“My Voice” by Eric Charsky

Eric Charsky - 'Survivor'

What do you get when you are speaking to someone who was born as a “blue baby”, who later at age two drowned and was resuscitated, at fifteen was DOA and knows the feeling of cold paddles being applied to his chest and shocked twice to keep him alive while in a coma for five days then lives after falling 760 feet with a malfunctioned main and reserve parachute and impacts the ground at an estimated 50-60 miles per hour and finally has a rare diagnosis of cancer that according to modern science can never be beaten?

You have a conversation with someone that you will never forget.

I am a cancer advocate my name is Eric Charsky and I am a Cancer Ranger. An Army Ranger is taught to be strong, resilient and lead the charge into battle in front of all others screaming “follow me!” and the motto of my last military unit was “De opresso Liber” “to free the oppressed”. This is my goal with cancer. To lead the charge to cancer from the front and to free those that may be oppressed by their emotions towards their cancer or possible physical limitations that they are forced to adjust to rapidly and show them that cancer is a sentence; life or death it  is our choice for how many days or years we have remaining and that no matter what the Doctors say they can not measure one thing…your will to prove them wrong and live life, live and love every day we have!

I have Familial Multiple Polyposis (FAP) I was diagnosed at age 33 and had 26 polyps in my throat, five tumors in my stomach and thousands of polyps through the remainder of my digestive system. My nurse walked into the recovery room after my initial set of tests and said nothing, she hugged me and walked out with tears in her eyes…then my Doctor walked in. I made a joke about my nurse being a little emotional and him looking “as white as his lab coat” and then for some reason just asked “how bad” because I knew what the news was already.

“The worst I have ever seen” was his only answer as he struggled with the next part of the sentence. But it was not a sentence, I play with words; but he was struggling to finish his sentence and begin mine…My reply was classic Charsky, “I broke another record, cool let’s do this” my false bravado; charge, attack take the battle to the enemy…He responds, “you do not want this record, it may kill you and if not your life will be much shorter, it will kill you eventually and you will never live your life like you currently do…” His sentence – not mine. I used some choice language, basically telling him to do that which is anatomically impossible for a man…and told him I would choose how I live my life; he was not going to change that and that if I had not died by God’s grace after all I have endured then it was impossible for him to kill me. He was not strong enough.

I went through 24 of the best Doctors in the country for FAP, I told them all the same thing: they were not going to ruin my life. I would continue to snowboard, run marathons, race bikes, finish traveling the world and do whatever crazy ideas came into me head. I was referred to a Doctor who listened and agreed that he would do his best to try to accomplish what I was asking…I had a friend.
I read, I studied, I became my Doctors, I spoke their language, I learned about advanced genetics, gene therapy, protocols and treatments being experimented with globally and here in the U.S.. I took my living as my mission, just as I had accepted many arduous missions in the military. It worked then; it would work now. Plan, contingency, plan, contingency, avenue of attack, back-up, support, communications…I ran it all.  I sat in with all of my Doctors’ meetings; asked questions told them what I would accept and pushed them to their limits with my behavior and their abilities within known science.

October 19, 2003 I went in for surgery; three months after I was told I had to because of the rapid development of the cells and polyps. I told “them” we were at stage I and knew that there was “a lot” of stage I, but that even if more developed or it progressed, I still had time to get everything right for the next part of my life. I spoke their language and gave them proof with numbers and statistics. The next part was my re-birth, my new lease, a new beginning my way to forgive myself of all my mistakes and focus on getting it all right this time. No room for mistakes…

I had a complete colectomy (removal of colon and large intestine with centimeters of my anus remaining), gallbladder removal, nine feet of my small intestine, the throat polyps were removed and the stomach tumors were left along with thousands of developing polyps. My Doctor performed a modified “J Series” which allows me to have somewhat normal bodily functions and still allows me to do all that I love. I have since had my Ampula Vadar removed and two more surgeries involving very precise instruments in small areas along with a tumor removed from my neck.

The development of polyps does not stop and they are nasty little buggers in that they are “born” pre-cancerous and if they are missed then I have to tango with cancer again. I can never escape, no running, no hiding just check-ups every few months which consists of starving for two days then going in for “out process surgery” where an EGD scope and flex sigmoidescope is used to check my digestive system and meet as close as they can in the middle from the north and south.

Is it uncomfortable? Yes. Painful? My definition of pain has changed as I have increased my tolerance, but I will say sometimes…but it is a small price to pay for a new gift everyday. Another day to conquer more life, share more, live another day and love everything. Is it worth it? Yes, without hesitation; I chose a sentence of life.

I was bankrupt in the process of my cancer treatment, not because of the costs, but because I was in the process of a divorce while going through my surgeries and gene therapy. I also had just taken a new job and did not care to read the small print of a company that is self-insured. They tried to fire me but found out that I did not have my teeth removed and that my bite was far worse than my bark…so they shut my division down which I had just signed on as the new department head. I did not loose focus.  “It is stuff”… I had issues with loosing the dream house I had just bought, but let it go saying that I had strength for one fight and that was my life. The house, the money and all of the stuff had nothing to do with my life.

I am about to have my 40th birthday, but this number is inconsequential to my anniversary that follows close behind, my sixth year anniversary of life; my 2,190th gift of new days.

I was supposed to be in bed for a few months after my surgery and recovering for up to six months. Thirty-eight days after my surgery with the Doctors’ unanimous approval I was ripping down the slopes in Vermont snowboarding. This was my gift to myself before a year of gene therapy and the mental letdowns that I knew I would undergo while subjecting myself to experimental treatments trying to find a cure for this “mission impossible”. I took all of the physical therapy and recovery programs and tripled them every week; the pain was expected. I was buying time and that does not come without a very steep price.

In typical Charsky fashion, I have not slowed down. I now run triathlons, marathons, bike long distance endurance events, race in ultra-endurance multi-sport events and I race regatta’s sailing along the Northeast of Florida. I have a large tattoo over the number five vertebrae that I fractured in my jump accident that covers 1/3 of my back. Of what and why, you may ask? A large sun and moon with the planets and two lighting bolts burning in brilliant, defiant orange, yellow and brilliant blue/purple is the what. The why is the colors which represent resistance, defiance and LiveSTRONG. The sun and moon is to remind me and everyone that sees it that each sunrise and moonrise is a gift and that we may not get many more.  These gifts are precious so make the most of every gift we get. The lighting bolts are to remind me that we all need help and there are always others that have the same strength within our blessed cancer alumni. There are three jagged edges on the bolts of lightning to remind me of what I thought were struggles when I was younger; conquering the sea, air and land. The toughest school in the military was nothing compared to staying positive in the face of cancer everyday and remaining strong while you hold someone’s hand and watch them LiveSTRONG for their last few days.

Cancer is a sentence; I chose life and love.
I am Eric Charsky
I am a Cancer Ranger