Many of my students have heard me say “This is something I get to do”. There is a reason why I say it. November 2023, my family and I will be celebrating my 5 year mark of being cancer free. It is an exciting time for my family!
I’m writing this to share some thoughts and perspective from someone that has been “thru it”.
Cancer is and will be different with each person and how they react to it. This is some of what I saw and remember.
March 2018, I diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Large B-Cell Lymphoma of the Bone (my hip). I went thru chemo, radiation, 3 hospital stays, ambulance ride, numerous tests, many needles/wires shoved in me, access port placed, and enough scans for 20 people.
I have run into so many people that have had, know somebody or going thru cancer themselves. My first year, at least 5 people I knew past away from cancer. I would see my doctor in tears and tell her I’m next. I was not good.
Cancer did take its toll on me, and anybody that helped me. Along with the physical and emotional toll, there was the financial ramifications. We had a good insurance, which covered most. But I lost most of my income as a graphic artist. My wife, kids lost work time. We took a huge hit as a family. But we got thru it somehow.
I was so blessed that my wife (Cathy), kids, neighbors took care of everything. They held together. I was not allowed to do much, other than sit, eat or sleep (kinda like our dog). I was not driving (not with the meds I was on). I describe a lot of the time in the beginning as “just a cork floating in the water”. Just being told what to do and when to take your next meds. I went from “doing” to “doing nothing”. That was hard to accept.
Cathy came up with the saying for this time “It’s Just a Bump in the Road” we will get thru this together. If it was not for her telling me to get the leg checked in the beginning, taking me to all the appointments, keeping track of the meds, what I ate, when I slept, she would “sorta sleep” she was always watching over. ….. If it was not for her, I believe I would not be writing this today. So when I say “This is something I get to do”, it’s because of her.
After awhile I looked at the situation and went with “what can I do” instead of “what I can’t do”
The place I went to and took advantage of, was my art. It was the only thing I had any semblance of control. Drawing took my mind to a safe place. I had peace, it was (and still is) a good place to park my mind. I think I did some of my best work then.
It took some time to convince Cathy and my doctor to let me do art shows that year. I probably made up some story that I was fine to convince them. The shows were hard, it was hot, I did not feel good. I had a lot of help, family came in, my kids, my neighbor, who still helps me yet. Cathy was beside me all the time, she would finish my sentence when I would forget who I was talking to.
I had a horrible time remembering things. The term “chemo brain” is a hard truth to deal with and accept. When I realized and told what was happening, that was crushing, I lost it on that one. When I did remember something that had to be done, I would leave notes to myself. I still do it.
There was so much that happened that I remember now, from those first couple of years, it still brings me to tears. (Cathy remembers everything).
- When I saw the oncologist downtown and gave me crutches to use. It was kinda funny to see me learning how to use them.
- The long train ride home from that visit downtown being told it’s cancer, seeing Cathy and my son with completely blank looks on their face.
- I cried a lot
- My doctor, Dr. Foster was absolutely perfect for me and my family. After my first chemo treatment, I was home, and all of a sudden, I went down (internal bleeding). Cathy called her, I was brought in by ambulance and she was there waiting for me!
- My son fixing the toilet, I had no idea he knew how.
- Both of my daughters took a leave of absence from work to help me and Cathy out.
- My neighbor having lunch with me, just to talk, he even sat in for a chemo treatment.
There is so much more….
I learned that if I was left alone for long my mind went to “a dark place”
SUGGESTION….if you know somebody with cancer, please talk to them about anything. It is good.
After my treatments, it was another year before my forgetfulness eased. I was left with some permanent damage to the leg, needing to take meds for the rest of my life. This is the new norm.
I consider myself very, very blessed to be where I’m at today. Cathy and I talk about this often …. how many commercials you see on television touting the next drug you should be on? Every ache, pain, soreness, your mind goes back to “what if” Once you have cancer, you will be constantly reminded of it. That is a reality that will not go away. The last few years has been filled with scans, blood tests, doctor visits every 3-6 months and waiting to get to today, the 5 years mark. It is a milestone that my chances of reoccurrence has diminished greatly. It is a sign (a reason) to me that I have a lot to look forward to.
I had the honor to be the guest speaker at the 2019 Cancer Celebration, Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital. As I looked at my family, doctors and cancer survivors I said something to the sort… just because we don’t like what happened “there is a reason for everything”.
I hope that someone, somewhere will get encouragement from this.
Giving you this short story is one of my reasons.
“This is something I get to do”
5 years and counting.
Dr. Foster and myself at the 2019 Northwestern Cancer Celebration, Lake Forest