Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

If You Would Have Told Me

Each year, I write a chapter for a book called “Visible Ink,” published through Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.  The following is this year’s chapter, my 7th published effort with MSKCC.


If You Would Have Told Me

Paul Edelman


            Of all the side effects that were going to affect my life as a cancer survivor, the inability to have biological children of my own, was the hardest to accept.  If I refused treatment, in particular, the drug that could cause my sterility, I would risk achieving remission, or worse, die.

            If you would have told me, that in spite of choosing treatment, that my life would be blessed not once, but twice, by travelling around the world to bring into my life through adoption, two beautiful daughters…

If you would have told me, back as a 22-year old, just diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, that I would have someone standing in front of me, asking for my daughter’s hand in marriage, because I am a traditional father and my daughter deserves that respect, …

            If you would have told me, when I had completed treatments and was declared in remission, that I would be playing a role in planning my daughter’s wedding, …

            If you would have told me, nearly twenty years later, as I lay on a surgical table, about to undergo emergency heart surgery due to late developing damage from my cancer treatments, that I would be standing in the back of the church, just staring in awe at my daughter, beautiful and dressed in white, as she began the next stage of her life, …

            If you would have told me, five years after that, as I was being rolled out of my home, at 3am on an ambulance gurney, dying from a full blown case of septic pneumonia, another late developing result of my cancer history treatments, that I would be walking my child, my daughter, now a woman, down the aisle to someone else who was going to be entrusted with taking care of her, …

            If you had told me that after everything else that I had experienced due to late effects of my cancer treatments, that I would have no choice, when asked, “who gives this woman to be married?”, my daughter would be counting on me to answer, “her mother and I do.”  At that moment, you would think that going through cancer and all of my other experiences would have been the hardest thing I have done.  Wrong!  I did not want to let go.  Reluctantly, but not begrudgingly, I responded “her mother and I do.”

            If you had told me that as the decades of my survivorship passed, that I would be able to dance the special father/daughter dance, I would tell you, time is not kind to the mind of a cancer survivor wondering, “how much longer will it last?”  Yet here I am, a microphone in my hand, dancing with my daughter to a song that I not only picked out for her, but will sing to her, a lullaby that comforted her to sleep as I rocked her and sang to her, “Turn Around”.

            If you would have told me, that I would be holding my first grandchild, me undecided about what I wanted to be called, “pop-pop”, “grandpa”, “poppy” or even a name my grandchild would just give me, I would have to tell you, that a long time ago, as I was introduced to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center Survivorship Clinic, that is exactly what they told me would happen, that I would see this day.

            There is only one catch, none of this has not happened yet.    

            I do not know when this day will actually happen.  I have two daughters and I cannot wait to go through this twice.  I am only more than willing to do so.  My daughters are in their teenage years, still in school.  I know this emotional time for me will rapidly approach.  But on the calendar, I have plenty of time.  One thing is certain, I know that they want as much of a future with me, as I do with them.

            If you would have told me, when I was diagnosed thirty years ago with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma that I would even have a future, let alone, two of the most important people in my life, my daughters, and survive long enough, to see them get married, and have children of their own, I would have said “I will see those days.”  I have the right people behind me; doctors, nurses, my mother, my closest friends, and of course, my daughters.  With support like that, there is no doubt.

            I will have that chance, to sing “Turn Around” to my daughters one more time, but also as I rock their children in my arms, sing “turn around, and you’re two, turn around and you’re four.  Turn around and you’re a young child, going out of the door.”  And I will tell you, “I told you so.”

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