Cancer A Family Affair
Living verse Surviving Cancer©
I have been asked how I have been able to deal with cancer. In March 2001, I received the news that I had cancer, specifically melanoma cancer. For those of you who do not know, one of the suspected causes of this particular type of cancer is over exposure to the sun. With that in mind, I was a little surprised when I found out that the epicenter for this seismic event was a little mole on right butt cheek, a place that does not usually get any sun. The mole in question was smaller than a dime and it had been there for a number of years before it started to change. I would like to say that it was my foresight or that I somehow knew something was wrong that prompted me to get it checked out. I owe my wife, who informed me that I could either go to the doctor and have him check it out or she would take a steak knife mole off, and she would take it to have it tested, but it was my choice. Now I am not going to bore you with the specific details of the mole, but I later found out that her persistence probably saved my life.
During the past decade, I have had a number of significant events associated with the cancer. I had to complete a year of treatments with a lovely drug called interferon. If anyone tries to tell you that it is not so bad, they are not telling you the whole truth. In fact, it is an outright lie. It was one of the most miserable times in my life. For the first month, I had to go to the cancer center every day and take an IV of this drug. After that bit of fun was completed, I had to give myself a shot three times a week. I will have you know that I hate needles, so again I had to depend on my wife some nights to give me the shot, which would give me flu like symptoms. I know she did not like to do it, but she did without question and very little thanks from me. The other part of that treatment, I had to drink half my body weight in ounces of liquid daily. Therefore, I was drinking a lot of Gatorade, and running to the bathroom all the time. In fact, I had an ADA request with my employer that when I said I had to go, I had to go. But, I survived, which unfortunately is more than I can say for some of the people who started the process with me. For some reason I am live and they did not make it through the first month. Again, I never said thank you to my wife and family for the support that they gave me during this year. There were many days in that first year that I did not want to continue with the treatment. Just by being there my family again saved my life by giving me a reason to continue.
Emy on the Bay
Two years ago (2007) I had another occurrence of cancer, which again cause me once more to go back in the operating room. This time they removed the majority of limp nodes in my right groin. As a result I have this fashionable stocking I have to wear everyday so my ankle does not swell up like a sausage. When they sent me home, I had this tube that help drain the fluid from my groin area. When I was walking around, I would pin it to my housecoat. But when I sit down in the recliner, I would unhook it. One time as I was getting up to use the rest room, again something I had to do often, as I stood up the tube dropped down, so when the leg support of the chair closed it trapped the ball and tube, pulling the tube out of my leg. When I called my wife all I could say was, “Hurt“, and before I could get the rest of the sentence out she was at the house. Not sure how she did that, she must have had a transporter beam installed at her work.
When we arrived at the ER the staff also noticed I had developed a very nasty rash around the surgical site. As a result, I ended up in the hospital for a week with an infection. The care I received was excellent and as it turns out I am allergic to the adhesive on the surgical strips they used to close up my wound. So it was not really an infection. Again it was my wife who consistently made the trip from home to visit with me; she would go to work, drive 50 miles to the hospital visit and go home. Not only was she worrying about me, she had the family to take care of.
Since this was my second time with this particular type of cancer, I could not go through the same type of treatment that I did before. Which, given my experience the first time around, could be seen as a good thing. This time I had to travel 200 miles to a different hospital to participate in a clinical trial which injected me with an experimental drug. The injections for this treatment were a level of pain I never experienced before. It was the first time I ever had a nurse apologize to me as she was giving me the shot. She told me up front, “I would like to tell this will not hurt, but it will.” As I was getting the shot, I was swearing, the nurse was apologizing, and I was squeezing the hell out of my wife’s hand. After four weeks of this fun, something with the treatment went terribly wrong. One night after an injection my temperature reached 104, as I arrived at the emergency room the sites of the injections was 107 degrees. This time I was placed back in the hospital, with the staff not really knowing whether or not I was going to make it out of it. Again my wife and kids were there visiting with me.
At this hospital, I learned an important lesson about feeling sorry for myself. I was lying in bed, just feeling like crap wondering why this was happening to me, I was not thinking of the effect this was happening on my family and friends. It was all about me. During the course of my stay, I had two roommates. Both were in the advanced stages of their cancer with a limited time left to live. The first had his family with him, but they argued all the time. My second roommate was alone. Both were in consistent pain, a pain I could not comprehend. It made what I was going through look like a paper cut. My second roommate had a little button that he could push to give himself medication. No matter how many times he pushed the button his pain did not go away. The sadness for my second roommate, was not only the pain, but, the whole time he was there, he had only one visitor. A friend stopped by to talk for a minute.
It makes no sense to me why I have survived, when many of the people I have met with cancer are no longer here. It certainly is not my attitude, like I said there many days when I feel sorry for myself and I treat the people I care about poorly. Which is a counter diction of what I have been told, many people feel that I have a good attitude in relation to everything I have gone through. Maybe because I am not smart enough to understand, there is a line out of the movie the Pirates of the Caribbean, which the two main characters are walking underwater with a boat over their heads, using it to capture the air they are breathing. William Turner says, “This is either madness or brilliance” to which Jack Sparrow replies, “It’s remarkable how often those to traits coincide.” The same can be said for bravery and ignorance; I think that the two are sometime interchangeable. The determining factor is outcome and vantage point.
But I would say the effect on my family has been more profound and has been a tougher road to follow. For me I have no choice but to deal with whatever comes along or I can just give up. If I willed myself out of existence the second or third trip to the hospital, I am fairly sure I would not have survived. As to why I recovered the last time, even my attending physician did not know. All he knows is that after ten days my fever broke and I was able to go home. Where my family had and still has a tougher choice to make. I know full good and well that I have been a miserable SOB at times. They stuck with me anyway.
So what is the key to surviving cancer? I have no answer, because I have seen people who should have survived but didn't, I have seen people have worse suffering then myself. I have also known a number of people who continue to live long after the cancer have been identified. One thing I do know is physically surviving cancer and living with cancer are two different things.
Tomorrow is my wife’s birthday, and I was weeding through my brain trying to figure out what to get her. Finally, realized I never properly thanked her for being there for me. If there is a moral to the story, it is simple, any fool can survive cancer, but living with cancer takes a great deal of courage from those who surrounds you and you have to have the wits enough to recognize that fact.
To my wife, thank you.
Since I first wrote this Hub I have had two more encounters with my cancer. Surgery on the lower part of my right lung in 2012 and in 2013 it reappeared on my back, upper right lung and chest wall. This time surgery was not an option. So I take pills designed to hold my old acquaintance at bay. March 2015 will be my fourteenth anniversary of being told I have melanoma cancer I am still alive and living. I recently learned that an old High School friend has now started his journey with melanoma. His situation has driven me this morning to reflect on all the things that have happened to me since being told. The following is just a small sampling:
I finished my graduate degree, meet a ton of new friends and created new memories with old friends. I watched my two oldest graduate high school, married off one and played with my new grandson. I have watched my son work through his challenges on the way to becoming a man and saw the magic as my youngest daughter develops into this amazing woman. My point is simple, I have not had a fourteen year battle with cancer, I have lived for fourteen years and it just so happens that I have cancer. It has impacted my life, but to quote Dr. Who, "The good things don't always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don't necessarily spoil the good things and make them unimportant." (Dr. Who) Even in the worst situations something good can happen if you let it.
February 22, 2015
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© 2011 Mark Monroe
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