Back from “Sin City”

DSCN0953My viral episode, a casualty of confined air travel, continues to linger.  Last night, as I lay in bed, strange sonorous sounds seemed to rise from deep in my lungs.  Coughing initiated a wide band of pain around my torso.  I considered calling my transplant doctor in the morning. I need to get well before our trip to Boston and Ireland next week.  But my fevers abated and my body felt less pummeled.  So I guess my little five year old immune system did its job, maybe even kicked a little butt.

My trip to Las Vegas was refreshing, emotionally and intellectually.  The US marketing rights for my “miracle” monoclonal antibody drug, Campath or alemtuzumab, have recently been transferred from Bayer Pharmaceuticals to the Genzyme Corporation, a biotechnology company headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Even though this is an “old” drug, approved by the FDA just five months prior to my 2001 diagnosis, new and expanded uses for the drug are being put forth.

This was to be a training session for the whole newly assembled Campath team, nearly 125 people from the scientific, marketing, and business areas of the company.  The Las Vegas meeting was the “launch” of this new initiative.  A week before the launch the agenda was being finalized.  The team trainer received several request to add a patient-survivor to the curriculum.  The word went out.  One of my former nurses suggested me as speaker.  In a matter of hours I had hotel and airline reservations.  Five days later I was flying over the Grand Canyon and the majestic landscape of the American West.

This was my first time in “Sin City.”  I am not a gambler.  And extravagance seems foreign to me.  But this city is definitely unique.  The skyline is filled with improbable architecture, buildings that seemed intentional charicatures of excess, much in the way that the entire city seems a characature itself.  Las Vegas does not necessarily contain more 30-50 story buildings than other medium-large American cities.  It’s just that every one of those giants is a hotel-casino.  I had set my gambling limit at $10 total.

I stayed at the Mandalay Bay Resort, a  complex of hotel, casino, convention center, 32 distinct restaurants, a numerous pools, one with a wave machine and sand beach.  The complex was huge by most standards but probably about average for Vegas.  Each morning we had to walk 5-6 blocks, all under the same roof, to reach our meeting rooms.

I am not good with names and suddenly 120 strangers knew me by my first name.  I have worked alongside the pharmaceutical industry for years, as a nurse then later as a patient-survivor.  I have nearly always been impressed by these people – bright, driven, keen in their understanding of the healthcare system.  These are professional people with business and science degrees, MBA’s, MS’s, with quite a few PhD’s, MD’s and RN’s  thrown in for balance.

I don’t trust my extemporaneous skills.  I am an English major.  There is a precision, clarity, and literary style in my writing that I can’t match with speaking off-the-cuff.  So I generally read my presentations, as deliberately and dramatically as I can.  As I ended my talk and the applause began, I looked down at the podium to gather my 18 page text.  When I looked up again, I was startled to find 120 people continuing their standing ovation.  I was humbled by this display.

It felt good to be out in the world again.  It felt good to be earning some income again.  I do occasional volunteering for a local hospice and the local Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  And I have built a virtual world of friends and fellow survivors with this website.  But meeting with dozens of new people, working together on a common project, exchanging ideas and business cards, becomes something of a thrill in itself, especially for someone who once enjoyed a rich and fulfilling professional life that was pushed into exile by cancer and its sequelae.  As always this experience informed new dimensions for BeingCancer.

I arrived with a pocket full of quarters and was disappointed that the machines did not take them.  Plus not being a gambler, I didn’t even understand how to play a lot of the slot machines based on card games.  So I lost $2 in 2 minutes in the casino before I lost interest.  I passed a BMW convertible on a revolving platform.  Maybe if it had been an Aston-Martin DB9, I would have figured out how to make the bet.

At the airport I passed dozens of slots on the way to my gate.  Finally arriving there, with less than five minutes until boarding, I decided to try another $2.  I made quarter wagers.  On my last bet, my gate agent announcing boarding, the proverbial three 7’s lined up in front of me, bells, lights and whistles went off, the payout number spinning up to 50x my original bet.  I had won $12.50 on my four dollar gamble.  It had been a good trip.  I boarded my plane a happier survivor.


About Dennis Pyritz

Dennis W. Pyritz, RN, BA, BSN, has been a cancer nurse since 1987 and a cancer and bone marrow transplant survivor since 2004. In December 2001 he was diagnosed with t-cell prolymphocytic leukemia (T-PLL), a rare aggressive form of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Dennis was treated with the then new monoclonal antibody, alemtuzumab (Campath) as this disease has a median survival of 7.5 months. He achieved a 26 month remission but relapsed in February 2004. He was retreated with Campath and went into a second remission. In August 2004 he underwent an allogeneic peripheral blood stem cell transplant with his brother, Mark, as donor. Dennis has remained in remission since - a near miracle. Throughout his career as cancer nurse and patient, Dennis has had the opportunity to speal to both lay and professional groups. Dennis has spoken on cancer topics and survival issues across the country as well as in the United Kingdom, Norway, Austria, Portugal, Honduras, Panama, Guatemala, Trinidad, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Cyrpus, Israel, and India.


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