This week I’m celebrating ten years as a cancer survivor. I honestly believe that God has given me a responsibility of ministering to others with cancer along with my own personal celebration. Yesterday morning I met a man whose spouse is undergoing treatment for cancer, and later in the day Melinda shared with me that a colleague friend has been recently diagnosed; I wrote this letter to the friend and his spouse. I post it here in the hope that it might help someone else.
Ten years ago this week I was discovered to have colon cancer. It wasn’t through any standard diagnostic procedure. I was feeling really sick (but I thought I’d get over it in time). But Melinda was worried about me, and she rushed home late at night, interrupting a business trip (fortunately she was driving, and only up in the Central Valley). She took me to the ER. Pretty soon I was going through the entire battery of tests, then meeting the woman who was to become my surgeon. I was in the hospital for three weeks after having a whole lot of my guts removed (and a week in a drug-induced coma for the ultimate in pain management). When I went to see my surgeon for my first follow-up visit, she said, “You weren’t ready to hear this before, but you were only two to three days from being inoperable.” Of course she was right!
Who’s ever ready to hear any words that have to do with ME or someone I love having cancer?
After a period of healing from my surgery, I then underwent chemo since there were cancer cells in several of the lymph nodes that were removed during my surgery. I hated it. It made me sick and weak. My veins got thin and I had to have a chemo port inserted. I had what’s called “chemo brain” (the chemicals made it hard for me to think even to the point of doing day-to-day activities). I became light sensitive and had some other side effects. But if I had to do it again, I’d say, “Let’s get started!”
Now, even 10 years afterwards, I still see the oncologist every six months. I have to have bloodwork a week before I see her — at which time my anxiety builds and builds. Fortunately, with only one exception, she is able to say to me, “Perfect! See you again in six months.” (The exception turned out to be nothing, but it was scary getting to the point where we knew that.)
So I didn’t die at the outset when I easily could have. I didn’t die after the surgery, which was also a fairly strong possibility. Also, the statistical prognosis for my kind of colon cancer isn’t good: only a 50% five-year survival rate. And yet… here I am, alive and kicking!
Things that help are: having [your loved one] around; having a back-up person when [loved one] needs a respite (and [loved one]: taking an afternoon-off break when you need one); keeping a positive, affirmative attitude even on the worst days (I know that sounds contradictory, but it’s important); and keeping your sense of humor. [After I'd been home for several days, still feeling lousy and weak, Melinda brought in the DVD of "Shrek" which I hadn't seen yet. It made me laugh out loud. It was then that I knew that I was going to live. I hadn't been sure up until that point.]
If your treatment is going to involve IV chemo, I really recommend getting a chemo port at the outset. It’s a little one-way valve that is put in your chest, and they can then administer the drugs through that instead of stabbing you every time you have to have a session. It often isn’t offered until after patients start having problems, but I strongly believe it should be discussed up front. Talk to your oncologist about it. My other suggestion is to drink water; you can’t drink too much of it, and it keeps your veins plumped up and washes out many of the impurities. Do what the doctors say — and listen to the nurses, because their help can be invaluable. And DON’T believe statistics or anything else negative. Every person is an individual, not a number! Oh: and remember to enjoy every day because — cancer or not — life is short.
If there’s anything Melinda and I can do for you — including virtual hand-holding from afar — just let us know. We are big believers in prayer and positive thought, so know that we’ll hold you that way too. You aren’t alone.
Strength and love,
p.s. I also recommend a sweet little book called Kitchen Table Wisdom. I’d send you my copy, but I still pick it up and read from it…