Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Archive for the category “Animals”

There Is Life After Hodgkin’s Lymphoma


As Lymphoma Awareness month rolls on, I want to write a lighter piece about Lymphoma, about life after Lymphoma. While I wrote last, that we are never really over “cancer” even when we hear the word “remission,” there is still a life to be lived.

One of my favorite places to visit both as a child and as an adult especially with my daughters, was a place called “Boulder Field” located in Pennsylvania. I spent hours upon hours climbing all over the rocks, never taking the same path, or hiking the same combination of boulders. Each trip was different. It is kind of symbolic for all the different things that would be ahead of me in my life after Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The ironic thing, prior to my cancer, I do not believe that I was doing much of anything with my life worthy of fulfillment or purpose. I had been content with living a “party” lifestyle that my first wife and I were enjoying. No commitment. No plan. Just show up. That was our “normal.”

But there is a phenomenon known as a “new normal” that cancer survivors experience. Resistance is futile, because it is just something that happens. It would have been easy to pick up right where I left off before the rude interruption from cancer. But with all of the toxicity and damage I had gone through with my treatments, I had to be more careful. A new “normal.” I had follow appointments and testing to undertake as part of this new “normal.” For the first time in my life, at the age of 24, I began to think of other things I wanted to do with my life. And part of that was not to let cancer dictate my new “normal.” This new “normal” was going to be what I made it to be.

A couple of years after my treatments ended, I led our church’s youth group. Actually, this was the first of two that I had been in charge of over ten years. I had done something that other predecessors had not done, and that was open the group to all ages of children, not just the teenagers. Sure, their activities were grouped just as the different levels of school; pre-school and elementary, middle school, and high school. But at least once a year, the entire program came together on a Sunday dedicated to the youth of the church, and all participated and led that Sunday’s services, no adults. The program had all kinds of activities for outreach, and the older kids, the teenagers got to experience road trips such as ski trips and white water rafting. It was an honor to watch these kids grow. In fact, over twenty years later, I am still in contact with several of them, now parents themselves.

I would get an employment opportunity that would change my life forever, working for a major pharmaceutical company in medical research. After years of trying to improve my otherwise mediocre employment situation, and in spite of having no college degree in medical research, after just one interview, I was hired. The job not only provided a much better salary, but something up until that point, since my cancer diagnosis unobtainable, health and life insurance, without being discriminated against. I would actually handle one of the drugs used in my chemotherapy cocktail. But the biggest reward was to be a part of some very important discoveries against several major diseases.

I began to travel. One wish I had was to see my favorite football team, the Seattle Seahawks, play their arch rivals, the Raiders. That trip out west, would change the way I travel forever. For me, the trip became about opportunities. On this trip, I would actually get to meet two fellow Hodgkin’s survivors in person who up until that point, I had only known through emails. Both were a bit younger than me, and diagnosed a few years after my treatments had ended. But I got to see several places I had never seen before, Seattle, Anaheim, Bakersfield, and Lake Tahoe before returning home. From that point on, nearly any trip I made after that, would almost always involve an opportunity to meet other survivors.

But one of the biggest events, which actually happened twice, happened because of the one long term and permanent effect from my treatments, the inability to have biological children. On two separate trips across the world to China, twice I became a Dad. Every day with my daughters has been a blessing, and many times a new experience, likely an experience that never would have crossed my mind such as swimming with dolphins and stingrays, exploring caves, and so much more. Nothing could be cherished more, than being their Dad, each and every blessed day. Both now in their late teens, they are soon ready to go out into the world, and make their own memories, and for that, I am truly blessed as that spectator.

I will only mention this part briefly, well, because it speaks for itself. For over a decade, I have been writing about my experiences as a cancer survivor, whether it be on “Paul’s Heart,” published in various medical newsletters, anthologies, and am currently working on four books of my own. This has led to opportunities to speak in public at various functions as a living, breathing long time survivor of cancer. A frustrating thing for me really, that more of a big deal is not made about us. But perhaps the coolest experience of my writing career, was to have something I wrote performed live:

An unexpected direction in my life occurred back in 2009, when I decided to enter politics, at our local school board level. I was unhappy with the way the current school board had been behaving and many of their decisions, which I felt would have an impact on my daughters educations. And so, I enjoyed the experience of two campaign runs. It was a wonderful and exhausting experience, there were so many memories made. Several long term friendships came from my running for school board, friendships from running mates. I wanted to, and felt that it happened, to make a difference for my daughters educations, which of course would benefit other’s children as well.

