Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Archive for the month “November, 2015”

Those Words – “You Have Cancer”


As I mentioned the other day, it was around the upcoming Thanksgiving holidays, nearly 27 years ago, I heard the words, “you have cancer.”  Actually, it did not go that smoothly.  Just three words are spoken in just over a second.  The moment that I was told that I had cancer, actually seemed like hours.

It began with something so simple as an itch, a really bad itch.  Enough to make me want to scratch-my-skin-raw itch.  Five doctors later, and six second opinions as to the mysterious lump on the left side of my neck, I was finally directed to an “oncologist”, or at least that was the title on the sign in the lawn of the front of the building.  I was seeing a doctor, and had never seen a specialist before in my life, so “oncologist” did not send up any flags to me.  I was dealing with either an infection or injury.

I was led directly to an office which was odd for someone who needed to be examined, but I went along with it.  And then into the office came Dr. G.


Yes, the pictures above described how I saw Dr. G from the moment he walked into his office, through the entire conversation that followed.  And this is exactly how the conversation began:

“Hodgkin’s Disease is a very curable cancer that is often found in young adults.”  So Dr. G went from the first square above, to the next square.  What they hell was he telling me this for?  And then his appearance began to morph through the next few pictured squares and uttered this comment (heard by nearly ALL Hodgkin’s patients), “in fact, if you are going to get a cancer, this is the one to get.”  Oh, hell, Dr. G just skipped all the way to the final square of the photo collage and became the fly.  The thing is, Dr. G actually did resemble Jeffrey Goldblum.

No handshake.  No stethoscope.  No physical exam.  Dr. G went from 0 to 100mph.  I do not even think he confirmed my name.  I am not exaggerating.  I know there was no handshake.  But this doctor had just diagnosed me with having a blood cancer.  I do not care how treatable it was, and most certainly was not wanting to get a cancer and somehow winning the lottery getting this type of cancer.

I would storm out of his office and never return.  His office tried several times to reach me over the next few days, urging that I return to follow through on biopsy plans.  I would eventually seek out a different oncologist, and yes, be diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease (that is what we called it before it was referred to as “lymphoma.”).

Wow, 27 years ago.  That is over half of my life.

Last year, just before my father passed away from lung cancer, my father was in the hospital.  Dr. G was still practicing oncology, and was in the clinic next to my father.

I apologized to Dr. G for my reaction and wanting to swat him with the world’s biggest flyswatter ( he was never told my analogy).  He said he was used to that kind of reaction.  He had told thousands of patients that they had cancer of some form or another.  No one ever told him, “hey, thanks for giving me that news.”  And though Dr. G’s bedside manner or tact in communicating the diagnosis had a lot to be desired, I am sure that I am not alone in how I reacted to him.  But I somehow get the feeling that I may be one of the few who actually apologized for the difficult job he had to do.

Happy Thanksgiving From “Paul’s Heart”


I would like to take the time right now to wish everyone a safe and Happy Thanksgiving.

I cannot recall a year when I have been asked so many times, “so, what are you doing for Thanksgiving?”.  But unlike years past, my response is not complicated at all.  I do not look at Thanksgiving other than a “get-together” holiday, yes, with family.  I do not look at it as the kick-off to the chaos of the earlier than ever Christmas shopping season.  But how I now celebrate has become a bit easier for me, and ironically, more appropriate.

When I was a child, Thanksgiving was all about surrounding the kitchen table, dining room table, and the special “kids” table.  There was lots of food, plenty of leftovers to make into some sort of soup, stew, sandwiches, or dumplings.  Once in my teens, football preceded this dinner, both “backyard” with friends, and professional football on the television.  But still, it was a simple holiday, which led to a long weekend off from school.

But as many things change from childhood to adulthood, so did the way I celebrated the holiday.  The inclusion of a wife meant actually splitting the holiday between two family dinners, which would eventually lead to negotiating holidays with each family because of the great travel distance between families.  Then, as the addition of children, meant even bigger celebrations, but this also brought with it a lot of stress, because now, in the role of adult and parents, taking turns among siblings at hosting the annual feast, brought about its own pressures.  In no time, it became apparent that they holiday was becoming more about “image”, and not being grateful.

This year is the first year that I am officially looking at the holiday for what it is, a time to be grateful for what I have.  Having had so many health challenges in my life, I am definitely grateful for the “nine lives” I apparently have, though have gone through 4 so far.  The past year or two has also been about dealing with losses of many varieties, but in the end, I still have my breath.

But when it comes to what Thanksgiving is becoming once again to me, it is about returning to an appreciation.  I do not have even 10% of the things I had two years ago.  I live a great distance from my children, and this will be the first time that I will not see my children during this holiday weekend.  And while that makes me sad, in reality, the pressure life I had been leading, meant that I rarely saw my children as it was, as I was always expected to work during holidays.  I would work, come home, gather everyone up, and we would be off to whichever house was hosting the dinner, and the girls would be off to play.  Then we would return home, the kids went to bed, and I went to work the next morning.  So it is not really a new concept of not being able to spend time with my children for Thanksgiving.

And that is how I am approaching this Thanksgiving, away from my daughters.  As I work on the plans to visit with them in the future, I will simply do as I have always done, just perhaps a short conversation with them, and then they will be off to bed.

But with my holiday involving much less pressure, I will spend the holiday with someone very close to me and their family, and I will acknowledge all that I am thankful for, and all that I am hoping for, especially in the coming year.

As the holiday season official begins, I hope you all have a wonderful and Happy Thanksgiving.


Diagnosis And The Holidays


Like millions of other people, the beginning of the holiday season, starting with Thanksgiving, is a difficult time of year.  And as the weeks continue, the season can be even more overwhelming.  I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma over 27 years ago.  Thanksgiving was a week later, and the last thing I felt like being, was thankful for anything.

Years later, during marriage #1, my father-out-law, also the weekend before Thanksgiving, is misdiagnosed with having Alzheimers, leading to a 3-year medical imprisonment until the accurate diagnosis is made, and he actually recovered.

And two years ago, someone very close to me, unknowingly spent the last Thanksgiving with her son.  Having just recovered from a complication from cancer treatment, things suddenly changed, and instead the last memory she now has of her son, was the decoration of a tree that she otherwise would not have purchased that early.

And besides those who faced trials and tragedies at the holiday onset, there are so many who are facing the holidays for the first time without their loved ones.

And I find myself once again, heading towards another “anniversary” that is a reminder of a period in my life that I would rather not be facing.

Each and everyone of us mentioned above, would give anything to have the precious moments back that we no longer get to experience other than the memories.  But that does not mean, that this post should be perceived as sad, or negative.  In fact, quite the contrary, and I honestly believe that everyone that I am thinking about as I write this, deep down is quite thankful.  We are thankful for the support of everyone who helps us through our difficult times.  We are thankful for everyone who encourages us.  We are thankful for those in our lives who have the patience to allow us to reflect on our losses, offer a shoulder, and then hold our hands to lead us forward.

Please have a safe and Happy Thanksgiving.


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