If You’re Going To Get A Cancer…
The following story suggestion was made by a fellow Paul’s Heart blog reader and fellow Hodgkin’s Disease Survivor. Thank you Cathy.
Imagine that you have been just told that you have cancer. The very first thought that came to my mind was, “I’m going to die.” That is all I knew about cancer. I would be subjected to horrible chemotherapy that would make me vomit, was painful, go bald, and would eventually cause me to lose so much weight that it would look like I was starving. No one survived.
Not even knowing what an oncologist-hematologist was, I was sitting in a waiting room of one. My name had been called, and I was escorted back to an office, not an exam room. This had never happened before. In walked Dr. G, who resembled Jeff Goldblum in The Fly. He walked around his desk and sat down. There was not even an introduction. He just went right into this speech:
“Hodgkin’s Disease is a cancer of the lymph system. It is very treatable either with radiation or chemotherapy. It has a cure rate of 85%. It is one of the more curable forms of cancer. In fact, if you were going to get cancer, this would be the cancer you would want to get.”
I do not know which was harder to comprehend, the fact that he was telling me that I had cancer, or that if I wanted to get cancer, I got the good one. I was twenty-two, healthy, somewhat physically fit, engaged, and happy. Cancer was for other people who were not… happy-ish with other things going for them. I had never even heard of Hodgkin’s Disease. But now I had to embrace it with the confidence of getting over a common cold.
I was still going to have to deal with the chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. I was going to puke. I was going to go bald. I was going to die. I did not want to die.
Three months later, following months of testing and biopsies, I began my treatments. It did not take long to confirm, that I did not want any cancer. Treatments were not easy though I put on the brave face for each one. It took four weeks for my hair to fall out, I puked in less than an hour from treatment, and I gained sixty pounds. But in the end, I did beat it. I was hopefully not only going to be one of the 85% to be cured of Hodgkin’s Disease, but perhaps help move the stat up to 86%.
I get it. From a survivorship standpoint, Hodgkin’s Disease is a very curable form of cancer when caught early enough. On March 10, I will recognize my 23rd year having beaten HD. I very rarely celebrate it just out of respect for those who still battle the disease, or worse, have lost their lives. It does not feel right for me to celebrate this. But as I come across so many other people who have beaten cancer, and look for something, hope, inspiration, perhaps celebrating at least the milestones, Because there are millions today now looking to find people who have beaten cancer. If you know someone who beat cancer but wants to know someone who has lived longer, send them to “Paul’s Heart”.
I feel that I want to finally celebrate my longevity now. With so many offering such nice compliments, support, and comments and suggestions, the cancer that I beat has given me an oppotunity to reach so many more. I am hoping in time, we will see even more progress made in other cancers such a lung, colon, breast, and leukemia just to name a few.
I would make a safe bet, that of my readers at Paul’s Heart and beyond, there would probably be a minimum 15 people, usually younger in age, who have Hodkgin’s and were told it was “the cancer to have.” But I think as we meet other survivors with similar cancers or different, the message is getting out. We are winning the battle against cancer. We are still far away, but we are getting there. Soon, another cancer may take the place as the one to have.
They didn’t say that back when I had it (1968) they just used statistics, 40% chance of 5 year survival. I am now one of the statistics that helped raise it up to the 85% it was when you had it, and you helped raise those statistics even more.
Ultimately, though, statistics don’t matter for the individual. They are only helpful for the researchers in finding the best treatment plans. As an individual, you either respond to treatment and survive, or you don’t. It really is that simple. Your survival, my survival, didn’t push anyone else on to the bad side of those statistics, and our survival is nothing to be guilty about.
I understand survival’s guilt, I went through it as a teen, but I was more outraged that the treatment I had back then, Cobalt, which was still somewhat experimental, and very expensive (we had no insurance) was only available to those who could afford it. I didn’t blame myself for surviving, I blamed the system for not offering better treatment to more people.