I have debated a little bit whether or not I should post about my experience over the last year. I really do not want to over-dramatize my experience. But I think it may be good to write some things. I had thought of writing during my experience, but then did not. I did not have the energy to do it. It took the energy I had to do simple things to function. All extras were put aside. Even now, I’m not sure if I am removed enough from all of this to have the right perspective. Maybe my thoughts will change down the road. We’ll see. Bluntly stated:
In March of 2017, I do not recall the actual date, the doctors found a cancerous tumor the size of a walnut in my colon. The doctor declared it stage three. Most likely the result of having colitis. I had a pretty big surgery to remove a large part of my colon. They found cancer in some lymph nodes outside of the tumor. I began chemotherapy in May, had 12 rounds of treatments, three days at time every other week.
Chemotherapy was completed on November 2nd. December 12, 2017, my scans and blood work came back completely clean. I am cancer free. I will have check ins over the next few years.
Here are my thoughts, random and incomplete, from those ten months:
My experience with cancer and chemotherapy, in my opinion, needs perspective. My perspective is this: there are people out there who are experiencing cancer and chemo in a much, much worse way than I did. Mine was stage three. My chemo was not coupled with radiation. Recovery from the surgery was harder than I imagined it would be and the chemo was not fun. But I do not feel my experience is in the same ballpark as others. Knowing how much my experience was terrible at times, I cannot fathom what others are going through…to think about that saddens me. Thinking of children who experience this, I really do not have words for that. Early on, people talked to me about becoming a cancer survivor. I had trouble accepting that because I knew there were people going through a lot worse than me. I’d see some of them at the “chemo place”. When they overcome, they deserve that title. Now, I do accept that I am a cancer survivor, but with some hesitation in feeling that I am not quite worthy of that. I mean, my ordeal was ten months, others it is years. They are those who deserve to be called that much more than me. Maybe at a later time I will more readily accept that.
I was never really scared in all of this. Maybe some moments…but worried at times, absolutely. When the doctor told us the cancer was outside the tumor and they need to find out if it had spread, it’s hard to put into words the thoughts and feelings that produced. Waiting for scan results stirred anxiety. But in all this, I was never in fear for my life. I don’t say that with any bravado, because I felt the opposite of that for most of this journey. I mostly felt very wimpy. Maybe I wasn’t completely with it to understand. People were ready to fight this with me, so maybe I felt the support of those around me. I’ll guess the latter.
All of this is a mental fight as much as a physical fight. You have to stay on top of it mentally. I did not always do that. There were days when it got on top of me. Those days were hard. I don’t like to feel like I’m losing. Those days I felt like that. Boy, I hated that.
It’s hard for me to receive help from others. I found myself feeling embarrassed at times, that I needed help to do simple things like getting out of the hospital bed and walking a couple laps around the unit I was in. I think I said I was sorry, that I needed help, a thousand times through all of this. The help from the wonderful staff and doctors at St Ritas hospital and cancer center, the help from my family, friends and co-workers- it was hard to receive. But I was absolutely grateful for it. Being on the receiving end of “bearing one another’s burdens” put things in a new perspective. My wife was a trooper. She was amazing through all of this. My kids too. They kept on in their schoolwork and sports as if nothing was going on. Family and friends stayed the night with me in the hospital. Co-workers sat with me for countless hours in the hospital and after I went home. I was taken care of at work when I eventually went back- felt like I had a couple of moms there. Lots of people in my church and community offered help and prayers. The high school basketball team honored me. There were fundraisers. The soccer team put up with me. Friends from high school reached out to me. And there was certainly a lot more than all of that. I can’t list it all. Again, it was all hard to receive, it’s hard to know I needed help, but I am glad for all of it and it will have a special place in my heart. I guess I had to deal with some pride in all of this.
I was in the hospital for three weeks after the surgery. I do not have recollection of three weeks. I was pretty drugged up, and have to admit, I liked it. Ha. But apparently I wasn’t quite my ‘normal’ self- in things I said, the emotions I had, etc. I guess that’s interesting, or maybe just the drugs…
Chemo absolutely sucks. I think I’m allowed to put it that way. I would not wish it on anybody. They told me there would be days when I would feel like a truck hit me. They were wrong. Those days felt worse.
Wednesday mornings during chemo week I would sneak into the sanctuary and listen to some of our worship team members practice. Those times helped me those weeks. A lot.
I now realize I was not always the nicest person at times in all of this. They told me the chemo may affect my personality. I didn’t buy that. But it did a little. I’m still working on that.
I feel like I lost nearly a year of my life. I think over time that feeling will change as I will continue to value the deeper connection I gained with people around me.
An emotion I feel at times right now is anger. I’m not sure why. It’s sort of strange. It crops up for no reason. Maybe just mad that I went through this, those around me went through it, and the devil is a jerk. I’m going to channel that into my purpose (and my workouts at the gym).
I am a active person. Not being able to be active made me depressed at times. Not super way down depressed, but for the first time in my life I had to fight it a little at times. I’m going plan a year of adventure in 2018 and then beyond. I’m going to make up for my inactivity.
Along with that, there were times I would try to do something, knowing I shouldn’t, and often someone around me who was watching out for me would tell me to stop whatever I was doing. I did those things to deal with feeling down. Sometimes those things would wipe me out physically, but it made me feel good mentally. I valued feeling good mentally over physically at times.
The tv series Lost will have a special connection to all of this. I know, it’s weird to mention this. I began watching that series before I ended up in the hospital. Once I went home, I had a daily routine of getting out of bed, getting breakfast, popping pain pills and then watching a couple episodes of Lost. I then interacted through texts with three people who had previously watched the series. It was fun and helped me get through my inactivity. I probably need to rewatch it without the pain meds though…(and, spoiler alert, I’m still mad that they killed off Sun & Jin)
God. I knew He was there. I just didn’t feel it at times. I learned patience. I had to live something I’ve said in a pulpit many times: Peace is not the absence of trouble but the understanding that the Creator God has you and is with you. I had to learn to see Him in the little things- like the sunrise and sunset- and in the support of others. I had to believe He was going to do what only He can do despite choosing the type of surgery I had plus chemo. I believe He did. Each day I asked for His help. He helped me, even when I didn’t feel it. I think when I am more removed from this I will see more clearly how He was interwoven with me through all of this. But I do feel deeper connection with my God right now.
There was someone who visited me in the hospital that was in remission from cancer, but since I’ve been out of the hospital I have learned it has returned to her. There was someone who visited me in the hospital that was fighting cancer off and on, she passed away from cancer not long after I got out of the hospital. I don’t get it…it bothers me…
I still have some chemo side effects. I’m still not quite “there” yet. But I feel good. I have peace. Joy is returning. I am going to take this opportunity to re-set a little bit. I’m looking forward to what is coming, while not missing the now.
I feel this is rather incomplete. Maybe sometime I will follow up and add to this. I’m moving on. Cancer Survivor. God is with me. People around me are amazing. Life is good.