When your doctor comes into the examination room with downcast eyes and a long face and says to you “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but the tests show that you have cancer,” it is devastating. It is life changing, but it doesn’t have to be life ending.
Cancer is scary, mostly due to ignorance.
Until YOUR doctor says those words to YOU, or someone you love, most of us think of cancer as something that is far off and we don’t give it much consideration. We have a distorted mental picture of it because we don’t understand it. Our understanding usually comes from a one-sided argument from medical professionals via the news media, or from others who have parroted the same information. Before I present the TWO sides of the cancer coin for your consideration, let me share with you my personal experience with this dreaded disease. Let me explain how it feels when it gets very personal.
I have had serious cancer three times, melanoma (which is serious) one time and two less serious skin cancers.
Until March of 1997, I had lived a healthy, vigorous life. I was 50 years old, when I had mysterious pains in my body that moved from place to place and wouldn’t go away. I went to the doctor. A blood test suggested that I had way too many white blood cells; the doctor suspected Leukemia. He sent me to an internal medicine specialist who did a bone marrow biopsy. In less than two hours, he confirmed that I had Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML). He told me that we needed to start treatment “right now.” I consented, was admitted and within a couple of hours I had a port implanted into my chest and two chemotherapy drugs flowing into my bloodstream.
Before starting the chemo, the doctor explained that I would get these two chemo drugs for seven days, then have a break for three weeks, then another seven days of chemo, another three week break, then a third and final course of chemo. He explained that it would be devastating, that my immune system would become ineffective, that there would be a period of time when I would be so prone to disease that I couldn’t be around fresh flowers or eat any fresh vegetables or fruits.
The surprise that followed
On the seventh day after my chemotherapy began, I had a seizure. It was caused by bleeding in my brain. In this small community hospital in Wausau, WI, I was rushed into surgery. They drilled two holes in the top of my head and did whatever doctors do to the brain to stop the bleeding. I praise the Lord and thank the doctors for their good work. It worked and I am still alive 19 years later.
The saga continues
Eighteen days later I heard the voices of family members from Arkansas and woke up. I reached to adjust the cap on my head and my family said “Don’t touch that; it’s bandages, you’ve had brain surgery!” I said “Wow! what happened?” They continued to explain that I had had a seizure, brain surgery, liver failure, kidney failure, pneumonia and the doctors suspected that I had spinal meningitis. They did a spinal tap and, fortunately, meningitis was ruled out. Now after eighteen days of unconsciousness, my liver and kidneys were functioning again and we were still fighting the pneumonia, which was soon remedied as well. These events are still a blur in my mind, nearly twenty years later. The reason I can relate these events to you now is that a sharp family member somehow managed to get a copy of the doctors’ notes that they kept day by day and visit by visit as they tended to my situation and needs. Reading the doctors’ notes was like reading a novel in which I was the main character, but it wasn’t fiction.
Because of these complications from the treatment, my chemo was stopped and after a total of about two months I was released from the hospital. I left with no medications and went home to live by myself again. I soon concluded that I was still too weak to live alone, so I packed a suitcase and had a friend drive me to Illinois where I could stay with family until I got stronger.
It is probably obvious to you that my life changed instantly with the diagnosis of cancer. I was fifty years old and not ready to retire, but my working life had ended abruptly. Having always been a hard worker, this presented a difficult situation for me to deal with. My mind wanted to work and do active things, but my body refused to participate. I finally placated my mind by telling it that my “job” right now was to rest and recuperate. A slow walk around the block, leaning on a cane was a big day of exercise for me at that time.
By eating the things my body craved, exercising as much as I could and resting by sleeping long hours at night and taking three or four naps every day, I was fairly strong by the summer of 1997, when I embarked on a romantic adventure, the details of which I’ll save for another article. It is an interesting, unusual and interesting part of the story of my first cancer battle…and the second one, too.
In forthcoming articles I will give you deep insight into the realities of other effects of cancer; the financial effect, the effect on family, the mental challenge, the emotional challenge and details on how and why I won the battles I fought. At this time, March 9, 2016 I am fighting another cancer battle and will open the door for you to see how I am winning this battle too. The cancer I am fighting right now is transitional cell carcinoma of the bladder.
The contact form below is for your convenience. Feel free to contact me with questions or comments about cancer. I try to answer all personally, if possible. If I can’t give a personal answer, I will answer your question in a future article and/or video. If you are in the United States and your question is going to require a lengthy answer, please include your phone number so I can save time by calling you. I can only make phone calls within the U.S.
What are the lessons here?
- Cancer changes your life instantly, in just a moment
- The effects are mental, emotional, physical, and financial
- Cancer is not something you get over like a cold or flu