Yesterday afternoon, I gave a cancer survivor speech I titled “The Beauty Of Surviving Cancer” for a special Garden Party filled with cancer survivors. The speech is actually a continuation of the speech that I gave a few weeks ago. You can find that transcript on March 10 in the archives under the title “Defeating Cancer As A Team.”
Below is the transcript of my speech “The Beauty Of Surviving Cancer.”
“I could not think of a better place to be celebrating the beauty of cancer survivorship than here, at this event at Moorings Park. That’s right, I said, the beauty of cancer survivorship.
From the moment we hear the words, “you have cancer,” it is all we can think about. “I want to survive.” And we trust everyone involved with our care, to make sure that it happens. A beautiful sentence, “I want to survive.” The ultimate fist-shaking of defiance at something so ugly.
The time from diagnosis to treatment, to hearing the beautiful words, “you are in remission,” seem to take forever. But nothing is more beautiful than remission being forever.
I am still young to be thinking about forever. But I have been in remission of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma for over 25 years. And that, is a beautiful thing.
I got the phone call while sitting at my desk at work. It was kind of ironic because although I had hoped to share the news that I was anticipating with my family, it was my employer who first heard that I was diagnosed with cancer, and he would be the first to find out, that I was in remission. I recognized the telephone number in the caller ID as my oncologist. And although I was expecting the call, and was quite excited to get great news, I actually froze at first, thinking about the what-ifs. And then I answered the phone, and I heard, “you are in remission Paul.” Beautiful. Again I found myself in a frozen state with my left arm whose hand was holding phone, slowly falling from my ear. I did it. I should be doing backflips. This was great news. And then the wave of emotions crashed over me. I did do it. I beat cancer. It took everything I had, but I did it!
Just then, right on cue, my boss came out of his office, not that he was eavesdropping, but seeing the reaction on my face, he knew right then and there, the phone call that I got, and that it was good news. And I thanked him for being there from the beginning to the end of this process.
Since then, I have enjoyed nothing less than the beauty of surviving cancer.
I have the beauty of celebrating a new birthday every year. While my birth certificate states my birthday as being December 19, 196… in reality, I recognize my new birthday as March 3, 1990 which meant that I just turned 25 years old.
I want to tell you about the beauty of progress in the world of cancer. Yes, we still have a long way to go, but in just 25 years, which nearly everyone present has been alive in their lifetime, diagnostics, treatments, follow up care, and survival rates have improved. Think about all the people before us who witnessed the discovery of the lightbulb, the toaster, and a cure for polio, in our lifetime, you have been witness to progress in the battle against cancer. In just 25 years, most of the methods used to diagnose my Hodgkin’s Lymphoma are no longer used. In just 25 years, the toxic and horrific treatments I was subjected are no longer used. And twenty five years later, I am still here to see even newer progress being made. And that is beautiful.
The beauty of cancer survivorship is getting to experience so many things that at one time, cancer patients would have never had the opportunity to experience.
There has been the beauty of parenthood. I was told that I could never become a parent because the chemotherapy treatments that I had, left me unable to have biological children. But just as all good things come to those who wait, I became a father not once, but twice, to two beautiful little girls, that only half-way through my survivorship, I was able to adopt my daughters and become the father I had always wanted to be.
I had a wonderful fur friend for nearly fifteen years of my survivorship, a golden retriever named Pollo, or as many knew him, as the “happy Golden” because of a smile that never left his face, and his tail that would just not stop wagging.
I made it a point that I was finally going to make sure that life counted. If I wanted something, or wanted to do something, or go somewhere, I was going to make it happen. It may not have been easy, but neither was fighting cancer. But I did that. I have gotten travel to beautiful places, and I currently live in a place nicknamed “Paradise”, Naples.
Another beauty of survivorship is meeting other survivors. And over my last 25 years, I have met hundreds and hundreds of other survivors. But as the Relay Survivor Committee has stated, a cancer patient is a survivor from the moment they are diagnosed. And as I wrote this speech, I thought about that concept. Because to be a survivor of anything, I feel “surviving” implies that you took on a fight. And while the circumstances may be different from what we refer to as a “surviving” event such as a natural disaster or travel accident, surviving a deadly disease is not any different. From the moment it occurs, we want to survive.
I have two examples that have made me a believer in the committee’s statement. The first, is a young man, who proclaimed to his mother and I, even before his treatments were finished, “I am going to be a cancer survivor”. Second, when told of his terminal prognosis, the doctors asked my father if there was anything that they could do for him, my father responded, “I just want to be a survivor like my son”. He still wanted to fight. Though their circumstances did not end as we would typically describe being a survivor, Michael, and Dad, both of you were survivors clearly not only in my eyes, but in others as well.
Then finally, there is the beauty of being a part of the state of Florida’s largest Relay For Life. Over twenty-five years, I have participated in many Relays, as well as spoken at many more. And I must admit, there is both beauty and excitement to be a part of something so special. And over twenty-five years to see how far we have come, and to hear encouraging news of just how close we have come to finding even more cures for cancer, that, is the beauty of cancer survivorship.
I will wrap up with a quote that I use frequently through various support web sites that I am involved with:
“As I drive on the road of remission, I will keep looking in my rear view mirror to make sure that you are still following me. And if for some reason, you are not on that road yet, hurry up and get on that highway. It’s a great ride once you hit the road.”