Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

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A Celebration For Stephanie

It is hard to believe with more than 300 drafts sitting in my cue, that I would have writer’s block.  So today, I got a huge shot in the arm when I was tagged to a post announcing a major milestone.

It is hard to believe that that time has flown by this quickly, but nearly three years ago, I published a post, about a special guest here on “Paul’s Heart,” titled “Stephanie’s Words”.  You can also find the post under the page of the same name on this site.  Stephanie has just hit her 5 year cancer free mark!!!!!

To put this in perspective, nearly all cancer patients have this number, 5, put into their heads, whether it be by the doctor, employer, insurance, or even a fellow cancer survivor.  Statistically, it is the measure of survivorship as the numbers indicate the rate of survivorship depending on the specific cancer the patient dealt with.

I looked back on the original story that was published (you may go back to the story to see the story, as it was written by Stephanie herself), and having remained friends with her, and her family in the years since, her life is nothing short of miraculous.  As a 27 year survivor myself, I usually draw my inspiration from those who have survived even more years than me, but if you read Stephanie’s story, you will understand and be inspired by Stephanie.

Stephanie not only had great support from family and friends during her fight with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, but that same support network has been just as critical in her survivorship.  I think Stephanie would agree with me, as most other survivors, life after Hodgkin’s is more than just getting back to normal, or as we are often told, a “new” normal.  We have had to deal with fears of relapse.  There is also the initial “let down” once completing the treatments, which seems odd, but consider this fact.  For a year or two (or more), we no longer have control of our lives, because everything about our body is now dictated by schedules, appointments, and side effects.  And then the day comes, our lives are handed back to us.  And it can be overwhelming.

Just as I have over the years of my survivorship, also from Hodgkin’s (you can see on my “counter” I am heading towards 30 years!), Stephanie has met other survivors of Hodgkin’s as well.  And those that she has known, some have gone through similar struggle, some more difficult (if that is possible to imagine), and some, not so difficult.

Today, Stephanie marks 5 years, CANCER FREE!!!  And I am sure that I speak for Stephanie, in saying that she wishes nothing less than for everyone to not only reach this same milestone, but to go beyond.

And Stephanie, as I am often quoted, “as I continue down the road of remission, I will keep looking in my rear view mirror to make sure that you are still following me.”  I wish you the best.  You have a great life ahead of you, a wonderful fiancé who has been with you the entire time, and that speaks of inspiration itself for all caregivers.  I look forward to some exciting pictures in the future, and will be waiting for each anniversary as you soar towards number ten.

Dad – The Next Level

I have just returned from a wonderful Father’s Day weekend visiting my daughters.  As I am prone to do, I packed as many things as possible into this one weekend.  As they expected, there would be some adventure, but also a lot of “nerdy” things such as visiting “Dad’s past life” such as my college and the very first radio station I disc jockeyed at (although that was a bust as it was closed for the Summer break – back in the old days, the station ran year round).

As far as lessons in life, I gave my daughters one of their most important lesson, the value of friendship.  As children grow, one of their most traumatic concerns, is losing friends.  This commonly occurs when either moving to a new city or school.  Of course, as parents, we always encourage our children, “you will make new friends”.  But do you have to lose your old friends?

My daughters learned this past weekend, you can keep your friends your whole life.  One of my life long friends, along with her husband, had invited us to stay with them while I was visiting my daughters.  My daughters were amazed that I had remained friends with someone from school, more than 35 years ago.  It was a wonderful weekend all around for all of us, including our hosts.  They enjoyed the company of my daughters who as usual, were on their most polite behavior, something I always instilled in my daughters as always being important.  In fact, there was quite a bit of interaction as we played table games, shared stories about all of us, and my youngest daughter learned a new talent courtesy of my friends, how to play the guitar.

Up to this point, it was just like old times.  Just Dad and his girls, having their typical time together.  Time frozen.  Part of our weekend though would include their request of the weekend.  To go see a movie.  Being back home, I knew just the place to take them, a drive-in movie.  My daughters had never been to a movie where you parked and watched the movie from your car, and the perfect movies were playing at this drive-in, Cars 3 and Captain Underpants.  Perfect.  Under normal circumstances, this is the way things worked.  My daughters make the suggestions, and I work out the details.  This time, they had a suggestion, “The Book Of Henry.”

