Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

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Eyes On The Prize – 30 Years Later

Today marks the 5th anniversary that my father passed away from complications of lung cancer.  It also marks the 30th anniversary of what would have been my first marriage, occurring just after the completion of my treatment for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  Two days that will always stand out in my mind.

This is the only photo to my knowledge that exists of my grandmother and I together, who also happened to be the first cancer survivor I would personally know.  Took place 30 years ago on this date, a date I honestly thought I might never have seen.  And yes, I would like to be able to say this might have been a prom photo instead, and though I was quite young in the photo, this was the tux I wore for the wedding.

Diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in November of 1988, just over six months before I was to get married, I fought against anyone and anything that was going to change our plans.  The stern warnings from the doctors that “timing is everything with Hodgkin’s” and “chemo is the better option,” I called the shots.  I was going to be the only one who determined that I got through this in time.  This was not just for me, but for my fiance.

I went through months of testing and diagnosing, including a major diagnostic surgery that laid me out for a month of recovery.  I went through six weeks of intense radiation therapy, my upper body fried to a crisp.  But I got to that goal, I was done with everything, in time to recover for this day.  We were busy making arrangements, and due to the skin issues I was dealing with from the radiation, we had to make alternative honeymoon arrangements.

As far as the doctors were concerned, well, at least I was, I was good to go.  See you in June after the honeymoon.  I do not have many memories of that day, not because I do not want to remember, but a complication of the lingering effects of chemotherapy, often referred to as “chemo brain,” but that is another post.  But from what I can remember, it was a fun, worry free party.  Definitely no signs of cancer in my body, or at the wedding.

But as I mentioned in one of my earlier posts in this chain, and other posts, not just during the cancer journey, but during relationships, especially marriages, communication is the most important tool two people need to have.

Flashing back to when I informed my fiance that I had cancer, I told her, “I have no idea how this is going to turn out.  There is the chance I might not even make it.  Certainly, this will not be the fairy tale plan you may have had as a little girl.”

My grandmother was a key role model in my younger years.  She taught me many things, most importantly to care for others before myself.  I would always be strong enough to take care of myself, but others might need help, and I should do what I can to help.  Empathy would become one of my main characteristics, something that I have always made a priority with my daughters.  It is who I was then, and who I am now.

There were two problems that were developing though almost immediately following the wedding, that we did not see coming.  I mentioned communication.  My fiance and I had spent so much time, me juggling my doctor and treatment appointments, the arrangements that she had taken on for the wedding, and of course, we both worked full time.  You can see something had been left out.  We were not leaving time for each other to talk to each other.  And I am not just talking about the upcoming nuptials either.

We really had no opportunity to speak of what our ideas were for our marriage, home, children.  But then there was also the emotions that I would face with the fear of recurrence, survivorship guilt, but something else.

Prior to my diagnosis, I was living a good life, a happy life, enjoying each day, often as a party.  My fiance and I had everything going for us, and that meant that left little time for anything or anyone else.

So, upon the completion of my radiation treatments, my fiance told me, “now we can just put this behind us and get on with our lives.”  Sounded like a simple plan.  But with things finally settling down, reality set in, with a strong reminder.  That was not who I was, and still am.

I was grateful for all who played a role in my beating Hodgkin’s and clearly there was no way that I would be able to repay any of them in any form.  The only way I felt I could show my appreciation was to do so by “paying forward,” in other words, doing what I had always done, help others.

I am getting ahead of myself.  I was not at this point yet.  The point is, I never spoke of these feelings with my fiance, my wife.  We never had the conversations about me not being able to just “let go” of my cancer.  That is not to say that every day of my life is dominated by cancer.  Far from the contrary.

While May 20th, 1989 was indeed a happy day, we were not prepared going into that day, for what was going to be ahead for us.  And that was because of the lack of communication.  We had emotions that were not discussed or revealed, just pushed aside.  And they would have to be dealt with eventually, they always do.

Not really a spoiler alert, as you know, the anniversary clock on this page to my 30 years clear still has a ways to go.  So, up next, the honeymoon, no details there, but a follow up with my oncologist once I got back that would change everything.

Why I Celebrate Nurses Week

My first personal experience with a nurse was not a pleasant one.  I was six years old, in the hospital having tumors removed from my lower gums.  She was mean, meaner than nurse Ratchett.  I experienced my first injection (to my memory) from this scorpion of a nurse, just stabbing me in the leg, scolding me as as I screamed out in pain.

In my later youth, I have different memories of nurses that I dealt with.  There was Verna, who assisted my 2nd family practitioner, very compassionate.  And to this day, as she still works with my current family doctor, a nurse that I have dealt with for more than two decades, a very serious nurse, but one that I know and trust to convey messages accurately to my doctor, as well as be the extra kick-in-the-pants I may occasionally need.

There was my oncology nurse, who got me through eight months of hell, also known as chemotherapy.  Her name was Brenda.  I know that she had a son my age (at the time when I was going through treatments).  I was not treated like a a patient, but with the care that a mother who happened to be a nurse could only give.

There was Heather and Jackie, my two cardiology nurses who followed me during my entire stay of my open heart bypass surgery.  From the cath lab, to the operating room, to the intensive care unit, to my private room, both followed me through the hospital, checking on my recovery.  They did not have to, especially as it was on their own time.

There was another nurse named Heather, who dealt with me during a bout with septic pneumonia.  I had several nurses during the days of my recovery, but Heather was the one who visited with me often overnight during her shift, listening and learning of my experiences as a long term cancer survivor of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Roseann was the nurse to begin explaining all of the issues that I now deal with from my treatments for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma thirty years ago.

