Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Archive for the month “November, 2018”

She Did Not Ask For This


***Before I begin this post, I want to apologize, unfortunately some changes have occurred by WordPress that is resulting in pop-ups and ads.  I have no control over this and I do hope that it does not prevent you from following this blog.

Thirty years ago, I was six months away from my wedding.  Thirty years ago, I finally had my world spinning the way that I had wanted.  A good job.  Someone I was planning on spending the rest of my life with.  Life was good.  That all changed with that doctor appointment.  After several denials, I was finally going to have to come to reality and accept that I had also just been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  This was going to be my future, and I needed to deal with it head on.

And that began with telling the most important person in my life, my fiance.  Up to that point, neither of us had even dreamed that this would have been a possibility.  Emotionally, I was drained from my conversation with my employer just an hour before.  Perhaps that was a good thing.  I might be able to better hold myself together as I tried to explain to her, well… I was not sure what to explain to her because at this point, all I knew was, I had cancer.  There was no Google back then, no convenient way to research what the Hell Hodgkin’s even was.  To be honest, if you knew details about a cancer, like lung, breast, or colon, it is because those were so deadly, and unfortunately, more common.

Not knowing where to start, we both sat down on the sofa in her living room.  I just blurted it out.

Me:  It’s Hodgkin’s.

Immediately she began to cry.  We both assumed what cancer meant.  She had previously experienced a boyfriend dying, and I could see it in her, that she was not thinking she was going to experience it again.

I “threw myself on the sword” and told her:

Me:  I am going to get through this.  But I have to be fair to you, you did not ask for this.  You did not ask to be dealing with this again.  I know what you went through before.  I want to beat this, but I might not.  And to be honest, our lives will never be the same.  Any dreams you had on how the wedding would go, or how our lives would be, I don’t think we will experience that.  I will understand, if you want out.  We will part as friends.  I will hold nothing against you if you choose to leave because I understand what you have gone through and do not want you to go through that again.

We sat on the couch in silence another ten minutes at least, her crying in my arms.  We never said a word during that time.  There was nothing more I could say.  I had nothing else to offer her, not facts, not even a prognosis.  All I had left to discuss  when the time came, was what I had to do next.

She finally lifted her head and looked right at me, her face now drowned in tears.

Fiance:  I can’t leave you.  We will get through this together and deal with everything else as it comes up.

Me:  What about the wedding?

Fiance:  We will deal with that as we find out more about what is going to happen with you.  What has to be done next?

Me:  I need to call my grandmother to find out who was her oncologist.  Clearly, he saved her life from breast cancer.  He will save mine.

I left my fiance’s home a short while later, after we broke the news to her family.  Again, you have to remember this fact, there were no cell phones back then, so I had to either call my grandmother from home, or go to visit her.

My grandmother was the only cancer survivor I knew.  She was done with her breast cancer two years prior and as far as I was concerned, her oncologist could do the same for me.  Her spirit through that fight was unbreakable.  In fact, as I talked to her, we spent very little time.  She got right to it.  She gave me his name, and phone number.  She then told me to call him first thing in the morning.  Which I did.

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The 30 Year Detour


In retrospect, over thirty years, and over recent days as I reflect on the 30th Anniversary of my Hodgkin’s Lymphoma diagnosis, I may just have figured out what so many, myself included, what makes me tick.

Upon leaving the doctor’s office following his interpretation and opinion of the pathology report, that I do in fact have cancer, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, my personality had already undergone a change in how I not only handled this situation, but how I would handle everything else that would occur in my life.  The average person when faced with diversity, often ends up engulfed in emotions which may or may not complicate what lies ahead.  But when I left the doctor’s office, I had a plan:  talk to my fiance, contact my grandmother, get to an oncologist.  Getting through this was not a choice.  I knew what I had to do.  And I believed I could.

As I drove to my fiance’s house, I drove by my employer.  I saw lights on yet in the office area, and knew that the owner was still in the building.  Impulsively, I pulled into the parking lot and walked to the rear of the building which I knew would still be unlocked.  I walked through the darkened hallway to the office area.

Jeff was still in his office as he was known to work late.  He took over the business for his family and was completely dedicated to their efforts.  He had his own family, but his priority was the company.  When his day was done, he would go home to his wife and children where I am certain he was a loving family man.  At work, he was a bit more mysterious.  I did not really know him to have a frequent sense of humor, mostly all business.  He trusted his employees to do their jobs, and do them well.  He would see to it that we were taken care of.

I stood at the doorway to his office, soaking wet from the brief walk in the rain from my car to the building.  He was not startled by my presence.  He looked up from the pile of paperwork he was looking through…

Jeff:  Is everything alright?

