(My wonderful husband, Bryan, is back again to share how he’s doing as we celebrate the one-year mark of his last chemotherapy treatment!)
It has been exactly one year since I checked in for my final chemotherapy treatment for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and I thought it was about time to provide a first-person update. I’m quite certain I am not a good enough writer to fully put into words how much different this holiday season has been for me thus far. Last year my Thanksgiving day was filled with a weariness and fatigue that comes from the internal chemical warfare from my final treatment. Instead of focusing on being thankful for each and every blessing I’ve been provided, I was praying for physical and mental strength to get through this one last chemo battle. Needless to say, I’m incredibly thankful to be experiencing this season through a drastically different lens, mostly good, but definitely also different.
First, let me share the good.
Since my final treatment last November, I have had a series of follow-up activity and testing: blood tests, physical exams, a CT Scan, and a PET Scan. Each of these steps has carried a series of amazingly high levels of stress for me, but each one has confirmed quite confidently that the cancerous cells that previously existed in my body appear to remain gone. This shouldn’t have been a surprise to me given the specific variation of cancer that I had. Even before starting chemo, I had about a 74% chance of cure. Once I had achieved a full response after 4 of my 12 treatments (full response meaning that all cancerous activity had already disappeared) the odds improved to over 80%, and now that I’m crossing the one year point, the odds touch the 90th percentile. If I can accomplish the two-year mark without issue, statistically I’ll have accomplished cure of this particular cancer. CURE!!! That definitely has to be up there on the list of my favorite four letter words. 🙂 In summary, I remain physically healthy and continue to approach “pre-chemo” levels of myself.
All of this seriousness and mortal awareness has also helped me truly think about what is most important to me in a way that I have never before. I can confidently tell you that before 2015 occurred, I was a man who loved my family. However, at the time of my diagnosis, I was a hard-working father to 2 beautiful children under the age of 3, and after a long workday, I can honestly tell you that there were many times I prayed the kids were in bed so I could have some quiet time. Not any more. If I don’t get the chance to tuck in my princess and prince, my night just isn’t the same. I am not going to tell you that I’ve converted into some kind of Superdad (if I tried to tell you that, my gorgeous wife and amazing family would swiftly squash that silly-ness! 🙂 ), but I can tell you that I rarely take moments for granted, especially those moments that include the people who mean the most to me! The quiet songs I sing to my son before bedtime; grazing my daughter’s cheek with my fingertips while she holds my nose and asks me to “talk silly, da-da”; sitting close to my wife while we catch up on some Netflix. These are all moments I would have taken for granted before that are now some of my most treasured. In a strange, twisty kind of way, my cancer experience has been quite the blessing.
One of the premier moments in my life since my final treatment last November had to have been in October at the “Light the Night” walk. My mind was not prepared for the emotion of the night and I honestly didn’t even think about how meaningful and emotional this night would be for me. For those of you who don’t know much about this event, let me summarize it briefly. The walk is a two to three-mile walk in the evening hours, where walkers carry with them a battery-powered paper “lantern” that is one of three colors: red for supporters of those suffering from a blood cancer, gold for those walking in memory of lost loved ones, and white for survivors. As I walked to the registration booth, my mind was far from the serious zone. But as soon as I filled out the paperwork, and picked up my white lantern, tears of joy and relief flooded my eyes. It was as if this ritual truly released my body from the fear, stress, and havoc of battling cancer. I was surrounded by an army of red lanterns and I hugged them all like I never have before. As the night turned dark, we turned on our lanterns and there was a proud, but sobering realization. Among the crowd, there was a heavy dose of red and gold lanterns. The white lanterns were few and far between. Now, many of you know that I am a man who enjoys going against the flow, but this is one of those moments that I longed to blend in. I walked proudly with my white lantern and I prayed that in future years, my eyes are blessed to see a larger percentage of “survivor white” in the skyline.
And now, the different.
Despite my body’s success with chemo and the bountiful statistical evidence pointing to a bright, healthy existence on this earth, I now face a completely different battle than I tackled last year. The mental warfare that comes with the territory of being a “cancer survivor” is far more difficult than I ever imagined possible. For any of you that have known me for any meaningful amount of time, you likely know me as a man of positivity and energy. A man who often finds the light within the dark. A guy that lives to brighten someone’s day! Although that man still exists and can be seen relatively often, I’m shocked by the level of cynicism and skepticism that resides within me these days. Man, there’s a sharp pain in my hip area today…cancer. Why is there a pain in my kidney area? Cancer. I’m feeling a bit nauseous and tired. Cancer. You get the point. Multiple times per day I find myself palpating the area of my neck where I first found an enlarged lymph node as if I am just waiting for it to happen again. I thought for sure that my cancer was going to be my biggest hurdle I’d face, but I’ve been quickly proven wrong. Fear is the larger, smarter, evil brother of cancer.
The other thing that definitely caught me off guard was my level of survivor guilt. The mere typing of this concept still catches me off guard. Like many of you reading this, I know a ton of people who have been afflicted with the cancer bug and while the odds of success continue to improve, unfortunately not everyone wins the earthly battle. Why is it that God allowed me to remain, while others who were equally important, amazing and valuable cogs within a family have moved on? I didn’t realize how powerful this feeling was for me until I came face to face with the family of one of those whom God selected to be with Him, leaving his family seeking answers. My heart broke the moment I saw the family. I physically felt ill and had the urge to run far, far away. A moment like this would have normally had me running toward a person, seeking to create a positive connection, but now, my mind was flooded with negativity. While this is still a surprisingly strong emotion I carry within me, I am happy to report that with prayer, a bit of counseling, and a lot of love shown to me by the surviving families of the many people I know that are missing loved ones, I am slowly beginning to cure this mental disease.
I awaken each day with optimism, perhaps cautious optimism, but nonetheless optimism. God has given me the gift of today and I seek to use this gift wisely. And although this Christ-centered viewpoint is often hijacked by my sin and insecurity, I end the day praying for renewed strength, and for the ability to unearth the elements of the “pre-cancer” Bryan that I so longingly miss, yet retain the updated and improved characteristics as well.
Thank you all for your love and prayers. Although it has been years since I’ve physically touched or spoken to many of you, and I would love to remedy that with many of you, I can sincerely tell you I have never felt so loved. These are the kind of things that provide the tipping points of strength during a tough battle, and for that, I am incredibly grateful.
Happy Thanksgiving Everyone! Cheers to another year–another blessing from God.