Survivor since 2003…
Every day almost a billion cells in your body divide. If one of those cells doesn’t divide properly you get cancer. Period.
How hard could an appendix surgery be? I’ve had a hernia repair so it shouldn’t be much different than that, my knee surgery I’m sure was much harder. My doctor told me to head to the hospital for the surgery; she would call ahead and make all the arrangements. No big deal, it has hurt for a few days but still tolerable. I called my wife, Nell and told her to stay at work and to come by to see me after the surgery was over. She teased that she was ready to trade me in on a younger model.
The routine blood work was done and I was sitting in the waiting room of the CAT scan drinking the contrast “kool-aid” in preparation for my scan when the receptionist came over and said my doctor wanted to talk to me on the phone. She said there was a problem with my blood test; I had no white cells and no platelets. In an almost joking tone I said it sounded like leukemia, she said that that was at the top of the short list. I’m a paramedic, have been for many years and I felt myself go into work mode; calm but detached, and discussed rationally the potential of my own demise and the planned diagnostic treatments over the phone. My doctor said not to call Nell, she would. Then I sat down to finish my “kool-aid”.
Lucky for me I got to spend the next three days in a narcotic haze. My appendix had abscessed from the leukemia, which turned the 20 minute laparoscopic surgery into a 3 ½ hour marathon with blood transfusions. I was put in isolation due to the chance of infection with no immune system to fight it overnight and flown by helicopter to University Hospital in Denver the next day. Nell, in the mean time, got to the hospital and was told that I had some type of leukemia and to plan on three months. “Three months of recuperation, no big deal, it took six months to rehab from the knee surgery. We can do that easy.” No, plan on him living only three more months. There’s a comment to stop a party for yah.
When I became more aware of things three days later I learned that the genetic testing showed I had Acute Promylositic Leukemia type M3 and that if I dared to die on my wife, our seventeen year old daughter and our newly adopted one year old that she would revive me and kill me herself. An offer I couldn’t refuse! I had the easy job though; don’t die. She had it rough taking care of me, my parents, her parents, the kids, our friends, oh and the small aspect of trying to stay employed and keeping us from going bankrupt while I wasn’t working, all while she was commuting 300 miles round trip every week to Denver. No question, her job was harder.
Chemotherapy is a phenomenal balancing act staged by doctors and nurses of uncanny knowledge and compassion that slowly kills you just enough but not too much, and hopefully does in the cancer cells along the way. After the first round I hit my first “nadir” or valley and learned what it was like to literally be so weak you can’t move. But the body recovers from this insult, what an amazing machine we are. The results of the first round were positive and remission was achieved but as a side effect I developed a peri-rectal abscess. On paper it seems rather innocuous but in real life it was the most painful, debilitating thing on earth. Every aspect of your body and life revolves around your butt and you don’t know it until it hurts so bad you can’t even breathe deeply. Surgery again to drain the abscess and into chemo for the second round. This time though, my body is used to the poison and I don’t get near as tired. How can a body take that kind of punishment and keep going?
We are almost four months into this and I still have the easy job and Nell is amazingly keeping up with all of her burdens. I would have never made it this far without her. One more round of chemo. I’ve lost 25 pounds that I didn’t have to loose, hair that I didn’t even know that I had and the reflection in the mirror looks like something from a concentration camp but Nell still makes me feel human and moderately attractive. My hospital room walls are covered with posters of tropical islands, a paper sun hangs from the ceiling, a string of flamingo lights surrounds the bed and the nurses have taken to spending their breaks in my room due to the atmosphere. Nell has made it a pleasant place to be, not death’s waiting area. We aren’t fighting this, we are beating it and she is leading the charge and I had better come along for the ride.
I passed by golden fifth year cancer free in 2006 and every day I wake up remembering the epiphany I had shortly after realizing that I was going to survive cancer. Almost all cancer survivors have one, some involve moving on to new relationships or spending sprees and vacations. Mine did include a long awaited trip to Hawai’i that we couldn’t afford but the main part was the realization that I loved my life just the way it was. I loved everything about it and wanted to do it all better. I love my kids more, I love my job and co-workers more, I love where I live more and I especially love my wife more. And hopefully I am doing a better job of it all as well.
Every day almost a billion cells in your body divide. If one of those cells doesn’t divide properly you get cancer. Period. Sometimes something from the outside can make it easier for this to occur but that is still what it boils down to. Then the fight is on and that fight extends to the whole family. Everyone is affected by a diagnosis of cancer so everyone needs to be a part of the fight. Don’t feel sorry for them, help them fight. Help them fight every day. Help patients realize that they aren’t dead yet and visualize their own healing. Help spouses keep their lives in order while they try to care for family members. Help family members know that it’s not anyone’s fault. No stigma should hang over these people, don’t talk about it in hushed tones. Reach out and help any way you can, any time you can.
Every day almost a billion cells in your body divide.