Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

A Relay Of Life

There is one thing that drives my doctors bat-crap crazy, is the schedule that I keep.  My friends and family enjoy it because it personally affects them without any regard for me, unless for some reason, I am not able to make it.  An entire weekend on four to five hours of sleep is not unheard of.  You see?  I am a guy who does not like to say “no” to people, and then, when I do say “yes”, I am a man of my word.  I will be there.

There has only been one exception in my life, when I had to have my open heart surgery.  I had a wedding that I was supposed to disc jockey for just three days later which clearly I was never going to make.  I actually recalled all of the bride’s information from my bed in the ICU.  With tubes down my throat assisting me breathing so verbally unable to communicate, I spelled out everything about my client to my wife, and she was able to help the bride locate another source of entertainment.  For the record, that story had two happy endings, my survival, and her wedding went off without a hitch and a new disc jockey.

But from that moment on, and learning that my lifestyle was going to go through a major change, recognizing myself as a long term cancer survivor clearly living with severe side effects, common sense should have told me that I need to slow down.  But instead, I found the opposite effect.  I developed a need to prove that I was even more reliable.  It was one thing to refer to myself as a cancer survivor.  It is another thing to be called a heart patient survivor.  Each thing by itself results in survivorship.  But together, it is called living, not just surviving.

A relay race is a competition with several legs in it, usually consisting of several runners, swimmers, or whatever they type of competition it may be.  In the case of my life, my relay has become about stages of life:  a battle with cancer, survival, issues with late effects, survival, and hope.  These things make up my relay of life.

Many years ago, the American Cancer Society developed a fundraising program called, The Relay For Life.  This Relay over the years has become one of the biggest fundraisers in the world of cancer, helping to raise millions of dollars toward research for new cures, support services, and other life needs of cancer patients and survivors.  This event typically runs for 24 hours consisting of teams who take turns, in relay fashion, walking a track (typically a school running track) during that 24 hours.  Throughout the event, there are vendors, and the teams themselves have “themes” for their teams, and may have miniature fundraisers at their location to help raise funds for their teams.

The other outstanding events of this evening are in honor of cancer patients and survivors, and in memory of loved ones lost.  Luminaries, lit candles inside of white paper bags light the entire track with the names written in tribute to those who are battling cancer, have battled cancer and won, and those who have lost their battle to cancer.  These two ceremonial laps are the most overwhelming, meaningful, memorable activities of the night, as everyone is reminded why they are participating, and the importance.

In preparation for the Relay For Life, many teams hold other fundraisers prior to the big event itself.  I have long since retired from disc jockeying, but I am known to dust off my equipment for those holding fundraisers to help with this event as it of course holds very special meaning to me.  Some may hold carwashes, colored bracelet sales, or “beef and beer” gatherings which are just a fancy way of saying “party”.  When it comes to most charities, I have always donated my time because to me, fundraisers are all about raising funds, not spending them.  And while some businesses may get “fundraised” out, at the worst, I will offer at least an extreme discount to absorb any cost I may have, but in general, most of my charity gigs are done as that, charity.

Of course, things have not changed since my heart surgery as far as issues that have arisen with my long term survival.  Physically, I no longer consider my body reliable as I have had so many issues come up, several without warning, that have incapacited me for a decent period of time.  But because I no longer physically push myself, over time, I have lost a major part of my physical strength, leaving me unable to lift my equipment anymore, without assistance anyway.    I have to laugh, when my doctors remark about how strong I am compared to other Hodgkin’s survivors.  And I can recognize that, except I am nowhere near as strong as I used to be.  Emotionally, I am slowly coming to the realization of what is important, what I can do, and what I cannot.

So I have cut back on requiring activities that expect me to push my limits of strength as fatigue just wipes me out.  Endurance is becoming an issue as I can no longer try to squeeze in 85 hours of activity into a 96 hour weekend, just so that I can keep everyone happy who have come to depend on me, and know me for getting everything done.  The last two times that I pushed myself like that, I ran myself so down, that I made myself susceptible to two bouts of serious cases of pneumonia.  You would think I would learn from that.

However, my altruistic personality being what it is, and my strong support of the Relay For Life, I did agree to disc jockey this fundraiser for a team that will be participating in our local Relay, just two days after undergoing some internal testing.  The day before the event, my body was telling me that it was tired.  And clearly, the next night would require a lot of me physically.  But instead of telling the organizer that as feared, I was not up to it, I sucked it up and did it anyway.  When I got home, as happens often, I just collapsed with fatigue.

And so my own personal relay continues, passing the baton from one event to the next.

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