Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Eyes On The Prize – 30 Years Later

Today marks the 5th anniversary that my father passed away from complications of lung cancer.  It also marks the 30th anniversary of what would have been my first marriage, occurring just after the completion of my treatment for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  Two days that will always stand out in my mind.

This is the only photo to my knowledge that exists of my grandmother and I together, who also happened to be the first cancer survivor I would personally know.  Took place 30 years ago on this date, a date I honestly thought I might never have seen.  And yes, I would like to be able to say this might have been a prom photo instead, and though I was quite young in the photo, this was the tux I wore for the wedding.

Diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in November of 1988, just over six months before I was to get married, I fought against anyone and anything that was going to change our plans.  The stern warnings from the doctors that “timing is everything with Hodgkin’s” and “chemo is the better option,” I called the shots.  I was going to be the only one who determined that I got through this in time.  This was not just for me, but for my fiance.

I went through months of testing and diagnosing, including a major diagnostic surgery that laid me out for a month of recovery.  I went through six weeks of intense radiation therapy, my upper body fried to a crisp.  But I got to that goal, I was done with everything, in time to recover for this day.  We were busy making arrangements, and due to the skin issues I was dealing with from the radiation, we had to make alternative honeymoon arrangements.

As far as the doctors were concerned, well, at least I was, I was good to go.  See you in June after the honeymoon.  I do not have many memories of that day, not because I do not want to remember, but a complication of the lingering effects of chemotherapy, often referred to as “chemo brain,” but that is another post.  But from what I can remember, it was a fun, worry free party.  Definitely no signs of cancer in my body, or at the wedding.

But as I mentioned in one of my earlier posts in this chain, and other posts, not just during the cancer journey, but during relationships, especially marriages, communication is the most important tool two people need to have.

Flashing back to when I informed my fiance that I had cancer, I told her, “I have no idea how this is going to turn out.  There is the chance I might not even make it.  Certainly, this will not be the fairy tale plan you may have had as a little girl.”

My grandmother was a key role model in my younger years.  She taught me many things, most importantly to care for others before myself.  I would always be strong enough to take care of myself, but others might need help, and I should do what I can to help.  Empathy would become one of my main characteristics, something that I have always made a priority with my daughters.  It is who I was then, and who I am now.

There were two problems that were developing though almost immediately following the wedding, that we did not see coming.  I mentioned communication.  My fiance and I had spent so much time, me juggling my doctor and treatment appointments, the arrangements that she had taken on for the wedding, and of course, we both worked full time.  You can see something had been left out.  We were not leaving time for each other to talk to each other.  And I am not just talking about the upcoming nuptials either.

We really had no opportunity to speak of what our ideas were for our marriage, home, children.  But then there was also the emotions that I would face with the fear of recurrence, survivorship guilt, but something else.

Prior to my diagnosis, I was living a good life, a happy life, enjoying each day, often as a party.  My fiance and I had everything going for us, and that meant that left little time for anything or anyone else.

So, upon the completion of my radiation treatments, my fiance told me, “now we can just put this behind us and get on with our lives.”  Sounded like a simple plan.  But with things finally settling down, reality set in, with a strong reminder.  That was not who I was, and still am.

I was grateful for all who played a role in my beating Hodgkin’s and clearly there was no way that I would be able to repay any of them in any form.  The only way I felt I could show my appreciation was to do so by “paying forward,” in other words, doing what I had always done, help others.

I am getting ahead of myself.  I was not at this point yet.  The point is, I never spoke of these feelings with my fiance, my wife.  We never had the conversations about me not being able to just “let go” of my cancer.  That is not to say that every day of my life is dominated by cancer.  Far from the contrary.

While May 20th, 1989 was indeed a happy day, we were not prepared going into that day, for what was going to be ahead for us.  And that was because of the lack of communication.  We had emotions that were not discussed or revealed, just pushed aside.  And they would have to be dealt with eventually, they always do.

Not really a spoiler alert, as you know, the anniversary clock on this page to my 30 years clear still has a ways to go.  So, up next, the honeymoon, no details there, but a follow up with my oncologist once I got back that would change everything.

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