Thursday, November 6, 2014

(from Dave)

We all have some titles at some stage in our life. Like it or not, we are all given a title or we earn one.

I have had many titles in my short life.
Some good, some not so good.

The ones I cherish most are Husband and Father.

A year ago today, I earned another title;
"Cancer Patient"

"It's just a cyst". That's what the doctor told me. The big lump in my neck was "just" a fluid filled cyst. Nothing to worry about and they'd make a small incision and pop it out. They told me to wait until later in the fall after summer was over. No since ruining summer trips and fun with a surgery and recovery. It's no big deal. We'll take it out in the fall.

That was a year ago.

You can see it in the photo below. The lump sticking out of my neck. The photo was taken as I played with my kids on a camping trip less than a month before surgery. 
Looking back now I cannot believe I had this in my body.

A year ago. November 2013...I was sitting on the couch with two of my sons, resting after my surgery.

My cell phone rang. It was my doctor. I expected him to be calling for a check up to see how I was healing from the surgery and sure enough he started the call by saying “How are you doing?” but remembering back now I realize he said it with a concerned tone and even asked “Are you sure you are OK?” when I told him I was feeling fine. He seemed surprised that I was actually "OK".

The next words stunned me. The doctor told me the lump he had cut out of my neck which he thought was a cyst was actually a large cancerous tumor. Then he added more.

All of the lymph nodes in the right side of my neck beneath that tumor were cancerous too.


Really? I just played football on Sunday? I feel great. Shouldn't I have symptoms? The doctor agreed and he could not figure out why I was not seriously ill. Based on what they saw in my neck, I should have been hospitalized and in dire need of medical treatment but I wasn't. I was fine.

The news hit me like a brick. Seriously, like someone had just smashed me in the face with a 3 hole brick.

I got up from my couch and walked into another room. My wife followed me with her eyes as I exited the living room, knowing full well by my tone of voice that something was wrong.

The doctor followed up by saying he needed to meet with me as soon as possible the next morning when we would learn more. But in this case, more was not better.

Stage 4 head and neck cancer. The type of cancer I wasn’t able to pronounce or even hope to spell.

“Stage 4?” I asked the doctor “that’s really bad right?” and his head nodding yes as his eyes looked down.

Then came the fake cheerful “you can make it” speech followed by a rough plan of treatment. Most of that plan was just a guess depending on how my PET scan came out. It was obvious that it was a very bad situation and things did not look well at all for me.

Percentages, numbers, facts and figures were thrown around. 50% survival rate was one set of numbers that stuck in my head and still does. 50% survival rate.

 A 50-50 chance. A coin toss. Heads or Tails.

Not for who receives the ball, but for who stays alive.

When we got home, I went into the bedroom and checked my life insurance policies.I needed to know that if I lost the coin toss Jill would be OK. I knew she would, but I still had to check to make sure Jill and the kids would be fine. I had prepared for tragedy, but I had ignorantly prepared for it to occur when I was wearing my uniform and badge, not from this. Lesson learned.

Over the next 10 days my wife and I were numb. It was dreamlike. Faded. Clouded. I hardly remember anything that happened. Stunned responses from family and close friends. No one could believe it.

I was having trouble believing it.

Thankfully there were some off days for me in those first few days so so I had time to take it all in without the many distractions of my work.

It gave me time to think. To Pray. To accept the brutal truth.

A PET scan was done and the first good news we had received was that the cancer was only in my neck. We celebrated, albeit briefly.

Less than a week later, once we transferred my care to another hospital, we learned that it was not just in my neck but also in my mouth and throat. Two more tumors. More spreading. More cancer.

This evil demonic disease had been in my body for a very long time, growing and spreading undetected.

That was a year ago today.

Here we are a year later. 3 surgeries. 3 tumors removed. 30 radiation treatments. 60 pounds of weight loss. Many layers of skin burned off. Gone was my beard. Some of my hair, nerves were damaged, muscles cut and reattached, physical therapy, many doctor appointments and hospital visits. So many medical bills and more.

Yet I am still here.

Throughout the journey, even in the darkest and hardest parts, my faith never waived. I never got angry with God. I never said “Why me?” I know he has a plan for me and for my family and that we will continue to grow deeper in faith and love than we already have.

I am grateful to God, my family, my friends, and my peers. The support we received was amazing. Thank you over and over.  

A year has passed since I got the news. 12 months ago today.

Once again earned a new title on this my 1st Cancer Birthday…

I am now a “Cancer Survivor”.