The Covid19 pandemic gave me an opportunity to return to something I enjoyed doing, playing guitar and piano again. I won’t ever do it publicly, but I am having a lot of fun again, expanding my musical horizons. Combined with my singing, I even wrote my first song and recorded it, a very cool experience.

No, my life did not turn out at all the way that I thought it would. But then again, I never thought I would get cancer either. But as many put it, “I won’t let cancer define who I am.” I am far from finished writing my story. And to do that, I have to keep living my life after Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and in spite of what it has left for me, just as my fellow long term survivors.

Drip, Drip, Drip


It keeps happening, and I cannot explain why. I know when it started, and quite possibly the event that triggered it. I just cannot explain why it has not stopped. Surely enough time has passed. Evidently not.

Yesterday I took my daughter to the airport, following a brief visit with me. She was returning home, to prepare for her upcoming freshman year of college. The car ride was unremarkable, the expected “pep talk” about how “I am just a phone call away,” and a variety of sage-like advice, occasionally followed by the anticipated eye-rolls and “I know Dad”. I put a lot of pressure on myself, to make sure that as teenager at the beginning of her adult years, that she was prepared for all the financial decisions, the ability to be wary around snakes and predators looking for suckers, all the while remaining focused on her purpose for college, all the while enjoying the many new experiences she will have. I needed to make sure all of my bases were covered.

As we walked into the airport, both of us pulled up our masks (we still wear them, our choice), and proceeded to the TSA area as she did not have to check any bags since this was a short trip. My daughter took one last mental check-list to make sure that she had everything, and pulled out her identification. And then came our hug good-bye.

We have done this many times over the years following her visits to me. Even during times of custody conflict, unsure when the next visit might be, or, depending on how bad the Covid19 pandemic would get, unsure if and when the next visit could take place, I always kept my composure. This farewell was different though.

Let me reflect back before I get to that difference. There had been a lengthy time difference due to a custody issue that I will not get into, but it prevented me, legally from seeing my daughters, for well over two years. In that time, both of my daughters had growth spurts, and from the last time that I had seen them, when they basically came up to my chest in height, now, were as tall as me. I talked to them every day on Facetime, but I had no concept of how they had grown, until they were standing right in front me. It was shocking to me, the physical evidence of “time” that I had missed seeing them in person. I could not help but break down.

So back to yesterday, it happened again as I said good-bye to my oldest daughter. She let go of her carry-on luggage, and we hugged. And then I heard her say, “I love you Dad.” I have never kept track of who says it first, I would say it was fairly even regardless, but this particular moment, right after she said it, I am sure she felt my grip get a little tighter.

I had been preparing for this moment for a while now, and honestly, have a bit of an advantage over her mother as far as “separation” goes, and the time that my daughter and mother will now be separated, just as my daughter and I have these last years. And even though I felt I was ready, as my hug got tighter, I tried to say back to my daughter, “I love you too.” Four simple words, should have taken less than two seconds to get out. Instead, the effort took more than five seconds for each word, because all of a sudden, I was choking back tears.

This was not the emotions I felt concluding each custody visit. Quite the contrary, I knew at that moment, I was sending my daughter on her continued path of greatness as an influencer (out of respect for her I am not stating her interest, but her studies and her career will have an impact on people, I can at least blab that). The next time that I will see her, hopefully, will be at Christmas break, if not sooner. But she will have completed her first semester, the toughest semester to get through in college because of all the personal adjustments she, like all kids going to college, will face.

I never used to be this sappy or mushy. I had always been known to keep a cool head, focused on the task at hand, in control, never let anyone see my reactions. The “when” and “what event” I was referring to, emergency open heart surgery in 2008 to save my life was when my emotional floodgates were opened. While it is common and normal to experience depression and anxiety (I did experience both in the few years after), I feel that my “drip drip drip” of weepiness is something different. I just have yet to figure it out. I am not saying it is a bad thing, albeit a bit embarrassing, and once again for my daughter.

But as my daughter walked through the TSA line, she had no doubt, that I love her, even if I had a hard time getting it out.

32 Years…A Timeline Of Survivorship


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.”

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