I was asked to talk to the “survivors” group at the Relay for Life in 2010.
When I was diagnosed with cancer, I viewed it as “a minor inconvenience.” Posted below, is what I was able to share with those in attendance.
Let me start by saying that I am the luckiest man alive. That’s right. I feel that I am that luckiest man alive. I did not have always feel this way. I was diagnosed with metastatic squamous cell carcinoma of the lymph nodes in my neck. The diagnosis was a surprise because during the prior year the doctors thought I had a recurring infection of the lymph nodes. Every time I was treated with an antibiotic, the swelling disappeared. As with most things in life, once I got past the initial shock, I viewed my new diagnosis as a “minor inconvenience”. I just didn’t know how big of an inconvenience my illness would become.
Not knowing what my prospects were – the doctors would not give me a prognosis, I knew that going through cancer treatment would be rougher for my wife than for me.
My surgery involved the removal of one of my tonsils and 19 lymph nodes 8 of which tested positive for cancer. Subsequent treatment consisted of 5 weeks of daily radiation and weekly chemotherapy. When my body could not handle any further treatment I was hospitalized. I was diagnosed with a MRSA infection and meningitis. At the same time I developed pneumonia, sepsis, and respiratory failure. Thank God for lots of prayers, a team of great doctors and support of my family. After 2 weeks I was released from the ICU at the hospital and transferred to a local specialty hospital.
Finally cognizant of my surroundings, I was hoping the worst was over. I ended up spending a total of 3 months incapacitated in the hospitals and a rehabilitation center.
The scariest part had to be when I could not talk to my wife. I couldn’t tell her I loved her or communicate in writing. When I saw my handwritten notes a number of months later, the only word I could make out was “prognosis?”
During my time in rehabilitation, I had to re-learn how to walk. I was fed through a tube in my stomach and slowly regained my ability to swallow thanks to the persistence of my speech therapists. While on the feeding tube, my wife and I always joked about what flavor the meal was today. It may have been grilled burgers, my favorite pasta or one of her home cooked meals. Although we joked around about the latest flavor, it provided a form of hope. Just don’t get me started on the percentage of television commercials advertise food. The one I craved the most? Papa John’s pizza.
While in rehab, we discovered the arm on the side of my surgery was weak and my fingers were numb. Tests revealed nerve damage and a frozen shoulder. A subsequent MRI showed that radiation treatments had destroyed the bone marrow in my clavicle and there was infection in the bone. The prognosis was not good.
This had to be the lowest point in my life. I questioned my faith in God, my religion, and even what purpose I may serve in the future. I was faced with the prospect of not knowing if I would ever work again, let alone drive a car or go golfing (with my wife).
Fortunately, my wife and protector kept pushing the orthopedic surgeon to pursue alternative options. He eventually referred us to a specialist – an orthopedic oncologist. After reviewing my MRI, he indicated he could perform a surgery that would restore circulation to my collar bone and allow me to hopefully gradually regain use of my arm.
Fortunately, the infection in my bone was not as bad as originally thought. The surgery was performed on a Tuesday, and Wednesday I was doing well enough to return home. One month later – the worst of my shoulder problems were gone.
It took 3 months of physical therapy to free up my shoulder and persistent use of my fingers on my hand for any semblance of feeling to return. 6 months to the day after going on sick leave – I returned to work. Thankfully, I have a very understanding boss and very supportive team of co-workers..
Although I know my life will never be “normal” again, I have found ways to adjust and compensate for anything that may limit what I want to accomplish. It is amazing how vivid dreams can be, when your mind longs for something that your body cannot do. I would dream about eating a juicy rib-eye steak, or standing in the tee box at a golf course and driving the ball 200 yards down the fairway. I have found in life that it is possible to turn dreams your into reality.
Last March, I golfed my first round of golf since my illness. I walked all 9 holes. The score didn’t matter – what did matter, is I was able to do something I enjoyed. I am also walking 9 holes of golf on a regular basis with my wife. Last year was my first Relay For life. Last year’s Relay had special meaning to me. It just happened to be on the anniversary date that I was released from what I affectionately call my incarceration.
Yes, I can say that my life is as close to normal as it is going to be.
My doctors who treated me?
My neurologist just shakes his head, smiles and calls me a walking miracle. My surgeon wanted to know who was on my prayer chain. My onconologist can only refer to my recovery as “remarkable”. The doctor at the nursing home who released me with the prognosis “patient is terminal, will probably never return to work”
– He was wrong!
The doctor who tells you – you only have a set amount of time left, doesn’t know. Only God knows.
– In recent months I’ve met a new best friend – NED.
Although I’ve been through a lot, I know there are others who are not as fortunate. The message I want to share with others is
- don’t lose hope.
- don’t lose your faith in God, yourself or those who are there to help and support you.
If you view the obstacles you face in life as a Minor Inconvenience – it will always help keep life in its proper perspective. Every day, Donna and I “celebrate hope”.