Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Archive for the category “Adoption”

What’s In A Number?

This is a boring meme that showed up across social media in recent weeks. I do not usually reply to these things, especially the ones that pretty much end up being password related. But admittedly, this one did kind of have me curious.

I am recognizing a birthday today. I do not celebrate them anymore, I just let them happen. I prefer no fanfare. The truth is, I consider myself lucky to still be here considering everything that my body has been through, due to the treatments that saved my life from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma over 32 years ago.

But I decided to give this one a go, just as a lighter post. Of course, when the meme came out, as I was at the age of 55, flipping the numbers did nothing. I remained 55 years old. Boring. And now I am heading into the upper half of my fifties. To be honest, nothing would thrill me more than to be on the lower half of this decade of my life, to get another crack during those times. I thought it would be interesting to reflect back on those younger decades.

I will skip my 5th year of birth, as I know there was nothing remarkable about my first year in school as a kindergartener, except that I was small, and some remark “oh how cute!”. Apparently, I was also a blonde.

At 15, I switched high schools. While it was somewhat intimidating, the opportunities given to me at my new school, allowed my life to take much different paths than what I had been going previously and I definitely do not think things would have turned out better. I will always remember the new friends that came into my life, as I am still friends with them today, more than forty years later.

At 25, I was beginning my life as a cancer survivor. That year was filled with constant fears of my cancer coming back. Wanting to move forward with my life, I got married to my fiance who had stood by me during my battle with what was called back then, Hodgkin’s Disease. I had resumed working. I was ready to get back to some sort of normalcy.

Age 35 was a transition year for me. My first marriage had ended, devastating as I had so much wanted to have a family, and this would likely reduce the chances of that happening. (spoiler alert – a second marriage not in my “five” years, I would end up blessed with two amazing daughters)

I experienced my first and so far, my only kidney stone at age 45. I had been put on a calcium supplement to deal with one of the late side effects from my cancer treatments, for a diagnosis of osteopenia and facet joint arthritis in my lower back. This was discovered during a medical work up for long term cancer survivor health issues, discovered in 2008, when I had to have emergency open heart surgery (see “CABG – Not Just A Green Leafy Vegetable). And yes, the pain of that large kidney stone, was worse pain than that of my open heart surgery.

55 is an interesting year as it has been somewhat uneventful, well, perhaps better described as par for the course as I dealt with two more issues related to my treatments. But, as usual, I have gotten through both.

Aside from that, 55 has a much darker cloud looming over it. On my father’s side of the family, longevity is not in our genes. Of my father and his four siblings, only he and his one brother lived past 55, both making it to 70. Ironically, as my father lay dying from lung cancer, he actually said, “all I want to do is make it to 70,” and he did, just like his brother. But the other siblings, and his mother passed away in their late 40’s and early 50’s. This alone rents enough space in my head as I have hit this milestone of 55, and then, factor in all the trauma my body has gone through health wise since 2008, a lot. I do not have good longevity odds.

So yes, I recognize my birthday each year. It is hard to celebrate, when I know the odds of a next birthday get harder and harder.

As I turn 56, let’s flip that number. I would be 65. Why is this number significant to me, besides approaching retirement age? Besides being only the third in the last three generations to reach this age, there is a bigger plan. And it is this plan that drives me. I want to get to age 65.

My doctors who care for the multiple health issues from my treatments concede that they cannot reverse what is happening to my body, and they cannot stop them. There are some issues that can be slowed down, and some that can be repaired, albeit temporarily (needing to be fixed again later on). But knowing about these issues, is half the battle. Dealing with them is the other half of the plan. And that plan is this. I want to see my daughters grow into adulthood. I want to attend my daughters high school graduations. If my daughters choose to go to college, I want to witness their graduations. If my daughters choose to get married, I want to walk my daughters down the aisles. And my final wish, would be to hear the name “grandpa” or whatever my daughters would have their children refer to me as. This promise had been made to me over 13 years ago, and I now have one daughter graduating from high school this year, and the other next year. If I have my way, and keep my attitude, my 65th year will be my greatest.

In all honestly, I do not expect to see 75 or 85, definitely not 95, whether genetics or cancer survivorship issues. But I seriously want to get to 65. It is not going to be easy as I know I will see at the least, several more surgeries, and likely additional diagnosis. I am okay with that as I am living each day, the best that I can, no regrets.

This was a hell of a writing prompt my writing coach would have been proud of. I miss having her weekly prompts. This was fun.

What Do You Want For Christmas?

“What do you want for Christmas?”, or since my birthday falls a week before the big day, “what would you like for your birthday?” In my childhood days, I had no problem rattling off things that I would like to have for both occasions. In my adulthood however, nearly all of it, my answer has always been simple to me, frustrating to others, time.

I love this quote from John Lennon. Asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, Lennon answered simply, “happy.” When I get asked what gifts I would like for either a holiday or my birthday, I answer “time.” Happiness was important to Lennon. Time is important to me.

I stopped longing for material things at the age of 22, when I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Things no longer mattered to me. All I wanted was simple, more time. All I knew about cancer, was that people died from it. As I reached remission, my feelings never changed. Survivorship became about making a magical “5 year survival mark” as if any time after that did not matter, because it rarely got discussed.

But as my survivorship term increased, now by the decades, there is also a reality, and only reaffirms the only thing I want for these special occasions. Treatments that I went through to put my cancer into remission, over time, have caused, and continue to cause cumulative damage. I have had three heart surgeries, a surgery to repair my carotid artery, and two episodes of aspiration pneumonia that went septic. That makes six, SIX other events in my life, besides my cancer that have put my life at risk.