Yes, my doctors also play a major role in my survivorship.  My current family doctor of thirty years, and my long term survivor doctor for the last eleven years, and my current cardiologist all play a major role.  I trust them.  They know me and they know how to talk to me, and reach me.

But their nurses are the ones that carry everything out, deal with the initial interactions to get the issues as clear and straightened out so that any issue can be dealt with.  And also, they are the ones who comfort us, when we are in the most scary of situations.

And for each an every nurse that has been a part of my life, I thank you.  And to my friends who are nurses, I am blessed to be friends with those who offer comfort and care, not because they have to, but because they want to, and they are good at it.

Happy Nurses Week.  You all deserve it.

Gong Xi Fa Cai 2019

What a fun time of year if you are of Asian heritage, or have a connection to someone who celebrates this time of year.

Many non-Asians proclaim “Happy Chinese New Year” when in fact, it is not only the Chinese that celebrate the Lunar New Year, such as the Korean and Vietnamese do also.  Along with being referred to as the Lunar New Year, this time period is also known as the Spring Festival.

Having two children adopted from China, I have learned so much about this time of year, either from other Chinese, or research.  But if there is one thing I have learned from the Chinese, and that I definitely admire about the people of China, something we have over the years lacked, appreciation and commitment to tradition.

The whole purpose of the new year, is to literally send off the old bad stuff of the prior year, and welcome only the good.  Family travel back home to be with each other.  It is amazing.  While China does not completely shut down, a major amount of its people make the travels back home to celebrate the new year.  Preparations begin up to a week before the new year celebration begins, in this case, today, February 5th and will continue until February 19th!  TWO WEEKS OF CELEBRATING!!!  I have personally witnessed this.

I landed in Hong Kong with just three days left of the Lunar New Year to adopt my youngest daughter.  Those three days were filled with fireworks, dragons, and lots of joy and hope.

And just for the record, the firecrackers and fireworks go around the clock, day and night.  The purpose, to “scare” away the evil spirits.  The first night of sleep only occurred because of exhaustion from the sixteen hour flight.  In the days after landing, we joined in many of the traditions to welcoming the new year.  And there are many.

2019 is the year of the Pig, the 12th and final animal of the Asian zodiac.  Legend has it that the animals were numbered in the order that they arrived at the Jade emperor’s party.  There are actually several stories.

Every day of this time period has a particular meaning behind it celebrating different things, culminating in the Lantern Festival at the end of the celebration.

Saying Happy New Year is not so easy either, in the Chinese language alone, there are so many dialects, to the translation has just as many differences.  And deep within the Chinese, are more than fifty different ethnic minorities.  Mandarin and Cantonese are the more common dialects.

When family return home, they visit their elders first, bringing gifts.  The elders in turn give red envelopes, usually with money inside, to help the younger to get a better start on the new year, also for blessings and good luck.  These envelopes are also given to friends for good luck and blessings.

Now if you have ever heard of the expression “kowtowing”, here is where at least one origin of the expression comes from.  To show proper respect to your elder, you “kowtow”, which literally means to knock your head to the floor.  So that you do not get hurt, you kneel, bend over placing your hands on the ground, putting your head on your hands.

Clark Griswald would have a field day decorating for the Lunar New Year.  Because it was believed, a horrible monster named Nian would terrorize villages every year, The celebration was believed to chase Nian back to where he came from.  You will see lots and lots of red, because red is the color of luck and prosperity.  Fantastic decorations of hand crafted paper cut-outs referred to as “window flowers”, either symbols or animals, displaying door “gods” or particular words, all meant to chase away Nian.

You will not starve during the festival.  Spring rolls, dumplings, noodles, fish, and rice cakes are in huge supply.  There are plenty of vegetables and fruit.  Enjoy drinking the many wines or one of my favorite international beers when I partake, TsingTao beer.  And do not forget teas.

You want to dress to celebrate the festival?  You do not have to go out and buy any Asian silk clothing, though there is a beauty to the clothing, the main thing is to wear something new.  Wearing something red?  A bonus.

There are plenty of myths to learn about during this time of year to appreciate just how wonderful a time period you are celebrating.  And of course, with the pig being the final animal of the zodiac calendar, that ends the twelve year cycle.

But beware, there are things you should not do during this time.  Negative words are out, not just “no”, but bad words with negative connotations.  Do not break anything, especially dishes.  For many, this one is easy, no cleaning or sweeping.  This is to be done before the festivities start.  Once started, it is all about good things, and if you have cleaned properly, you have swept all the bad away.  Stay away from sharp objects like knives and scissors.  It is believed that these will cut your wealth and success.  That includes getting a hair cut.  Because traditionally, the brides move in with the groom’s family, there is no visiting the bride’s family.  To do so would indicate marriage problems.  There is no worry about debts or repayments during this time.  The time is for celebrating, not for collecting debts.  No fighting or crying.  Do not wish new year blessings while still in bed, lest you risk the person being bed-ridden the rest of the year.

Giving gifts during the celebration?  No clocks (associated with paying last respects as time runs out), apples (because the dialect sounds like someone has died).  But cash, cash is king.  Put it in a red envelope to wish the recipient a prosperous, happy, wealthy new year.

Every year, I celebrate the new year with my daughters.  Not during the entire time period, but at least during certain days.  I have already had our meal with each other, and will do so again before the end of the celebration, and of course, they will get red envelopes.  It is important to me as their father that they continue to celebrate their heritage with them.

Gong Xi Fa Choy everyone!!!  The best to everyone!!!


*traditions and other information researched from the website



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