Normally there would be other questions why an employee would be present well after hours, but instead, my appearance besides the physical presentation, had him concerned.  And for the first time, I saw that side of Jeff.

I broke down several times as I explained to my boss everything that I had gone through, and now faced.  I explained everything that was ahead of me.  I told him I did not want to die.

While Jeff was not a stranger to me, still, he was not supposed to be the one that I shared this with first.

I continued on and then Jeff interrupted me as I took a drink of some water.

Jeff:  I want you to know, anything that we can do for you, we will take care of you.  I don’t want you to worry about your job, money, anything.  Just concentrate on what you need to do to get better.

And then something else clicked in my head, another new defense mechanism, which now I fully understand me.  Not sure why, and I am sure that is for a totally different blog, but for the purposes of “Paul’s Heart”, I now had something else driving me.  I needed to get better because I felt needed, valuable, a purpose.

Me:  Jeff, I want you to know, I am going to do as much as I can to miss as little work as possible.  I am not sure how long this is going to take, but I am not going to be a freeloader.  I want you to know you can still count on me just as you always have.  My cancer is not going to change that.

The best way to describe that, would be to say I felt immediate wind against my sails, giving me a stronger sense of what I needed, and planned to do.

We talked for a few minutes more, and then we both walked out together.  He would go home to his family.  I would drive to my fiance’s house.  Almost as if I had just gone through a rehearsal of what I was going to say, I had gotten through all my emotions with Jeff.  I would be better under control with my fiance when I talked to her.  I would be much more believable that I was going to be okay, face to face.

 

It Was Official… 30 Years Ago Today


30 years ago, I was diagnosed with cancer, Hodgkin’s Disease… now called Hodgkin’s Lympoma.  I guess they wanted the cancer to sound less scary.  For the last several posts, I told about the thought processes and denials I went through, as not one, but more than a half dozen medical professionals tried to convince me otherwise, that a healthy 22-year old with everything going for him, had his entire life turned upside down.

I had a doctor appointment on the Monday evening after Thanksgiving, following my work day.  I was returning back to the doctor that my friend Stephen sent me to.  Again, not sure as to why I had not returned to my own doctor at this point.  Just as the evening when I went to the hematologist, the weather was typical northeast nasty rainy and damp.

There was no handshake when the doctor came, no idle chit chat.

Doctor:  The results from pathology confirm what we suspected.  You have Hodgkin’s Disease.

I heard the words, and I could not deny them.  And it was from that moment, that not only my life would change, but how I handle adversity.  My emotions were now turned off.  I should have been upset, freaking out.  But I was calm, focused on every word the doctor was saying.  I guess if there was one improvement of my life, it is the way that I handle crisis when faced, because I face each and every one the same way.

The doctor explained to me that I was going to need an oncologist/hematologist.  He understood that my reaction to the last one that he sent me to, would make it impossible for me to return.  I do want to make a side note here… I did see this doctor again later on in life, in passing of a hallway in the hospital during one of my later stays twenty years later.  He knew right away who I was.  More importantly, I got the opportunity to apologize for my boorish behavior.

At least I knew in advance, that when I made the decision what doctor I would be seeing, I knew what an oncologist and hematologist were, cancer doctors.  Three decades ago, as long a time ago as it is short, there were hardly any success stories when it came to cancer.  But I did have one that I could look to.

Two years earlier, my grandmother had beaten breast cancer.  She was still with us, so clearly, he could save my life.  It was a no-brainer, I will see her oncologist and he will save my life.  I told the doctor that I would make that appointment as soon I spoke with my grandmother to find out what his name was.  And I did apologize to this doctor as well for my stubbornness, that I knew he meant well.  The doctor told me he understood how I must have felt at the “sucker punch” that I received.

Once I got to my car, started the ignition, turned on the windshield wipers and headlights, I went to grab the gear shift to put the car in drive, and my hand just dropped to the floor of the console.  My body was overcome by a numbness.  Just moments ago however, I was calm and collected.  But now it was hitting me.  I had cancer.

I must have been sitting idling in my car close to a half an hour when I finally came back around.  Finally getting my composure together, I started to think of what I needed to do next.  Call my grandmother for the name of her oncologist.  Shit!  I have to tell my fiance.  We were supposed to get married in six months.  Somehow, as I could feel another rush of emotions about to come out, I pushed them back and continued to think how I needed to approach everyone, but I also had another issue I had to think about, my employment.  I cannot explain how I rationalized it, but as I put the car in drive, and began the drive back to my apartment, I drove by my place of employment.  Lights were still on in the office area of the store.  I pulled into the parking lot.  May as well take care of this while I am here.  Little did I know, the emotional need this detour to telling my loved ones would meet and help me prepare.

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