Cancer and Crashlands

I have cancer.

It’s stage 4 esophageal cancer. You can look up statistics, but as it is “uncurable”… my first oncologist said I was looking at maybe 5-7 years, not decades. I haven’t had this discussion again with my current oncologist.

I am currently being treated at Siteman Cancer Center, which is one of the top 10 cancer centers in the U.S. My oncologist specializes in GI-tract cancers, and I am currently on a pretty good study regime with Herceptin. I have had 4 full chemo treatments in this first round of 8, and I am showing early stages of remission from my latest CT scan.

This is why I’ve kind of dropped off the face of the interwebs.

Crashlanding Back Here

What gave me courage to come back here and speak was a video game. Or, rather… the developer of said video game.

Sam Coster is one of three brothers that founded Butterscotch Shenanigans, an indie game dev studio in St. Louis. He was diagnosed with stage 4 lymphoma at the age of 23. He had a long, horrible struggle, but got to the point of complete remission.

I met with him at my older daughter’s school, where she had been making apps as a fourth grader. He was there at final project night discussing being an indie video game designer. We talked for a bit, I didn’t want to really soak up much of his time given that he was there for the kids. Ironically too, I was actually wearing my chemo pump, which I have on 2 days every 2 weeks. All I had to do to start the conversation with Sam was show him it. He knew. He knew that I knew.

It was really refreshing to talk with him. Encouraging even. We both had that intense desire to live that might not exist in cancer patients well over the hump. I had a skip in my step leaving the school after that. I went home that night and bought Crashlands without hesitation.

Crashlands Impressions

The reason that I did not buy Crashlands previously was I thought it was a ripoff of Don’t Starve. I admit I really didn’t look in to the game, but it did cross my Steam feed, where I gave it a once over. I love and hate Don’t Starve. I love the art, the lore, and the progression mechanics. I hate the pressure of starving and fear.

After playing Crashlands a few hours, I told my gaming group in sub-Tweet length review that Crashlands is like Don’t Starve, but fun. My girls, especially my youngest who just exited first grade, are enthralled with Crashlands. There is no pressure mechanic. It’s just going out to explore, scavenge, hunt, and deal with the planet’s natives as you please. Dying is a simple respawn with a tombstone run back, which is usually very quick based on the teleport devices scattered all throughout the map. The tech progression is top notch, I feel, and being able to scavenge/gather with abandon due to unlimited inventory is fantastic. For $15, it is a steal.

My one complaint is that the quest objectives can be very confusing some times. There is no checkbox sentence to tell me what to do. I have to interpret the objective through the conversation my character has with the planet’s natives, who have their own weird way of talking. Map locations usually light up for many objectives, but if I needed to make a pinwheel or some other crafted material it can be hidden in the middle of a paragraph. Thankfully, there is the internet at hand when I get confused.

Besides the game itself, one of the best features I feel is that you can play the game across devices (PC, iPad, etc.) with cloud saves. I don’t know why a 3-man indie studio can provide this feature and games like Magic Duels (my other big video game time waster along with [MtG] Forge, at the moment) cannot.

Battering Cancer

Anyway, back to the decidedly less fun topic of cancer. I was diagnosed in early February, but the cancer had been going on long before that. I don’t know exactly when it started from my stomach-esophagus junction, but it aggressively spread to bone. I had lots of back pain throughout the 2015 holiday season, and my doctor at the time treated it like a back pain injury. After rounds of steroids, physical therapy, and sleep meds (I couldn’t lay down flat by the end of it), I finally had an MRI that showed cancer.

I rushed to the ER, where days later I had a laminectomy on my T9 vertebrae where the biggest tumor was attacking. They were able to remove 70% of that tumor, and do so without fusing my spine. I was actually inches away from some form of paralysis. The neurosurgeon, Dr. Sweeney, was fantastic and had incredibly good bedside manner that was always uplifting. My oncologist was a bit more, shall we say, pragmatic, and I knew I had to switch hospitals for cancer treatment.

The chemo treatments are not fun, but I am grateful for so many small things.  First off, I can eat. Many late-stage esophageal cancer patients are diagnosed because they have trouble eating. Being able to keep up my body weight during chemo treatment is very good. I also am able to fight off most side effects. Fatigue is the worst, and I am taking a lot of naps. I’ve never been a nap taker. The nausea is bearable, and my family support is incredible. I am also incredibly grateful I work from home with a super understanding boss.

I am going to extend my life as long as possible. I have a beautiful wife and two beautiful daughters to live for, and I have the will of a gorram samurai. I take my pills, meditate, remove all bad foods, eat tons of leafy greens, live, laugh, and love. I will fight this, push this flockin’ thing in to a corner where it belongs.

As I continue to live, I am hoping to come back here and write more about video games and life. Zubon, of course, continues to hold down this great fort, which I am grateful for as well. Thank you in advance for any words of support.


p.s. You can contact me by email if you want at zach dot _______ (the word missing from “good, better, ______”) at that gmail-y thing. I am also on Steam as Ravious.

p.p.s. For anybody going through cancer or with friends or family with cancer, I highly recommend the books Radical Remission and Cancer Fighting Kitchen. Cancer Compass is also a really good internet forum.

2 thoughts on “Cancer and Crashlands”

  1. I’ve always enjoyed your Blog throughout my years of gaming and I’m really glad to see you back.

    I was diagnosed about 10 years ago with a hiatal hernia, and the last week or so I’ve been having chest pains when I swallow or belch which has me concerned. Especially after reading your post. Plans to see my Doctor tomorrow, who will likely send me for an endoscopy and we’ll see where that goes. That said, I admire the approach you’re taking with this. the easy thing would be to collapse and give in, but you seem to be facing this head-on and with eyes wide open. I really admire that.

    Sending good thoughts your way and looking forward to many more years of your thoughtful musings on my favourite topic.


    1. Yes, that is a good course of action. One I would recommend for anybody all of the sudden having trouble swallowing. I wish I had instead of just writing it off as weirdness. I hope it is merely reflux or something easy to fix.

      Thank you for the good thoughts!

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