Both of my daughters were emphatic that they wanted to see this movie.  I had not heard of this movie, so of course I “googled” the trailer.  Based on the trailer, I found myself second guessing if this was going to be an appropriate movie for my daughters.  During the preview, it was clear there were a lot of “grown up” issues being shown, child abuse, possible murder, and who knew what to expect with a movie casting Sarah Silverman (a raunchy, but funny comedienne).  Well, being the nerd that I am, I saw this as an opportunity for what it was, a learning moment.  I was sure there would be questions after the movie, and I was the right parent to handle those questions.

Do not worry, I will not spoil the movie for you.  With a PG-13 rating, the movie was actually geared and targeting young teens.  And the previews of the movie did not disappoint either as far as what I would possibly face discussing with my daughters:  death, child abuse, bullying, single parenting, alcohol, obscenities, and solving problems with violence.  While that list is daunting, it was far from the level of intensity of the Fast & The Furious.

By the end of the movie, all three of us had shared some laughs, and at least one, some tears.  As we left the movie, all of us shared our own view point of the movie, but one thing was clear, we all enjoyed it.  And then it hit me.  This was the first “grown movie” I had watched with my daughters.  There would be no more Toy Story or Despicable Me movies.  I am more than aware of how old they are, but now was aware of how old they had become.

I have now entered the next level of fatherhood.

Can You Take 5 Minutes Today?

Happy Memorial Day!  I know that probably most of you are already either planning your barbeque or packing for a trip to the beach on this extra long weekend, the unofficial beginning of Summer.  But out of this 3-day weekend, is five minutes really too much to ask?

Last night I had a conversation with my oldest daughter about how her weekend has been going so far, and she said “okay” (typical teen with a one-word answer).  So as I am prone to do, to pull more syllables out of her, I asked her a question that contrary to popular suggestions, one that would require a “yes” or “no” answer.  Either way a discussion would ensue.

Dad:  Do you know why you have off on Monday?

Daughter:  Yes.  It’s Memorial Day.

Dad:  Do you know what that means?

Daughter:  No.

Now, I want to state up front, I was not able to serve in any branch of the service, so I cannot talk of personal experiences.  And as I have several friends and relatives who have served, I will do my best to be respectful to explain, as it once had been taught to me, by my elders, to appreciate and honor our servicemen and servicewomen who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedom and our country.

I started the conversation by explaining to my daughter that we actually have 3 days that we recognize those serving our country (again, I apologize for my ignorance if there are more – this is only what I have been taught).  There is Armed Forces Day which we honor all who serve in the armed forces.  This day is celebrated on the 3rd Saturday of May.  Next, there is Veterans Day.  This day is celebrated on November 11th to honor those who have served in the military.  And finally, as we remember today, Memorial Day.  Today, we remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in protecting our country, protecting our freedom.

As a child, I can recall conversations with family members with a limited range of military events… World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.  I had friends with grandfathers who served in WWII.  My paternal grandfather earned a Purple Heart in the Korean War.  I had an immediate uncle who had served in the Vietnam War.  All I had heard was stories.  But it was enough for me to hope that as we learn history to keep from repeating it, we would learn the tragic losses of war, and war would be avoided.  Of course it did not.

There would be US military service needed in Europe once again in the 1980’s, and of course, in 1990, I watched the television, the first war in the Persian Gulf region, “Operation Desert Shield.”  Though it only lasted less than two years, and to some it was judged a success, others incomplete, the day that changed America, September 11, 2001, would leave our country and our armed service personnel, in a perpetual obligation ever since.  Through 3 presidents now, and with no end in sight, our military is involved in so many conflicts in the middle East region alone.

Following the 9/11 attack on New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania, my nephew then served multiple duties in middle East.  Now, as adults, my friends also had children serving in these conflicts.  Wars have taken on a new meaning for us.  Because even if our service men and women come home, most never come home as they left, physically or emotionally.

To all my friends and family who have served or are serving, as always I am grateful for your service.  And today, I remember not only my family and friends who served and lost their lives in battle, but also the friends and family, and fellow “brothers and sisters” who fought beside you and lost their lives.

Yes, this weekend is a beautiful weekend.  The weather at the shore will be great.  There will be lots of hot dogs, hamburgers, and ribs.  Oh, and let us not forget, the countdown to the end of school, less than two weeks away for most.  Yes, there is a lot to celebrate with our families.  But as we are going to be involved in military conflict for many years to come, we need to remember and recognize this day, because sadly, more names will be added to the list who died serving our country.  This is why we have to remember our history.  This is why we have to always take time to remember our fallen.  So that we can have the enjoyable weekend that we will.

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