Getting diagnosed with cancer is one of the worst things that can happen to a person in their lifetime. All of the trauma, the expenses, the worry, scars and body deformations, side effects, and a hundred more things to go along with it make for the worst year (or more) of your life. As bad as all this gets, there are some positive things a person can find around them even when they have been diagnosed with cancer.
I am Thankful
But what about after a second diagnosis? Having to do all of that again, times two with the worry, the trauma, everything. Yes, that really sucks twice. Can you think of any positive things with that? As bad as that gets, what if you have to do it again? After being clean for years and thinking that you are home free, ready to ride life out into the sunset and bask in the good life then all of a sudden another type of cancer comes sneaking in from the side and BAM, back in it ALL again. Diagnosis number three. How could there be anything positive out of that?
Then let’s say you beat number three back and again are thinking that you have dodged the bullet again. You have been through all the trauma, life threatening events, cheated death again, and even though you’re body is beaten down, broken, weaker than before, scarred, deformed, you made it through it.
Now you’re running on a “take it one day at a time” type of schedule because every time you cough, feel a pain, squeeze something in your neck that you are certain is another swollen lymph node when it’s not, or have a headache, you are certain that your time has come? How can there be anything positive about that?
Going through life as a three time cancer survivor is part living every day with lots of gratitude that you are able to open your eyes and see life, and part cussing at cancer for doing all the damage to you that makes every day a living hell for some because of all the side effects we live with. And each time you feel something that is a little funny, just not right, or painful, you think it’s number four. You don’t want that because you were told that each time it comes back it’s more difficult to control. Nothing positive about that, right?
Cancer Loses Again: Third Time
Then, diagnosis number four shows up and tries to sneak in on you without you knowing it’s there. It’s a type that cannot be treated with chemo or radiation this time because you have had the max amount of radiation for your lifetime. Surgery to cut it out is your only choice. What could possibly be positive about that? This surgery is a major one taking six to ten hours, depending on how jacked up my neck is from previous surgeries and radiation damage. And (with dramatic music playing), some don’t make it.
OK, hold my beer, here’s where you have to either get in the car with me and buy totally into this frame of mind, or get out.
Positive Things That Are Obvious (If you know what to look for)
1) This latest diagnosis is only stage I out of IV. That’s awesome. Awesome because this stupid thing has been trying to kill me for a year. It was in my neck, and I knew it even when the brilliant doctors couldn’t find it. Scopes and sci-fi technology couldn’t see it, but I could feel it. If I hadn’t kept insisting that something was there this would have continued to escalate to the point of stage III or IV. At that point many times it’s too late to catch it and treat it. Again, mine is only stage I, that is fantastic. Let’s drink that beer and celebrate!
2) While getting a cancer diagnosis sucks, getting four of them sucks four times as much. But still, there are things to be thankful for. This type of cancer is very dangerous. The five year survival rate is not great. The recurrence rate is higher than several types of cancer. But, there are several types of cancer that if I was diagnosed with one of them I would be making burial arrangements for myself. But right now I’m making plans to throw down with it, and beat it like a drum. I have cancer again, but…..I have a chance.
3) I have cancer for the FOURTH TIME. Yes, I agree I don’t think I deserve it, I shouldn’t have to put up with this, I shouldn’t have to go through all the things that I and my Sweetie are getting ready to be knee deep in again, but we do. It’s coming down the tracks right for me, we can either knock it down and off the tracks, or get run over. Some people say, “why me”, or “why you”, depending on who you’re talking to. I say OK, I hate it, and I think I’ve already done my time, but if it has to be me, let’s go, giddy-up. I would take four more diagnoses before letting it go after my Sweetie. What’s positive about this? ME, I can do it, don’t worry about me, I’ll be alright. I don’t know exactly how this is going to turn out, but I do know that no matter how it turns out, I’ll be OK.
4) We live in a Country that has the best healthcare in the world. The whole healthcare system is screwed up totally, for sure, but we don’t live in some third world country where I would have already died. The doctors, residents, students, and nurses at Vanderbilt are some of the most brilliant young minds we have ever seen. They make me feel humble that I am able to receive their care.
