The opening song in one of the greatest musicals, Rent, is called “Seasons Of Love.” I am paraphrasing, but the song asks “how do you measure a year? In daylights, midnights, sunsets, coffees, inches…” It is a beautiful song.
I have titled this post “12,088,800” with special accounting in mind. March 3rd is the 23rd anniversary of completing my chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s Disease. 23 Years – 12,088,800 minutes. Compared to the 10,400 minutes that I was given the chemotherapy, or the 30,600 minutes from the beginning of my Hodgkin’s Journey to the completion, 12.1 million minutes is a long time.
12 million not big enough number? 14 million. There are over 14 million survivors of cancer.
I am often accused of under-appreciating what I have gone through from my first counselor to the long term caregivers I see today. I was treated with four times the lifetime maximum exposure to ionized radiation. I was injected with a chemical that Sadaam Hussein used to gas his own people with. I was battling a disease that has killed over 600,000 Americans a year, over 1500 per month. Chances are, this paragraph has your attention. It should have mine, and it does to a degree, but not what it should.
March 3rd, 1990, I completed 30 treatments of radiation to the upper half of my body, and 8 cycles (fancy term in my case, for months) of a chemotherapy regimen referred to as MOPP-ABV. I had five surgical scars to show the lengths travelled for my diagnosis and staging. Statistics of survival were only referred to with a five year mark. Up until March 3rd, 1995, I had never heard of anyone surviving cancer, let alone more than a year.
Fast forward twenty-three years, as I enjoy destroying odds and statistics, I once again have the world by the tails. I officially have my longest monogamous relationship with the mother of the two most beautiful girls. I have a nice house and a great job that I not only enjoy, but take great pride that it is a career that allows me to “pay back” the industry that has saved my life on numerous occasions. My daughters are now old enough and curious about my “cancer” history. I am mindful of the time when I was a child, and the only thing I knew about cancer was “people died.” They are reminded with each conversation that people can survive cancer. As if this were not enough, brief as it is, I am continuing a local political journey for our local school board that began three years ago. There is so much for me to be proud of, appreciate, and celebrate.
But yet, on this date, March 3rd, I afford myself only the opportunity to recognize the importance of this anniversary. I cannot celebrate it, which most people cannot understand. Wife, kids, career, surviving cancer for decades, I have every reason in the world to celebrate. But I do not, I cannot. My survivorship comes with an extremely burdensome feeling, guilt. Survivor’s guilt. I live, while others have not. I am in remission for decades, yet many deal with their third, fourth, fifth recurrence. Hundreds of patients and survivors have come into my life. Regardless the distance, I held each of their hands emotionally at the least, to offer comfort, confidence, solace. But I have also shed so many tears, some of joy, too many of pain.
This is a great day, make no mistake. I recognize the importance, the value of my survival. In twenty three years, just two decades, I have personally witnessed the great things that have come in the progress of safer and more accurate diagnostics, safer and more effective treatments. Because of research from institutions such as Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Hospital, the University Of Pennsylvania, and so many other institutions who have made cancer research a top priority, and without the support of organizations such as the Relay For Life, Livestrong, StandUp2Cancer, and so many more, that progress would not be possible.
Here’s to another year. Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, for those that took the journey of cancer before me, with me, and after me, I truly mean that.
“As I continue down the road of remission, I will keep looking in my rear view mirror to make sure that you are still following me. And if you are not on that road just yet, you’ll catch up to me.”