Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Archive for the category “Animals”

Summer Vacation – A Learning Experience

As a kid, who did not love Summer vacation?  But as an adult, I love it so much more.  I have always been the type of person who enjoys watching others’ happiness, more than my own.  And now that I get to witness things as a father, through my daughters’ eyes, yes, I love every chance I get to spend with my daughters.

My daughters love the reality television show, Big Brother.  By default, that means when they visit me during the Summer, I am stuck watching the show with them.  It is unavoidable because I live in a one-room apartment.  A similar situation if you will to the living arrangements on Big Brother, more than a dozen people, trapped in a contained studio house, for over 90 days, with someone being kicked out of the house every week.  Every move is watched.  Every word is heard.  Trapped.

Ok, so our situation is not identical per se, but, the three of us are staying in the same room, for 49 days, but no one is being evicted.  Ok, we get to leave the apartment and do things.  Ok, there is no backstabbing and lying to get favors.  But there is one thing that our situations do have in common, learning about each other.

I have spent most of my cancer survivorship, proving to everyone, that I will be fine.  At the same time, I have spent all of my time, convincing everyone that the many issues I face as a result of my treatments thirty years ago, are very real.  They are not once and done episodes, but a progression of situations, monitored, waiting to have no choice but to be dealt with some day, hopefully before it is too late (read “CABG – Not Just A Green Leafy Vegetable and you will see what I mean).

My daughters were 3 and 5 when my body let me know, that while I may have beaten cancer, it came at a price.  And there would be several more episodes in the upcoming years.  But I have always been of the mindset, to let my kids be kids, let them deal with childish things.  And as I realized how much happier off they were just to know “Daddy was okay,” I used this mentality when it came to family, friends, and co-workers.  By doing so, I did myself a disservice, as well as perhaps other cancer survivors as well.  I figured, if I could keep all the issues hidden that I have to deal with, then I would not have to worry about anyone worrying about me.  The unrealistic part of that is, anytime a crisis would come up, there would be worry.  But then that would be followed up with “get over it already, you are better”, or worse, “just faking it.”

It is ten years now since my daughters saw me hooked up to all kinds of machines, recovering from open heart surgery, and having witnessed many of the other events.  Already during this visit, questions are beginning to come up.  Because of the warmer climate here, many of my scars are exposed, and these lead to questions.  Both daughters were never there when I went through my cancer, though are very proud of me for having made it all these years.  But as they grasp that the fact that many of the things that I deal with health-wise are because of my treatments, they now understand, my body will never get better, only worse.

They know that I have good days, and they have certainly seen my bad days.  They know the issues that I deal with are very real.  But that is not what are visits are about.  Yes, they are learning about me, and I am learning about them.  And I have so much more to teach them.  I take them to visit preserves, complete computer courses that may benefit them in their future, and another first, helped my oldest apply for her first job.  And we still do workbook exercises to prepare them for the new school year, though I have now pared the work down to a specific course that either may have struggled with in school (they each had one).

But there is still so much more for us to do together.  And I cherish every moment I have with them.  And I know that they are enjoying the time with me.  I know that they care about me.  They want to do what they can to keep me around a lot longer, whether it be a better diet, or exercise (we have a nightly walk routine after just 3 days).

They know that in just a few years, our roles may change with each other as I will have to give them responsibilities, as far as things they definitely need to know, and perhaps, prepare for.  They will become my legal guardians and our roles will switch.  If I am faced with the difficult situation of being incapacitated as I have with past events, they will be the ones that will need to carry out my wishes should decisions need to be made.

In the meantime, like I said, I want to let my kids, be kids.  But at least they know, just because I do not show it, does not mean that I am not dealing with some serious health issues.

And just as my children are learning, just because you see this, but do not see something obvious with the person getting out of the vehicle, does not mean that they do not have a health issue that they are dealing with.  But if you feel that you are justified in criticizing anyone anyway?  Feel right on free to trade places with us.


Questions And Answers

Every so often, follower of “Paul’s Heart” reach out to me with questions.  I want to take this opportunity right now to answer those questions.

How do you decide your topics?

I am a very impulsive writer in most cases.  With the exception of planned projects, such as short stories I have had published in Visible Ink, various news publications, the majority of posts/stories come from ideas that personally concern me, such as cancer, survivorship, adoption, health care, divorce, and such.  An idea might pop into my head, and within hours, I “lose” that urgency to write, and it falls into a cue which currently holds over 500 prompts.

Are there things I will not write about?

I do not believe in censorship, so I would say that I can and would write about anything if I was asked.  As a rule, when it comes to “Paul’s Heart”, I generally do not discuss my opinions when it comes to religion and politics because those things are private to me, and I do not want that to interfere with the purpose of this blog, to help and support those experiencing similar life struggles as myself.  If I do write about a controversial subject, such as health care, I will do my best to research and present facts.  But I have found, that writing about politics or religion, often cause more harm to relationships, and what I want this blog to achieve.

Do you prefer to write fiction or non-fiction?

I am told that I do not give myself enough credit for my writings.  I have had several assistants editing many of my pieces, all with different approaches for me.  I do not consider myself to have a vivid imagination, yet my writing coaches have a way of drawing out that talent from me.  I do prefer to write biographical type pieces, as many of my followers look to “Paul’s Heart” for inspiration.  I have written about many others on this blog and the experiences that they have gone through, so the stories are not just about me.

I have taken what I have learned from my writing coaches, and encourage my children to write in a similar fashion, by giving them simple prompts to provoke their imagination.

I do enjoy writing editorial pieces also.

Do you make time to write?

I recall the person who asked me this question.  Their claim was that between all of the doctor appointments, work, taking care of their family, this person felt that they had no time to write, in spite of their desire to do so.

