July 2007 saw one of my twin sons and myself hiking for four days up to Machu Piccu, Peru (over 14,000 feet). At the time I thought this was probably the toughest thing I have done in my life. Then a month later I lost my appetite and decided to go get a physical. What next came next, no one was ready for. Cancer! My first thoughts were “there is no way I can have cancer”. I have never been sick. I had been a Division I college football player. I have twin sons who will be seniors in high school. I have a wife of 23 years. This is just a dream that I will wake up from. However, further tests confirmed that I was a person who had cancer, however I will never consider myself a cancer victim. To me, a victim is someone who doesn’t have choices. Me, I had choices. I had choices as to where I got treatment, as to how I responded to the cancer mentally as well as physically and how I responded to people who tried to treat me as a victim.
Sarcoma Cancer makes up 1% of all of the cancers out there. Sarcoma Cancer in the abdomen makes up 10% of that 1%. So lucky me, I fall into both categories. August 2007 I was diagnosed and in October I had the first of my two 15 pound tumors removed from my abdomen. Then seven months of chemo and then another surgery. In January 2009, surgeons not only removed another 15 pound tumor, they also confiscated my right kidney as well as about ten inches of my colon. As of now, I have been “clear” for the last ten months.
While I was going through my surgeries and chemotherapy, I noticed a few things. One of the main things was how people began treating me. They seemed to be walking on eggshells and “tiptoeing” around me. I realized that it was my job to re-train them on how to treat me. So, now I had a mission to accomplish. I realized that some things had to happen first. First, I had to accept that I had cancer. Second, laugh and joke about my cancer and move on with my life. Once I figured this out, then it became easier to “teach” people how to interact with me as if I was my same old self.
When people see you joking and carrying on with your life as normal, then they “loosen” up and begin to act like their old selves towards you. So now that I have figured that out, life was definitely simpler in one aspect. No matter how terrible I felt, I had to put on a carefree face and act as if nothing was wrong. There was no way I was going to let my sons see me suffer. Even through the vomiting and body transformation, my sons, family and friends would not see my attitude waver. MY GLASS WAS, AND IS, ALWAYS AT LEAST HALF FULL! So finally, after both surgeries and chemotherapy my scans were clear. It has been 10 months now and still clear scans.
Now it is time to switch “cancer” modes. What I found out is that helping out others is therapeutic and part of the healing process. Two friends of mine have been diagnosed with sarcoma cancer as well. My new phase of cancer patient is to help these two people (as well as anyone else) out with their process. It means the world to me to be able to walk them through their protocols as well as talk with them and make sure that their spirits stay high and they remain positive. When one of the friends (a 20 year old young lady) and I sat down for two hours prior to her reporting to MD Anderson, it meant the world to me. I was able to prepare her for what was in store for her. Starting with the CVC insertion to the actual chemotherapy timetable to things I had learned and experienced. Hopefully, these friendships have grown even closer and deeper.
Looking back on the entire process, several things stand out that helped me get through the entire process. First, accept your disease. Second, laugh and joke about your disease (it takes the edge off for others to interact with you). Third, move on with your life. Fourth, you have to re-train people to treat you like they had prior to you being diagnosed. Fifth, never show your pain, discomfort and frustration (I know this is so hard to do, but essential). Lastly, always find small victories in anything. For instance: shaving my head before the chemotherapy made it fall out, gave me control of that small portion of the process. Getting one less drug pumped into me on a certain day. Only getting sick three days instead of five days. Anything you can grasp onto for hope- DO IT. When it comes down to it, your mental preparation for your cancer “journey” has just as much to do with healing you as the drugs, surgeries and chemotherapies.