5) Dr. Rohde Plaque: I also have access to one of the finest cancer research hospitals in the U.S. Vanderbilt is without a doubt the best place anyone could ask for to be treated at. They are one of only two NCI designated cancer facilities in TN. I willingly throw my body into their care with full confidence that it will ALL be alright. That is massively positive! And besides, I have a secret weapon, my oncologist/surgeon, who I’ve already “bribed” with a gift of gratitude for her care over the last seven years or so that she has been following me after the last diagnosis was done. She is a brilliant young doctor/surgeon and her group of residents that she teaches are following the same path.
6) Tough Times Never Last: I have walked this road before, so i’m not freaking out about this diagnosis. I am more calm and positive about this one than any of the previous three. I know what’s coming, I know most of what to expect and how to get through it. I consider this an extremely unfortunate inconvenience for Donna and I. We have things left to do still, and we plan on doing them. I know there are going to be some very tough times in the coming year. But I defer to one of the quotes that we have had on a business card since 1980 when I started in the insurance business. “Tough Times Never Last…..Tough People Do.”
7) I have enjoyed eleven pretty good years since I finished treatments for the last diagnosis in 2008, and I have been able to work and stay fit. I’m not in bad shape at all for an old fart with white hair pushing 60. If it weren’t for this pesky cancer thing that causes me to attract cancer, I’m actually in pretty good shape! Positive? Yes, I’m NOT in a wheelchair and I can still take care of myself…… mostly.
8) Donna And Deana: I have a beautiful, loving wife who has been by my side for pushing 40 years. She didn’t sign up for this substandard package of problems when we got married. I see people all the time on our website who have lost their spouse when the cancer came. Some people just can’t deal. I also have what I sometimes call my “second wife”, my sister-in-law, Donna’s sister. She will be there to help Sweetie with whatever she needs in this part of my journey, just like she always has been. I am not alone, and feel certain I won’t be. How is that not awesomely positive?
9) I have already been the beneficiary of new treatments that research has given everyone in the “cancer world”. Thank you to the American Cancer Society for leading the way and providing the funding for many of the research programs happening in the U.S. today.
10) I will have my complete larynx removed, along with as many lymph nodes as the surgeon can find while I’m opened up. I won’t have my voice any longer. My dogs might not know who I am, Sweetie will never here this gravely, hoarse, scratchy voice again. That sucks! But what is positive about this? I will be able to talk with the help of technology. I will have to use an electric larynx or “voice machine” for the first couple of weeks or months, how ever long it takes for me to heal. At that point I will have another surgery to install a tiny little rubber device between my trachea and my esophagus. This amazing little doodad will allow me to speak without the electric larynx. That is a plus for me. I might even be able to still work. I won’t feel as isolated as I was afraid I would be. Plus, plus, and plus!
I also have the support of the WhatNext Community of cancer survivors, patients, and caregivers on our website. There are thousands there that have either already been through it or are in the middle of it that are always supportive of people like me that have been diagnosed. Sometimes a word of support or an answer about an issue that only someone who has been through it can answer is extremely valuable.
So there you have it, ten positive things about having a fourth cancer diagnosis. Always remember, no matter how bad you think you have it, someone else has things worse than you and they would gladly trade their life for yours. There are lots of things I would rather be doing than having major surgery and laying in the hospital for a week or longer, followed by months of painful recovery, but that’s what I have to do. I can’t call in sick on the 28th, there is no putting it off. My life is in one hand and the cure is in the scalpel. So all I can do is lay down and tell Dr. Rohde to get to cuttin’.
We have a wonderful family ready to help support us and a mass of friends that will be here to help Donna if needed. We appreciate every one of you. You’ve heard the phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child”. Well, it takes a village to fight off cancer; to do it for the fourth time might even take a city. This is going to be a tough one, so if you will, cover me……. I’m going in!
Thank You Note
Thank you all for your thoughts, prayers, concern, and support, we appreciate it more than we can say.
All of the posts written for Elephants and Tea are contributed by patients, survivors, caregivers and loved ones dealing with cancer. If you have a story or experience you would like to share with the cancer community we would love to hear from you! Please submit your idea at https://elephantsandtea.cdn-pi.com/contact/submissions/.