I do try to set aside time to write, at least once a week, if not more.  It does not always work out that way, because I also have a tendency to get “stuck” not able to put thoughts together to write a piece, perhaps I do not like the finished project, or I just even give up on that particular piece.  But unless I have a deadline to meet, I write when I write.

In further discussion with this person, it turned out that they spent on average three hours on a train, commuting to and from work.  I mentioned that if they were interested in writing, this time period on the train would be ideal to gather thoughts, to see if there would be anything that they might like to discuss on paper.  Time on the train is a perfect and often quiet time to reflect.

Is writing therapeutic for you?

In one word, absolutely.  I am a person who internalizes… a lot.  I have many emotional struggles as a cancer survivor, one of which is survivor’s guilt.  And that is exactly what it says.  I also deal with PTSD and anxiety in relation to my survivorship.  I do have someone that I speak with, but when I do not have that option available, yes, writing is just one of the things I enjoy to help me relax, along with my other method, music.

Whether you publish something, or just document a thought in some sort of diary, releasing a thought that is of great concern to you through writing is indeed therapeutic.  Keeping concerns inside is not good.  And all too often, we do not have someone that we can just readily talk to, or may not even be good at listening.  We can express our thoughts, reflect on them, and then decide if it is necessary to share with others, or is it good enough that “I” recognize that expressing myself as I had done, that is all that needs to be done.  Yes, it is very therapeutic.

Can I share my story on your blog?

As long as it pertains to cancer, survivorship, adoption, or divorce, I am more than happy to share others stories of survivorship and inspiration.  You can send your story to me at .

As always, I am so thankful for everyone who reads and follows “Paul’s Heart”.  As I mentioned earlier, I have a lot of stories in cue to get to.  I think I am caught up on questions.

Chemo Cat


*** author’s note***  Each year, I compose two stories to be submitted to Visible Ink, a writing program through Memorial Sloan Kettering.  The stories are published in an annual anthology consisting of other stories as told by other cancer patients and survivors from MSKCC.  Each other in general gets one story published per year.  I will post the other story when the book is published, but for now, here is the story that was 2nd place for me.

Emotional support comes in all forms when faced with a serious illness like cancer. When it comes to humans, that support has its flaws. People can be moody. Some can be “two-faced”. Co-workers often express jealousy as if the cancer patient is receiving favors for their battle with life. Family members may find themselves distancing from their loved one.

Animals on the other hand, offer unconditional support. Many times, fur friends may be aware that you are not feeling well, long before you do. It is this type of companionship that led to the concept of “therapy pets.”

Even on our worst days, when we come home from a long day, a dog more likely than not, will approach you excitedly with tail wagging, not even an accusational glare as to where you had been that entire time. And cats also, will snuggle up to you if they so choose.

Shortly after I had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, besides selecting my medical care and direction, I made the decision that “pet therapy” would be a part of my cure. I lived in an apartment. Dogs were not allowed, but for a $25 fee, I could have a cat. I went to the local animal shelter, adopted “Pebbles,” a white female calico.

During the initial days of my diagnosis, she spent a lot of time on my lap, as I tried to gather my thoughts about the next days.

But it was not until I returned from my honeymoon, that new disease had been discovered, I would have to undergo chemotherapy. My wife went with me for the first chemo appointment. It was a 25 minute ride, which ended up being a critical detail to keep in mind. This was the amount of time that I had, to get home, get up three flights of stairs, race to the toilet, when nausea would finally make its presence known. That first day, I did not make it. My wife had driven too slow. There were too many traffic lights.

For the next fifteen treatments, I would be on my own. Knowing that nausea would hit me while driving, I ignored speed limit signs, accelerated at yellow traffic signals. Each appointment, I was consistent in getting to my apartment building, racing up the stairs, opening my apartment door, zoom past Pebbles, flip the seat of the toilet up, my body did the rest. After the first wretch, each time, I would glance over to the left, and there was Pebbles, just sitting in the doorway, watching me. She did not greet me as she normally would have on any other day, rubbing against my legs as I stood in the doorway. Pebbles knew my current situation was not normal.

Approximately a half an hour later, after I was certain that my nausea had ended, I had definitely hoped so because I was exhausted, I stood up, closed the toilet lid, washed my hands, my face, and brushed my teeth. I crawled into my bed, and passed out. I would wake up several hours later, upon my wife entering the apartment. Each time that I awoke, I looked over to my wife’s pillow, there was Pebbles, curled up and asleep also, clearly had been watching me when I crawled up into bed. My “chemo cat”, as I often referred to her from that point on, had actually been watching over me, keeping me company until my wife had come home from work.

Decades later, I would have several more pets, as I was challenged once again with severe health issues, pets were there for me every time. My biggest fear however was following heart surgery, with a freshly repaired breast bone, being greeted by my 100-pound Golden Retriever. It was not uncommon for him to stand up on his hind legs to greet me. This time, as if he sensed my fragility, simply sat right by my side, waiting for me to pet him. That is where he would stay as I recovered at home.

Today it is very common to see pets in chemotherapy suites and hospitals. The emotional healing power of pet therapy has been proven to lift the spirits of people who are ill or hospitalized. In two recent hospitalizations that I experienced, I had numerous visits from furry friends. After missing my own fur friend at home, my spirits were definitely lifted.

When my father went through his own battle with lung cancer, the very first day of treatment, he was greeted by a Goldendoodle, who simply rested his head on my dad’s lap. This was just one of the new changes in the atmosphere of a chemotherapy suite, which definitely has an impact on the psyche when dealing with such a difficult time period.

Post Navigation