Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Archive for the day “October 4, 2018”

I Am Glad I Did, Or Glad I Did Not


This year marked my 35th year high school graduation.  To be honest, I never thought I would be around to say that.  To be honest, I never thought I would see it.  Sadly, I will not be able to attend the reunion for several reasons, but not because of what you are about to read.

As I said, I am not travelling back home for the reunion of my graduating class, but that has not stopped me from reading and participating in the chatter as my former classmates prepare for what will be a memorable and fun gathering, and for those fortunate enough, a great weekend.

A classmate who admittedly though I recall, yet never knew, provided me with something I often need here, to get me to write when I have writer’s block, a prompt.  And she has prompted quite a few entertaining conversations.  But this one really struck me.  She wrote about an event in her life, that could have ended very tragically, had she not done things differently.  She was also thankful for those who had chosen their paths, because they made a difference in saving her life.  So with that, here is my post.

I am glad I…

went for six second opinions when I was told I had cancer, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  Talk about major denial.  I was convinced I had a sports injury and only until I saw that 7th doctor, was I convinced that I needed to deal with cancer, head on.  Why was I glad?  Because up until that moment, I was a healthy twenty-two year old, who refused to accept and believe what I was faced with.  I would have died.

I am glad I did not…

go through with more radiation treatments.  As far back as the mid 90’s, very little was known by medicine as to the true damage done by radiation therapy, or should I say, the extreme amount of radiation therapy patients were exposed to.  Even today, it is not taken completely seriously by everyone except for those who work in radiation-related fields, or long term survivors like myself.

Originally I was treated with 4000 grays of ionized radiation, followed by chemo therapy.  By the 4th cycle, I was pronounced in remission, but necessary to go through with the full 6 cycles.  After, I was to choose between an extra 2 cycles of chemo, or another round of radiation as preventative therapy.  I figured that as I was already going through chemo, what the hell was 2 more months of it?  Little did I know what would happen to me, or rather, not happen to me because of that decision.

I am glad I…

reached out to my primary doctor in April of 2008 about a nagging “chest tightness” that  I had been experiencing four months already.  And I am really glad she made the decision and call herself, to order a nuclear stress test, not something done on a health 42 year old.  Had she left it up to me to make the appointment, instead of being seen just days later, I probably would have been scheduled weeks later.  And I most likely would be dead.

I am glad I did not…

walk out of the cardiologist office, never to return.  He had given me news that I was not prepared for, and honestly, made as much sense as telling me I had cancer.  It could not be.  Having that appointment scheduled as soon as it was, got me put on a table to undergo emergency life saving open heart surgery for a “widow maker” bypass.  And the name is not a joke.  You die when you have this type of blockage.  As my cardiologist told me, I am the “luckiest man alive to have prevented his fatal heart attack from happening, not if, but when.” (see my page “CABG – Not Just A Green Leafy Vegetable.”

It was discovered that the radiation therapy that I was exposed to, was the cause of this damage to the main artery, blocking it 90%.  As I mentioned earlier, I opted for more chemo instead of radiation.  If you mention the amount of radiation I was exposed to, like many of my fellow survivors, to radiation techs, nuclear power plant operators, or anyone with knowledge, they will tell you this amount of exposure is horrific.  And yet, I know people who were exposed to more, even double what I was exposed to.  I can only imagine what I would be dealing with had I opted for more radiation as my health issues from both my chemo and radiation treatments are bad enough.

I am glad I…

reached out for support, not just from doctors who at the time did not know about us long term survivors and all the complications we face, but from other survivors.  It is these other survivors, who steered myself, and others to get the help we need.  It was this support that took me to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center where I met the doctor that would make a promise to me, to help me manage (these issues cannot be reversed) all the complications that I faced today.  Today, the things I have learned have been passed on to my doctor who now has more knowledge to help me survive hopefully for decades to come.

I am glad I did not…

walk away from what I faced, 30 years ago next month.  Not only is it my 35th year graduating from high school, but I am approaching 30 years since my diagnosis.

I am glad I…

made the decisions that I did during my life as a cancer survivor.  It has made me the fighter that I am today.  I had to.  I faced three more life threatening events related to my treatments since my cancer days, emotionally and physically, my decisions, intuition, and determination I believe is why I am still here today.  The hard part for me though, is even as I can express my appreciation for surviving this long, my heart aches for everyone that I have met throughout my life, fellow cancer patients and survivors who have not been as fortunate.  It is a guilt that I carry every day.  Why them?  Why not me?  What was so different?  Why could not they be given the chance I was?

Ultimately though, and thank you to my high school classmate,

I am glad I…

got this chance…

 

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