooke came over for lunch and brought a feast of home cooked food.



For lunch on Thursday, Mary, Linus, and I came by with Thai food.


Channeling our inner Clint Eastwood.



Friday was L&L Hawaiian BBQ with John and Serena

Saturday we were able to get out and go for a walk at Crystal Springs Reservoir with Serena and Yves.

After all this exercise, Alex was pretty much out of it by Sunday. Janet, Serena and I did get out for a brief walk him in his wheelchair and portable oxygen tank, but that was it.

Since Alex mostly slept the day away, Julia and I worked on going through his office stuff. We quickly learned what a packrat he was. Receipts from 2002? Empty packages? Several outdated versions of software? Toilet paper!??!

We categorized the materials as: junk, items needed to complete his thesis, “hold for 3 months and if we don’t open – trash”, and keep (photo albums, important mementos, etc).

At first it was slow going, but eventually we picked up the pace.

We hated throwing anything out (other than the receipts and empty boxes), but realized that we couldn’t keep it all. We can still keep Alex, but we don’t need to keep all of his stuff.

But yah – it was tough.

It was like saying goodbye to him one item at a time.

Monday was worse… but mostly because of all the dust.

His desk…

Even after having done a bunch of cleanup…

Alex’s former residence – where he still had just way too much crap – hasn’t properly been cleaned since the house was first built! There were cobwebs on the ceiling, a thick layer of dust on his stuff, and even a vine growing into the bathroom. It was an allergy hell… and emotionally much worse than going through his office stuff.

Janet, Julia and I had to take a hard look at things. Just so many pieces of chotchkies, which we were sure meant a lot to him, but their meaning was often times lost on us.

Besides the same boxes we used for the office stuff, we also added a box for Serena to review and a “donate in 3 months” box.

God there’s just so much stuff…

Besides going through all of his hardcopies of stuff, we also began going through his computers (3) and external hard drives (3 that we know of so far). The plan is to convert the computer hard drives into external drives for now and go through them later on.

Honestly… out of all of the things we went through I’d love to hold on to a drive… as each of them are filled with photos and vids he’s taken over the years. It’s just a great way of seeing the world through his eyes.

Now – on to today…

Where yesterday he was completely out of it, today (Monday) at lunch he was clear and alert enough to make a few smart-alecky comments. I loved it.

Physically though he’s just skin and bones.

I fed him by hand and helped him with all of his transfers.

It really sucked to see how much he degraded… and has been hard to see.. . but yah – mentally he was there… at least at lunch.

In the evening I was back again, and again hand feeding him and having him drink some water from a sponge… but this time, at one time he looked me in the eyes and asked me what my name was.

That hurt.

It’s been a long day of visitors, including his care team, so maybe he was just exhausted.

But yah – having seeing a grandmother fade away due to cancer, and a grandfather due to failure of practically everything – I did expect this to happen… but it doesn’t make it any easier.

I just smiled, told him my name, that I was a friend and kept on feeding him.

I’ll just keep on loving on him.

Timing…

So.. his care team did meet and determined he was mentally capable of signing his forms, etc and estimated that he has 2 days to 2 weeks left.

Alex didn’t want to know the timing.

Maybe he’s still hoping he’ll get better, but in a brief lucid moment he had last week he told his sister how surprised he was at his decline.

So it’s time to get things ready…

Preparing…

Alex wanted his body donated to science so I went to Stanford Med School and made the necessary arrangements for something that’ll happen all too soon.

We also were able to get him to sign his form (will, insurance, etc) … though his once very stylish signature now more resembled scribbles – I did see him sign it and Janet and I stand by as witnesses.

I also went to the Palo Alto Wastewater Treatment center in order to properly dispose of the expired medicines.

Ending the day strong…

Joe and Christina stopped by for a visit, and Alex insisted on getting out of his room (“I’ve been trapped in my room all day”) and eating at the dinner table.


It was great to see him up and about. Christina did a great job helping out and assisting him with eating.

The nurse did come back again late in the evening to attach the morphine pump to his port. Hopefully that’ll help with the pain and ease with the final transition.

It sucks to lose such a good guy, and to lose him so fast.

More updates tomorrow, but for now, time for sleep...

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Written by: Blase B. Iuliano
Edited by: Janet Cheng

29 comments:

jeff said...

thank you for posting, Blase.. All my love to Alex, and to all of you who are with him.

Jessica said...

This is devastating news, but the update is much appreciated. I'm stunned by how quickly Alex's condition has declined, and deeply saddened. I'm thankful that he is surrounded by people who love him; my heart goes out to all of you. Alex is truly amazing, and has befriended, mentored, and otherwise inspired many people over the years, so I know there are a LOT of us out there sending love from near and far. I hope Alex knows I love him very much, and will never forget him.

Amina said...

Thank you Blase and friends. I love you Alex.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Blase for such a detailed account... And to everyone near enough who are able and willing to help Alex move on in an environment filled with love and compassion. My thoughts are with you, Maharaja...

Lisa

Siobhan said...

Very sad to hear, but I'm glad for the update and glad to hear Alex has such a devoted group of friends helping him through this. Love and courage to him and all of you.

Giri said...

Very sad to hear the news. Thanks for posting the update for those of us who are concerned from afar. My thoughts and prayers to Alex, his family and friends who are with him now.

