Brian Kaminski's battle with cancer
Brian Kaminski is a longtime BMX trail rider from Long Island, N.Y. that has called the Boondock Trails home for the past several years. During the mid and early '00s, Kaminski appeared in several videos such as the Shine video magazine series, Super BMX's "Live for Today" and his own video release, "Autumn Leaves BMX." Earlier this year, Kaminski underwent a blood test for a hereditary type of gastric cancer that his father was diagnosed with, and the results came back positive.
According to Kaminski, he had to undergo a complete gastrectomy to remove his stomach in July of 2013. Six weeks later, he was back at the trails, riding the pump track and digging new lines with his friends. Despite losing a good deal of weight, enduring almost a week in the intensive care unit following his surgery and adhering to a strict diet, Kaminski credits his return to BMX riding and the camaraderie he developed through BMX as one of the components of his recovery.
Recently, XGames.com sat down with Kaminski to discuss his diagnosis, surgery, recovery and return to riding.
XGames.com: What kind of cancer were you diagnosed with? Kaminski: The cancer that I had was hereditary diffuse gastric cancer syndrome (CDH1). The cancer basically forms within the walls of your stomach.
What was the reason for you getting tested initially? Stomach cancer has always been a part of my family history. My father was diagnosed over ten years ago and has had different procedures to try and stop the spread of the cancer. In recent years, the technology to map DNA for gene mutations has made amazing improvements. The time had come to finally find exactly what was causing this deadly gene mutation in my family's DNA. Over many months of work, the lab was able to isolate the gene mutation and now, only a simple blood test is needed to find out if you are a carrier of the gene mutation. In April of this year, I had the blood test and it came up positive.
Being that I have no stomach, I have to eat around six small meals a day of healthy food. I chew a lot and eat slowly. I can't eat any fatty foods or sugarBrian Kaminski
What was your reaction like? When I saw the number from the lab come up on my phone, I was almost nervous to answer the call. As soon as I heard the tone of her voice, I felt like I knew what she was going to say before she even said a word. When I got off the phone with her, I just laid on my couch and felt like I couldn't get up for hours. I was completely in shock.
You had to travel off of Long Island for this whole process, where did you have to go? I elected to have my surgery done at the National Institute of Health (NIH) clinic in Bethesda, Md. I can't even stress how lucky and fortunate I was that this facility was doing research on my rare form of cancer.
Were there any complications with the surgery? The surgery itself went incredibly smooth. My surgeon Dr. Pandaili is one of the best in the world and I feel like I owe him my life for how he has treated me and my family. After the surgery was completed, I was having a lot of severe reactions to the pain medication that was given to me. I went roughly four days without sleeping and was in the intensive care unit for five days. Those days in the ICU were probably the worst days of my life. I just kept thinking to myself "If you could get through this, you can get through anything. Just make it out of here and the rest will be easy." It was crazy to me thinking that I was just riding the Boondocks and Catty Woods trails the week before and now my whole day's accomplishment was walking 20-feet down a hallway.
How long after surgery did you start riding again? I started pedaling my cruiser around about a month after I left the hospital. The following week or two, I started riding my road bike around. I would say about six weeks after the surgery, I went to the trails and started rolling around the pump track. My first day back of really riding was around Labor Day weekend.
What was the actual date the doctors told you could start riding? The doctors didn't really give me a set time of when I could start riding again. When I first started meeting with the surgery team I was very up front with them about riding BMX and surfing and that it was a big part of my life. I think they knew that I was going to be one of those people that wants to rush to get back into everything while they are recovering.
Do you think in some way BMX helped with a speedy recovery? Without mentioning the help from my family, the brotherhood of the BMX community lifted me up and healed me in a way that people could never understand. It's hard not to get emotional thinking of all the support from all my friends that I ride trails with. For me, the bonds that we create with the people we ride bikes with are what make this thing we do so amazing and great. I ride and dig at a spot called the Boondock Trails in Long Island, N.Y. Every day I would go there and ride while recovering, and I could feel myself getting stronger, not only through riding but from the support that this amazing group of individuals would give me. The past couple months were the lowest in my life. But getting through a line at the trails for the first time after surgery gave me the highest point in my life as well. I really want to thank Darryl Nau deeply for all the friendship and support he has given me day in and day out through this whole thing. Not only with getting back to riding again but for all the emotional support as well. I really couldn't have gotten through this without the support from all of the Boondock locals and all the trail brethren out there.
What's your diet like now? My daily intake of food is somewhat pathetic. I used to eat an entire pizza, then wash it down with a burrito. Now I have to watch everything I eat and plan out my daily intake carefully. Being that I have no stomach, I have to eat around six small meals a day of healthy food. I chew a lot and eat slowly. I can't eat any fatty foods or sugar. Some days the food just doesn't want to go down and those are the hardest days. It's almost taken all the fun out of eating.
How much weight have you lost? I'm 155 lbs. I've lost almost 60 lbs. Almost a third of me is gone!
With riding now, do you have to limit yourself at all? I would say the thing that Is hardest for me now is my endurance. I'm still in the recovery process of my surgery so I don't want to push myself too hard. It's not easy, because I see everyone out there riding amazing and having a blast and I just want to be there with them doing to the same thing. Before hand, I wouldn't think twice about 360-ing a jump or jumping the biggest section in the trails. Now I stop for a second and pull myself back. I'll get back there one day.