Note: Some material in this post may be sensitive. It deals with colorectal cancer and the treatment of it.
Summer of 2014:
The summer of 2014 seemed to be a pretty normal summer for me. I was playing baseball in a +45 age league and was enjoying it immensely since, baseball was my first love and playing the game kept me active and around others who had a passion for the sport like I did. I was even able to fulfill my dream of playing catcher in a baseball game which allows me to say that I have now played all 9 positions on the baseball diamond and even was a DH. I felt good for most of the summer and was looking forward to the football season and my 25th year of coaching. I was excited about coaching and was surprised at how fast 25 years had passed since I first walked onto a football field as a coach! Something else was going on during the late summer months in 2014. I found out that my younger sister’s health was failing and that the prognosis for her was not good. I had just turned 48 and my sister was going to be 47 in October of that year. Flying to another state to visit her was very tough to do and seeing her in her failing health was even worse! Coming back home late in the summer of 2014, I realized that I would probably not see my younger sister again and the plane ride home for me made me feel sad and as I remember now, all I could do was cry and sit in disbelief! Not 4 years earlier, I had taken a different plane ride home after spending a final few precious moments with my Father who soon afterwards passed away and I experienced those same emotions.
Fall came and fall I did:
While I wasn’t trying to lose weight, I was staying active and had lost a few pounds and attributed my being a little bit worn out at the end of the day to my “just getting older”. As it turned out, that was not the reason. I made it through the football season and had a regularly scheduled 6 month check up with my primary doctor soon after the season ended. I went in for my scheduled blood draw about 10 days prior to my appointment and then arrived for my doctor’s appointment ready to find out the results. “Everything looks good!” I heard her say. “Anything that you have concerns about?” she asked. I remember telling her that I had noticed some dark spots when I had a bowel movement. After an extensive exam, I heard her say that she thought that I probably had internal hemorrhoids and that since I was close to 50, she would be willing to order a “precautionary” colonoscopy. I also heard her say that since there was no history of colorectal cancer in my family and since my blood-work was “normal” and that I had no risky behavior (I do not smoke) that it was up to me. I remember saying “sure, let’s do it!” Little did I know that the conversation that had would save my life. On November 16, 2014 my sister passed away and on that day I was preparing for my colonoscopy which was scheduled for November 17th. I hardly had time to grieve prior to arriving at the hospital for my procedure. I sat with another one of my sisters in the waiting room and watched as patient after patient came out of their procedures and as nurses explained to those who were there with the patients about how the patient will be groggy for the remainder of the day and also talked to them about any medications. Then, a nurse came and called my name and I walked back and changed into the “backwards” robe and then the nurse started my IV and I was rolled into the room where the doctor would preform the colonoscopy. I do remember signing the consent form and then I remember the nurse calling my name as I was waking up from my short slumber. She asked me to get dressed and informed me that she would go and get my sister from the waiting room. I did as instructed and when my sister arrived and I was ready to go. I expected to hear the nurse talk to my sister about my being groggy. That is not what the nurse did. “The doctor would like to talk with you” is what I heard and then my sister and I were in a small room and the doctor was sitting in a chair. My sister and I sat down across from the doctor and he said the words that changed my life, “during the procedure we found a tumor and based on my experience, I believe that it is cancer.” I believe that I did not hear anything else after those words were spoken and I am thankful that my sister was there with me. The one thing that I do remember vividly when I returned home was thinking about how I was going to tell my Mom this news after she just had to say goodbye to her daughter.
What fighting cancer helped me with:
Bob Marley said“You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have” and I realize that now when I look back on what I went persevered through during that fall of 2014 and throughout 2015. The short part of this story is that I had what was known as a spontaneous non-remarkable carcinoma which was stage 3 emphasized by tissue penetration and lymph node involvement. What it meant for me was that I was going to be going through several procedures, surgeries and 6 months of chemotherapy (every other week for basically 72 hours). I will not tell you about that and instead will tell you about what I learned and how I have grown. First and I believe the most important thing is that I now value every minute that I have the ability to live. If I have the opportunity to travel somewhere or experience something new, I do not hesitate! Second, I give thanks every day for the little things in life like taking a walk or smelling freshly brewed coffee! I do my best to keep my mouth closed and my ears open. I read anything that I can to gain perspective from others on how they have experienced this life. I try my best to experiment with new things, i.e. skydiving, surfing, kayaking, cooking, playing guitar, writing, meditating, etc. It is these new experiences which have helped to gain a fuller life’s adventure and have led me to a happiness in this life. I do my best not to worry! Nothing can be more worrisome than being told that you have a cancer where the 5 year survival rate is less than 18%. Worry is only debt paid on events yet to happen and I try to remember that as I go through my day. I cherish conversation and learning new things from others. I have been able to reconnect with distant friends and family and do my best to stay in touch with them. I tell my friends and family that I love them and do my best to show them that I do. The love that I received from the doctors, nurses, pharmacists and therapists during my fight was unlike any love that I have ever received from people outside of my family and I cannot be more grateful for having them been in my life when I needed them the most and so, I will send their love out into the world! I have more importantly been able to empathize with others! I now have the ability to hear what someone is saying and not react immediately and rather take a second and ask myself, what are they dealing with in this moment and are they struggling with something that is changing their life in a profound way. Connection in this way has helped me to be a better father, son, brother, friend, co-worker, sports’ official and coach. I realize now that getting upset or angry is on me and not someone else. No one can make me feel angry or upset! Only I can do that. I would like to close out this post with one of the greatest gift that I have been given in my life through adversity and that gift is the willingness to show kindness towards all. Each day I remember the words of the Dalai Lama “I don’t practice Buddhism, I practice kindness” and I do my best when I am drifting away from this practice so that I can recenter myself, come back to my true being and practice kindness. This simple act has carried over into my coaching and has helped me to understand what teamwork and trust means on the field of play. It also brings me back to my battle with cancer and how the team that saved my life worked together and trusted each other to do what they could to help save my life! Teamwork and trust are essential in every aspect of life and I am grateful that I have learned this lesson. May you have the courage to go out into the world today and practice kindness!