I am not being hyperbolic. To be clear, in April of 2008, I was dying. I was unaware that I had a heart condition, caused by radiation and chemoptherapies for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma back in 1988. Unbeknownst to medicine, if I were to live long enough after my treatments, it was likely my body would develop late side effects, some minor, and some major. My cardiologist called me “the luckiest guy on the planet,” for surviving a condition commonly fatal when medical intervention was not available quickly enough when that massive fatal heart attack, some refer to as a “widow maker” would strike, not if, but when.
My life would be rocked with another near fatal episode, taken out of my home in an ambulance at 3am. I was diagnosed with pneumonia, and I was septic. My body was reacting horribly to the infection from the pneumonia, caused by another one of those late effects from my treatments, and now, my body was fighting itself in an out-of-control and toxic path. Time was of the essence.
I would face several other surgeries and conditions, though not as imminent, but they were to the point that intervention was necessary, or, things could end up badly. In other words, the risk of corrective surgery was less than the event itself (a stroke or heart attack).
No one knows more than me, all too well, what it has meant to me, not just to be the father to two beautiful and intelligent young women, but to be able to watch them grow. It has been fourteen years since that first major heart surgery. I have literally thousands of memories over the years, that I got to have. I remember each and every one of them, when, and where they took place.
The life of a long term cancer survivor has not been easy for me, and to call it unpredictable is an understatement. There was no guarantee that I would live past five years, let alone 32 years. Yet, here I am.
I will never forget the words of the doctor who accepted me as his patient, even though I had never been seen in his network before. “I cannot stop the things that are happening to you. I cannot reverse the things that are happening to you. But we can slow them down. I want you to be able to watch your daughters grow, graduate, get married, and even give you grandchildren.” My daughters were five and three at the time. I just found out that I had escaped a near death experience with my heart, and this doctor was telling me, he was going to be there to help me live long enough to see all these things come true.
Well, here I am at yet another of those milestones my doctor mentioned to me, graduation. We did it. It has certainly not been easy. But in just days, I will see my oldest daughter graduate high school, and the next year, my youngest daughter get her diploma as well. I know how close it came to me not seeing this day. Again, not hyperbole.
But as the memories show, it has been a great ride, and I am hoping my doctor continues to be correct, and there will be many more photos.