It was on this day three years ago, July 1st, 2011, that I finally got the call I had been waiting for. After 5 months of pure hell, going through the terrifying month of being diagnosed with cancer, fearing that I was going to die leaving my wife and two kids alone in this world, running around frantically trying to figure out what the plan was, three months of chemotherapy misery, and then the RPLND surgery up at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, the moment of truth had finally arrived. It was Jose, Dr. Sheinfeld's PA, who was finally calling with the news that the full pathology report from my RPLND surgery had been released. It was a Friday, and I sure am glad he called when he did, because if I'd had to wait through the holiday weekend to get this call I was going to lose it right then and there. Everything was good on the pathology report. All 51 lymph nodes removed from my retroperitoneum were benign. No active cancer, no stupid teratoma, no nothing. Just necrosis (dead tissue), including the 1.4 cm mass that was still showing on my post-chemo CT scan. And in that moment I was set free. My body was declared free of cancer, and I had finally won my freedom and independence back after cancer had wrongly taken it prisoner, and held me and my entire family hostage for five months. The long nightmare was finally over.
As I started writing this blog, I tried to remember how I felt at that moment but was confused. I couldn't recollect. I wondered if I had even felt anything or reacted at all, when suddenly it hit me. An unexpected surge of emotion seemingly out of nowhere, extreme feelings of relief and joy mixed with tears. I sat down on my couch and just wept softly for a few minutes letting that and the anxiety and tension drain away, and then quickly went to pour myself a half glass of wine. Finally, three years after the fact, the long repressed emotions of what it was like to get my first all clear were finally released from the far corners of my mind and expressed. I had been in a warrior mindset throughout my cancer fight, and didn't allow myself to feel anything after the initial shock of the cancer diagnosis wore off in the name of keeping a brave face on for my family. Learning how to deal with repressed emotions has been yet another challenging element of cancer survivorship for me, and is something that I plan to write about more in the future here on the TCAF Blog. But for now, here's to those ALL CLEARS!!!!
What cancer has taught me above all else, is just how fragile, precious, and uncertain life can be. In an instant life can change and will never be the same again. I've always been the type of person that thought I had forever, was in no real rush to go anywhere or do anything, and was happy to plan things for 10 or 20 years from now. It was my cancer experience that taught me just what a false sense of security we all have about our lives and supposed longevity, and that we might not be around in this world for as long as we'd all like to think, and that I'd better start living and enjoying life and each day and moment before me right now. Every day that I wake up and have my health, and get to keep being a husband to my wife and a father to my children is a good day in my book, and something worth celebrating. Those that know my family and I well know that we're always up to something, going places and doing things, and having the best of times together. It's how we've needed to live our lives to cope in the aftermath of our cancer fight, to find ways to enjoy every moment that we have when cancer could have cut it all tragically short. Nothing is taken for granted in our lives anymore. We've filled our lives with as many fun and memorable experiences as possible to help write over the painful memories of our cancer fight, and also the fight for survivorship.
After your first all clear, as soon as you're physically able, get out there and start living! Make some plans to go somewhere or do something special with your family, friends, or whomever it is in your life that's been meaningful to you and that you've held dear in your heart through such extraordinary times. We hadn't even really had much of a bucket list, but we do now and have been making progress on checking them off! And it's not just big things, either. The daily little things count just as much if not more so! Do a little something each day just for you, that you know will put a smile on your face. Meet up with an old friend for lunch or go for a run, take the long way to work because you like the drive better, or maybe a little treat from your favorite coffee shop. Start living life and doing things for you. Take control and live each day on your own terms. No matter who or what we are, the future is always uncertain. All we really have is the day and the moment before us right now. Celebrate life, celebrate each day, and get busy living!
No matter where you are in your cancer journey today, on behalf of all of us at TCAF I'd like to wish you all a Happy 4th of July, and Freedom and Independence from Stupid Cancer!