Since my cancer days, these six events put me in a position, that I was not prepared for, nor thought I had the ability, or the fortune, to survive. The reality, is there will be likely more of these events.

Over my years of survivorship as a peer to peer counselor (I counsel fellow cancer patients and survivors), there have been many survivors whose bodies had gone through so much trauma, their bodies could take no more. They had run out of time. As I write this post, I mourn yet another one of those survivors, a special one to me, as she was one of the first I met, way before Facebook, and on the other side of the country. I will share my tribute with her as her own post, as she deserves. She, like so many others, were also younger than me. Time. I wish she, they, could have had more. There was so much more for them to experience.

So yes, when I get asked, “what do you want for Christmas?” or “what do you want for your birthday?”, I respond, “time, more of it.” If there is one thing I have learned about cancer and its survivorship, I have no control over what happens, and I live each day with the purpose of enjoying it. But as my daughters prepare to enter the next stage of their lives, adulthood, I want to see more. And that means, that I need more time. Everything else will take care of itself.

Another Lesson From Parent To Child

First word. First step. First day at school. Gasp, first date. Watching my daughters grow has been filled with all these wonderful memories. And I know there are many more to come. First job, check. First time behind the wheel of a car, check. But with one daughter now of adult age, and my other not far behind, it is now the next level of “firsts” that will have an even bigger impact on their lives, more than just memories for dear old Dad.

We all remember this scene from the Lion King, where Mufasa and his son Simba overlook Pride Rock as well as when Mufasa explains to Simba where to avoid. Mufasa explains to Simba, “one day, this will all be yours.” It is a turning point Simba, more responsibility, growing up.

It is Election Day where my daughters live. And that means today, will be my older daughter’s first experience voting. I am hoping, as I want it to be, a positive experience for her, one that she should look forward to, and value. I do not remember my first election. I am fairly sure it was a presidential one, likely in 1984. My record in voting until I became a parent, admittedly could be considered spotty, not really having any interest in local politics. Which when you think about it, local politics are just as important if not more so, than the national elections, as your local elections have an immediate impact on you, especially when it comes to your local taxes such as real estate and school district.

I helped my daughter to register to vote. Check.

She received her voter card. Check.

Next, and one of the most important steps, was teaching my daughter, the importance of being an informed voter. Over the last two decades, the foundations of my electoral opinions have been formed and solidified. I do not believe in a two party system, much like Constitution framer John Adams warned about. I do not want to be limited to an “all or nothing” system of support when it comes to my vote. I can agree to some things from each major party, and I definitely detest things from both parties. One thing is certain, there is no “blind faith” or support for each party. I will vote on issues that have an impact on me.

And as I spoke with my daughter about today’s election, I am encouraging her to think that same way. I am doing my best not to lead her to vote for the “lesser of the two evils,” which is how I cynically look at every election. Instead, I want her to be an informed voter. I have taught her how to get informed, and what exactly does “information” look like.

In her first election, is a major decision, for school board directors. There are two slates of candidates, incumbents (those who are currently on the school board), and challengers. Given each of their campaigns, my daughter’s selection should be simple (I want to stress, I have no idea who she will vote for, nor will I ask). Only campaign has spent its time discussing issues, explaining successes, and plans for the future. The other campaign, has offered nothing but smears, lies, incited others to come to board meetings to interrupt and distract from the duties of the school board, as seen many times all across the country. And oddly, during a televised debate, that campaign actually praised the board members, unintentionally I am sure, by acknowledging just how well the school district has done and is doing. But they have offered nothing as far as a platform.

I have told my daughter that it is important not to be distracted by all the craziness of slurs and smears. If she does not hear any issue or platform, there is none. Why would you vote for them then?

So with emphasizing the importance of being an educated voter, and not to follow any red laser dots, comes the big day itself. Clearly, trips to the election poll have changed in recent years and it is important that we get back to the way it used to be, with civility. As a voter, you have the right to cast your vote without being harassed and intimidated. That does not just include walking through the gauntlet of campaign officials on the way inside the poll as they reach out to you, handing you their “recommendations” that my daughter should vote for. I have told her that any interference preventing her from getting inside, or intimidating her, is to call the police and the FBI. Tactics like that are illegal.

No, the next challenge will come when she checks in to vote at her local polling location. She does not possess a drivers license yet, so all she has is her student ID. But as I said, she is a registered voter. Therefore, if she is given a hard time or denied the opportunity to vote, she is to ask and if necessary demand, a “provisional” ballot. This will at least allow her vote to be cast and counted, once election officials deal with whatever bug is up their collective asses with a legitimate voter.

I explained to her, how to operate the voting booth, making sure she finalizes everything by pressing the final button to submit.

And then finally, as she exits the poll, hold her head high for doing not just her civic duty, but something she is guaranteed by the Constitution, vote for her representation. This is how a democracy is supposed to work, not the way we have seen over the last year. It will likely not be known until the morning who the victors will be, and unless the votes are close enough, we accept the results. That is how it works.

Final lesson for my daughter, voting is her right, her choice. She does not need nor is required, to discuss who she votes for, EVER! In fact, it is incumbent upon her not to discuss her politics with others. Actually, this is a lesson I have explained to her as personal for her, just as any religion. To discuss her opinions and choices is to invite potential adversity that she does not want, need, or deserve in her life. It is enough, just to for her to know, that she made an informed decision count on days like today.

Another first completed from parent to child. Still so many more to come.

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