What Cancer Has Taught Me

In a week and a half, it will be a year since my life was forever changed. On December 26th of last year, I sat in a doctor’s office, thinking I had bronchitis or pneumonia. Instead, I heard: “I’m sorry that I have to tell you this, but you have a large mass in your chest, and it is a rare Cancer.”

This year has easily been my worst year of my life. I have experienced the worst pain that I could have never even imagined, the worst fears, and the worst dreams. I have experienced my body going through hell and back, over and over again.

This year has also been the best year of my life. I have experienced more emotion, thoughts and feelings than ever before. I have gained perspective, learned perseverance, and acquired an understanding of what really matters. I have discovered how to maintain confidence and faith, and how to trust. I have realized what is most valuable to me, and what brings me happiness and peace. I have built tight bonds with my family and friends like never before. I have seen that no matter what bad is going on in the world, overall, humanity is kind and caring and loving.

I have been in “maintenance” for four months now. It hasn’t been easy. In many ways, maintenance has been more difficult than when I was in the hospital. Throughout the past year, I have had Chemo injected in my spine, taken high doses of steroids (not the kind that make you buff), and ingested Chemo pills. The doctors basically have to play around with the quantities of the drugs until I am balanced, and my body has had a very hard time adjusting. I have yet to find that balance.

There are moments where I do feel good. But overall, it has been rough. During the last few months, I have had recurring dizzy spells. These feel like I just spun around in a circle for five minutes and then tried to walk. When I transition from sitting down to standing, or talk energetically for more than 10 minutes, I get dizzy.

On top of that, I have headaches. I did wind up having an MRI and fortunately all is clear. But these are not headaches where you say ouch and go about your day – we are talking 10 out of 10, can’t open my eyes or move. The pressure is so intense, with no exit point, that it eventually forces tears out of my eyes. These are all effects of the serious drugs that I’m on.

As a productive person, it is very challenging for me to lay on a couch and listen to the TV. But I have learned that when my body tells me to stop, I have to put on the brakes. It isn’t like working out, where you have to push through. It means stop. Tonight, I admit, I tried to push through. Because I did, I learned humility and what that really means.

I was on the phone with a potential client. I love talking with potential clients. I find a lot of enjoyment in it. After I was on the phone for 30 minutes or so, I knew I had pushed more than I should. I started getting sounds in my ear like when you take a big yawn. I could physically no longer speak and my body was shaking, but was able to quickly mumble to the bride and her parents that I need to call them right back in a few. I then abruptly hung up the phone.

I had to go to the bathroom, but remember… getting up is not a quick process for me. So now I’m spinning, have to pee really bad, and can’t quickly get to the bathroom. I pushed it again, and tried to get to the bathroom anyway. Less than a quarter of the way there, my body gave out on me. I found myself lying on the floor (soft carpet, phew), and unable to get up. I felt like that old commercial where the old lady says: “I’ve fallen and can’t get up.”

This is where humility kicks in. No matter how much perseverance I have, my body told me to stay down. I was trying to hold my bladder, but felt myself starting to lose control. So what happened? Well… I peed on myself. Later, April saw the clothes on the washing machine, where I had put them after I had regained my composure. I had to explain what happened, and couldn’t help but feel embarrassment as a grown man. These are the kinds of challenges that Cancer and treatment have brought me.

This situation was my fault, and was avoidable. I should have been aware of my limits and respected them. But I have grown tired of sitting on a couch. I want so badly to be active.

I feel like I am constantly being tested. The moment I feel good and I think I’m through it, then BAM!, I get hit again. If you saw me day-to-day, you would think there are two of me. There is a guy that looks healthy, seems healthy, is walking on the beach and laughing… Then there is the guy curled up on the couch, just trying to open one eye, and unable to lift his head.

So how do I handle it? How do I keep my sanity through all of this? These are the questions I constantly ask myself whenever I feel like I’m losing control. Should I try not to think and just stay numb, so I get through it? Or should I allow myself to think and feel, no matter the situation?

There is nothing to gain by becoming numb. It’s fine to cry, laugh, be angry, or sad, as long as it is a real feeling. I have to keep expressing myself however my mind feels necessary. I have learned from Cancer that becoming numb is the same thing as being dead. As long as I can feel, then I need to keep feeling and letting it out. That is the key to getting through all of this. I have to keep sharing my story and thoughts with my friends and family, otherwise I am alone.

This journey remains my biggest challenge. You just read what I went through tonight. I am not through it yet – I have 20 more months of treatment ahead of me. I do find myself frustrated. Until shortly before my diagnosis last year, I felt like a healthy active guy. Suddenly I am a 95-year-old man. But I have to go through this with a sense of humility, confidence and faith. I will see tomorrow, and it will be a healthier day.

I have changed my views on hope a bit as well. I think hope is ok now, as long as it is balanced with the acceptance of the way things actually are. I very much hope that I will find health in 2016 and I will accept what my body throws my way. Cancer has taught me to never, EVER take advantage of the fortunes of being healthy. Good health is a treat, a gift. I understand much more now how amazing our bodies are, and that even when they are failing, they are always trying to heal.

We never truly know what tomorrow will bring. No matter what happens, I am here now, and I appreciate every minute of it. Even if it is with just one eye open. As long as I can feel, I am alive.

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