Today I recognize yet another anniversary of the day I finished my chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, now 32 years ago. Among my circle of fellow survivors, many of us recognize this date, while others choose to go with the date that they were diagnosed. Going with the diagnosis date as the anniversary date, is supported by a popular concept recognized by many organizations, that just being diagnosed with cancer, makes you a survivor. For me, I use my last day of treatment. Technically, March 2nd was the last injection I received, but I still had one oral drug I was taking until March 3rd.
As I am still following precautions for Covid19, tonight is going to be just as it has been the last two years, just a quiet night, likely a lot of reflecting. As I have mentioned many times before, thirty-one times before in fact, this anniversary is bittersweet to me, because of all the other survivors not just that I have known, but also never had the chance to meet, who either did not survive their battle with Hodgkin’s, or lost their battle with their late developing side effects, similar to what I deal with.
While it is no small fete to continue to survive cancer, now into my fourth decade, the health issues from the treatments that were used to save my life, are a major struggle for me as they continue to add up. This is now the 3rd anniversary that has followed yet another major surgery. I have had three major surgeries in the last three years, two of those surgeries last year. Two of the surgeries involved my heart, the other, a carotid artery.
Looking back, over the decades, in spite of what I have gone through, I would not change my mind in the decision to accept the treatments that saved my life. The alternative was a certain death from one of the most curable forms of cancer.
May 20th, 1990, just over two months of completing chemo, I got married (for the first time). Seven years later, I began a career that not only fulfilled me, but would provide me with one of the most important benefits of my survivorship, health insurance I had otherwise been denied, just because I had cancer.
Another big anniversary, 2004, I became a father for the first time and welcomed my oldest daughter, Madison.
Two years later, 2006, Madison would become a big sister to Emmalie.
In 2008, my life after cancer would change in a dramatic way.
This photo has been used many times on my blog. This photo was taken when I came home following my first heart surgery, an emergency double bypass that would be attributed to damage from the radiation used to treat my Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. This would be a major turning point for me. Because in spite of being told at that time that I was going to die, at any time from a fatal heart attack, I could not have wanted to live more. And to that, I credit Madison and Emmalie with giving me every reason to want to live. The thing is, I had no idea, this situation was not something once and done.
I had finally heard the term “long term cancer survivor,” and it was used to describe cancer survivors who faced late developing side effects from their cancer treatments. Health surveillance of me would discover that I had additional damage to my cardiac system (specifically my heart), my lungs, my gastrointestinal system, my thyroid, my upper torso (neck and shoulders), my spine, and more. The damage from my treatments was finally progressing enough that it was getting noticed.
I was determined though. Like I said, my daughters gave me the will to want “tomorrow,” a lot of “tomorrows” in fact. And that will would be tested, again and again.
Between March of 2012 and February of 2013, I would make five trips to the emergency room, one via ambulance again facing a potentially fatal event, the others less critical but serious nonetheless. Each time, all I could think about, were my daughters.
2014 would bring other challenges, not cancer related, divorce from my second wife, mother of my daughters, and the loss of my career, due to the rapid declining of my health. My determination to see my daughters grow up, into adulthood, could not have been any stronger.
In 2019, I would have my second heart surgery, a remnant from my 2008 open heart surgery, that had been left unrepaired, in what turned out to be false hopes of correcting itself via the open heart surgery.
Of course, later in the year, Covid19 would strike. But as my doctor once told me, “I cannot stop or reverse what is happening,” and that meant I would be extra challenged in 2021, not once, but twice. I needed to have my left carotid repaired, and eight months later, my third heart surgery, both performed while not only trying to not get infected with Covid19, but under the strictest of protocols in the hospital.
I expect a few of the upcoming years to be uneventful, at least I hope, which will allow me to steamroll to other exciting things that will happen in my life; my daughters graduating high school, college, and hopefully marriage and grandchildren. These were things I did not expect to see when I was told that I had cancer, and definitely did not expect to see, following that first heart surgery. But now, I will do all I can, and expect everything of my body not to let me down, so that I can complete my life.
On a final note, and yet another reminder of why I do not necessarily celebrate this day, I have a fellow survivor, going through open heart surgery today, again, another survivor of the treatments that cured her of her Hodgkin’s. But she is an even stronger fighter, in that she has beaten cancer multiple times. Gail, you are in my thoughts, and I will be looking for the updates on your recovery.
As I always do on this post, I will close with my annual expression, “as I continue down the road of remission, I will keep looking in my rear view mirror to make sure you are still following me. And if you are not on that highway yet, hurry up. It’s a great ride.”