March 9, 2014 — diagnosis day. My first thought was, “I am going to die”. But then a funny thing happened. I decided I was going to live (that was of course after 24 hours of crying and generally freaking out). Not only was I going to live, but I was going to live fully. From that moment on,
I became a survivor.
Recalling Lives Saved & Lost
On National Cancer Survivors Day, I reflect. Obviously, I celebrate the survivors, but I also mourn those who have lost their battle. I think about the amazing people that have supported me on my cancer journey. Doctors, nurses, family, friends, caregivers — even other patients I’ve met in the waiting area over the years. I still carry a cross that a stranger gave to me one day after a deep, philosophical conversation about God. All of these individuals have made impacts on my life, big and small. I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for these angels.
My story, at a glance
Over several days, I was having stomach issues. Finally one day I decided to go to my local ER. I described some of the usual symptoms, but also detailed some other things that were happening. Unintended weight loss. Night sweats. Fatigue. I thought nothing of it, but they decided to do blood work, and they did an ultrasound of my abdomen. They discovered that my spleen was about 4 times its normal size. Long story short, it was lymphoma. When the doctor told me, the air left the room. I felt light-headed and weak. What would I tell my wife? My kids?
After consulting with my family, we decided to seek treatment from MD Anderson in Houston, Texas. It was a no brainer. I live in Houston, and it’s the best cancer hospital in the world. After completing six rounds of intense chemotherapy in September of 2014, I achieved remission! However, in 2016 I relapsed, and my doctors opted for a stem cell transplant. Luckily, I had two siblings that were 100% genetic matches. My sister Lynn was chosen to be the donor, and in January of 2017 I received her t-cells into my bloodstream. Honestly, the transplant is a non-event (the chemo beforehand, well that’s a different story). It’s like a super-charged blood transfusion, if you will. Anyway, after a long recovery period, I went home and recuperated for about 4 months. I retuned to work in May of 2017 and have been in remission ever since (knock on wood!).
Cancer — a blessing for survivors?
I know, it sounds weird saying those words out loud. For so many, cancer is such a scary word — and I get it. However, for many cancer survivors, the disease has helped shape their lives in positive ways they could never imagine. What I often hear is that it has helped people prioritize what and who is important in their lives. It did those things for me. Also, I began to look at things differently. I looked at my wife and my children differently, often studying their faces when they aren’t looking. I stare at flowers, at trees, at the ocean… and I simply appreciate the wonder of it all. It’s both humbling and amazing. This is what I mean by a “blessing”.
We are all survivors!
Whether you were just diagnosed or you’re nearing your 5, 10 or the 15-year survival mark, you are an inspiration, a warrior and a hero. You are a survivor!