Alex you were a great RA and I'm glad we kept in touch over the years. I hope for peace and comfort for you. You set an amazing example for how to handle the most challenging trials in life.

Parveen said...

Thank you for taking care of Alex, and for posting. Please pass on my heartfelt condolences and love to his family, and all his friends there. I miss him. :)

Parveen

groovysabrina said...

Devastating. Thank you for updating the blog. I am grateful Alex has you and all those who are caring for him. Love and strength to all of you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the update, Blase. I'm glad that Alex has such good friends. - Nancy

Shari said...

I'm terribly sad to hear the news, but am comforted that Alex has such good friends with him.

Alex--you set a high bar for all subsequent Frosoco staff. I learned so much from you. You have touched many, many lives and made the world a richer place. With deep regard and love,

Melinda said...

Thanks for the update. Really sad news - I hadn't realized that he had gotten so much worse so quickly. My thoughts are with Alex and his family and friends.
Alex,you were a great CA and mentor to all of us. Sending you love

Anonymous said...

My dear Alex, Rest in Peace
3/24/2010

Anonymous said...

You will always be loved an in our hearts

Sarah said...

Alex you are an amazing friend and will be greatly missed.

PrajK said...

Thanks for the update. I will miss Alex dearly.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Alex: Congratulations on the PhD. I met you a few times at the climbing wall and knew Serena as an undergrad. I have followed your blog for some years and have marveled at your humor and strength in the face of an onslaught of really bad stuff. My thoughts are with you and those with whom you are close.

Andrew

Kelly said...

Peace Alex. We all at the Haas Center - me, Karin, Amanda, Abby, Suzanne, Jon, Megan - love you! You are in our hearts and have a chunk of our hearts with you.

Bridgit said...

This is very Sad indeed.
Thank you Blase, friends and family for being where we could not be.

Alex has been a part of many lives here. Please send our love from all his friends in Kenya.

Carol said...

I don't know what to say... very shocked and saddened. I wish I could be there. We were thinking of taking a trip to the US to visit Alex... I guess we didn't expect things to take a turn for the worse so quickly. Now we've missed our chance...

Alex, thanks for the times we spent together, thanks for always being insightful and calm... We will miss you very much at Cosmos!

Thanks Blase for keeping us informed. You and Serena and friends around Alex, you guys are doing an amazing job.

Rebecca said...

How overwhelmingly sad.

My heart goes out to Alex and to his mother, my dear friend Sarah.

lovepeacehappiness said...

Sad news, indeed. Thank you, Blase, for the update. My heartfelt condolences go out to Alex's family. Alex, I will always cherish the times we shared. I love you, man.

Hakeem

jeremyutley said...

Blase,

Alex and I were teammates in Extreme Affordability last year. I am devastated to hear of this latest turn of events.

I stuck around the d.school to teach for a year, and we here at the d. are wondering if there's anything we can do to have some fun with Alex as an extreme cohort? We know how much he loved the class, and the d.school...

We certainly only want to do something if he's up for it, but a couple of ideas we thought of:
He always talked about going bowling together--we actually have a bunch of bowling pins and balls... we could set up a few lanes in our old space or something... ?? Or we would be happy with hosting an impromptu party or a casual chat in our new or old building.

Please let me and Erica Estrada, our Extreme instructor know what you think, if that'd be fun for Alex and friends, and we can rally some of his Extreme classmates--I'm at jutley@stanford.edu and Erica is eestrada@stanford.edu.

Feel free to call me as well--214.663.3025

Best,
Jeremy

Trout said...

Thank you for posting, Blase. I am shocked by how quickly he's deteriorated... I thought I had more time to come by and visit. I think I was in denial. Give all my love to Alex. I am so glad that he has such caring people by his side at the end. Alex is one of the most kind and caring people I've ever met. Please let me know if I can do anything or if it would be appropriate for me to come by and sit with him/visit. I hope Alex knows how much I value, care, and love him. My thoughts are with you and him at this transition.

megan.kerins said...

Thanks for continuing Alex's blog, Blase. While I've known Alex only through classes at Stanford, I was always struck by his warm, calming presence. And his brilliance to boot! What an incredible guy... Though I too am deeply saddened by this news, I can see from your posts that he is absolutely surrounded by love. I'm sending my thoughts and prayers to Alex, his family, and his friends.

Christina said...

Alex, You are amazing. You have done so much and I will never forget you. Thank you for sharing your journey with us. My best to all your family and friends. I am thinking of them. Love, Christina from FroSoCo

Anonymous said...

Blase, thank you for posting this. To Alex, please stay strong and all of my thoughts & prayers are with you and your family - Soniya

Kelly said...

Hi Blase,
Also wanted to add my gratitude to you for your gentle care of Alex, for sharing generously (I know it must be hard to write all this) with Alex's community. Alex worked with us at Stanford's Haas Center for Public Service, and is loved greatly here. I echo Trout above: please let us know if we can do anything, and if it is appropriate or helpful for us to come by and sit with Alex.
Peace,
Kelly, on behalf of Amanda, Karin, Suzanne, Abby (kbeck@stanford.edu)

AnthonyB said...

Blase, thank you very much for your post and more importantly for taking the time to be with Alex over his last days. It means a lot to me to know that he was surrounded by friends.

Anthony

Meena said...

May you be in peace, Alex. Thank you for being such an extraordinary inspiration and sharing your battle with all of us. You'll be in my thoughts and prayers always.