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.
Channeling our inner Clint Eastwood.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
Written by: Blase B. Iuliano
Edited by: Janet Cheng