Events were happening at a dizzying pace. Clearly i needed to start making some calls—to resign my role as Mighty ai ceo, to connect with my mom and other immediate family members, to alert more of my closest friends. It was around 9:10 Friday morning. Mighty ais weekly operations meeting would be getting started at 10:15, so i had a lot of calls to make. I phoned our board members one at a time, sharing the news with those i reached. Each of them was supportive and encouraged me to take a leave of absence to focus on getting healthy. I asked for and got full support to name our founder and cto, daryn nakhuda, as Interim ceo. That took about 11 minutes.
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But at least I can pee! Id avoided calling my mom back. Shed phoned and texted about 1,000 times. I was definitely not ready to speak with her. I needed a full thesis plan. On Friday the docs woke me with an urgent problem: They had found a blood clot the size of a ping-Pong ball in my hearts right ventricle. If it broke loose, dissertation i would die instantly, whether I was in an er or my basement. To make matters worse, they showed me an image of the clot, and it was precariously wiggling on an already-loose attachment. Each time my heart beat, the ticking time bomb swayed precariously. The clot was too big to suck out with a vacuum, too risky to slice and remove bit-by-bit, and too large to remove from the side by breaking open a few ribs. Nope, removing it was urgent and would require cracking my sternum.
Maybe it was colon cancer—thats treatable, right? But little did we know that the official diagnosis would be the least type of our concerns that day. When the clock struck 10 pm Thursday night, i passed out. Id spoken with some of my best friends during the day, but it was a bit awkward. What was I supposed to tell them? Hey, im in the hospital. Not sure what kind. Oh, and a bunch of clots.
First among them was blood clots. A couple doctors examined my legs and said, Slim to zero chance you have clots in your legs—they look too healthy. A few hours later, bad news: my left leg had clots from my hip to my ankle, though thankfully not fully occlusive. My right leg had clots from knee to ankle. We spent much of Thursday waiting for the about pathology report, playing a weird mental game trying to convince ourselves it was anything but pancreatic cancer. Were not dumb—we could see how the mds looked away when listing alternatives and could hear how they demurred when discussing possibilities. Maybe it was lymphoma—there were swollen lymph nodes.
My mom would break. She lost her youngest son, joshuah paul, to a heroin overdose eight years ago. I cried and cried, and so did Amy. Thursday we were right back. They had quite a lot to do—classify the cancer, measure its progress, plan treatment. They took a biopsy of one of the tumors on my liver. They surgically implanted a stent in my gall bladder, which immediately relieved my backed-up liver. The medical staff also looked for secondary impacts of the cancer.
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With outsiders gone, i was finally able to cry. I knew I couldnt fully understand it all. But the thought of breaking the news to Anna and Elsie made it all too real. Anna is tough—stoic, introverted, methodical, deep-keeled. But still, shes. Elsie is our little angel from heaven.
Shes bubbly, extroverted, universally adored, extremely empathetic, and sensitive. I just couldnt imagine her taking the news, let alone growing up without her daddy. My head was spinning. Thinking of Amy brought fresh tears to my eyes because she and I have worked so hard to raise a family while pursuing two ambitious careers. We had promised each other that in a few years, when the girls headed off to college, wed work less and travel more. Amy didnt deserve to lose those dreams, or her companion, just as we were on the brink. Then I thought of my mom and dad.
He introduced himself to Amy and me so awkwardly that we could not understand him. I gently interrupted his prepared remarks to ask his name, hoping this might put him at ease. He went on to explain that I had many tumors in my liver, pancreas, and chest. In addition, he explained that I had quite a few blood clots, including in my heart and lungs. What is many tumors?
He looked defeated, saying they stopped counting after. I thought he might cry, and then he started in with some nonsense about how maybe it was all just bad tests, or maybe i had a rare water-borne pest infection. Amy began crying, hard. I went into silent shock and just tried to get this guy to shut up and leave. Bencke and his wife, amy mezulis. Kyle johnson for wired, the next few hours were a blur of tests and procedures. They finally stopped poking and prodding me at around. Its kind of impossible to explain how I felt, let alone try to share how Amy felt. Neither of us slept that night.
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Over the phone, i asked Amy, who is london a clinical psychologist, if she could think of anything else i should tell the doctors. Have you told them about the night sweats? She asked, her stomach sinking. The look on the er docs face when I passed that on should have been my first clue. (Night sweats are a symptom of some early cancers.) They drew more blood and did a ct scan. About an hour later, a doctor who specializes in hospital admissions joined the er doc to report on their findings. The ensuing scene is seared into my brain.
When Im feeling down or the shit is hitting the fan at the office, i unwind by hanging with my wife, amy, and our daughters, Anna, 14, and Elsie,. Ill play some music or go for a bike ride. But that stopped working this summer. At the office i felt guilty for not putting in 100 percent effort. At home—well, ambedkar i was a worm! After nearly a month of feeling horrible despite my back getting better and being off all medications, i hit a wall. On July 26, a wednesday, i finished my days meetings and drove myself to the least busy er i know of—the one at Swedish Medical Center in the Issaquah Highlands, 20 miles east of downtown. A couple hours later I called Amy and asked her to join. Theyd already done a bunch of tests and ruled out the obvious—urinary tract infection, epidural abscess—and were sort of grasping at straws.
other applications, was racking up new customers, building new capabilities, shipping better software, and beating the competition. We were getting buzz. Wired and, the financial Times wrote about. There was a feeling that our growing team could do anything we needed. Morale was high, and our company was still small enough—45 people or so—that I could chat with anybody at work about real things in life besides work. Unfortunately, my nonwork life was getting all too real. Usually Im pretty good at unplugging from stress.
I even tried acupuncture. But as my back began to improve in late june, i started to feel off. Sick to my stomach. I plan lost more than 10 pounds. But I chalked this up to a month of too much Vicodin after a lifetime of thinking two Advil was excessive. My doctor said I was fit and healthy and that there was no need to run any blood tests. He wondered aloud if this was all in my head.
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It started while i writing was on a hawaiian vacation in may. I thought Id just tweaked my back lifting a poolside lounge chair. Back home, my back pain became severe, and I started noticing nerve pain in my legs. For eight days I could barely crawl around the house. My wife and two daughters nicknamed me the worm. At 45, Im in pretty good shape—avid cyclist, runner, weightlifter, yoga enthusiast with a resting pulse in the 50s. So it was weird when my primary care doctor put me on a cocktail of pain killers, nerve blockers, and cortisone shots.