I woke up this morning, logged on to my computer, and the “counter” on “Paul’s Heart” was the first thing that I saw. And as my counter is programmed, counting down days and months, it does not get any simpler than on this date, years to go. I am just two years away from the milestone of 30 years, cancer free. The math, 30 – 2 = 28. Today, I received my final chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, 28 years ago.
Early on in my survival, I often looked at my survival very casually, like no big deal. It was just something I knew would happen. But as I got in to the second decade of my survival, things became difficult. And during my third decade, well, just go through my archives, and you can see the many struggles I have faced over the years.
And I do appreciate the positive thoughts and congratulations, I really do. However, it is the same for me every year. As I realized I made it another year, I know so many who are struggling right now with their Hodgkin’s or the late side effects from their treatments. Worse, I remember all of those who have passed away, their bodies no longer able to tolerate the accumulative issues.
I am quickly becoming one of the “old timers” in the circle of survivors, those who have been out of treatment for decades. I am also becoming one of the longer survivors as sadly, many have passed away. Last year was an especially tough year for me emotionally.
There have been many changes in my life over the decades. My doctors had begged me for years, to finally give my body a chance. While they said they could not cure me of the developing health issues from radiation and chemotherapies, they did assure me they could slow the process down. The goal was put into its most meaningful to me, “to see my daughters graduate, get married, and to be a grandfather.”
From the years 2008 through 2012, I did the exact opposite of slowing down. With my personality, I wanted to prove following my open heart surgery (from radiation damage), I was going to be the exception. Instead, I tried pushing myself harder and harder and all that resulted was multiple trips to the emergency room. I was going in the opposite direction of what my doctors wanted.
I made the changes I needed to finally. And now I believe I have the chance to see all those things in my life happen. My youngest daughter is at the age now, where she realizes just what I have gone through in my life, even though my experience was decades before she was born. Both of my daughters understand the many health issues that I deal with, and lay ahead. As my youngest puts it, “Daddy, you are one of the strongest people I know.”
One thing that has not changed, I remain the advocate I swore myself to be 28 years ago. I remain active in the cancer community via group and individual support. I continue to meet patients and other survivors, offering encouragement and support. While treatments and survival have improved, it is still no easy task to deal with, and we all have our own unique ways of dealing with them.
So, as I usually do today, I recognize 28 years of survival. I do not celebrate it. I have met hundreds of other patients ad survivors in person, and have “met” thousands over various internet support groups. I remember those who have passed away. I think about all of those who are either going through treatment or dealing with late developing side effects. But this year, also in the front of my mind, are two friends in particular, one just newly diagnosed, and another having recently dealt with a major side effect less than two months before she gets married. The following is just a small collage of all the people who came into my life (with the exception of my dad) who have faced their own battle with cancer, since March 3, 1990, and knew or know, that I will always be there for them.