I Got Cancer For Christmas

On December 23rd 2011, I found out I had cancer. Who get’s cancer for Christmas?! Well, obviously I do and all the others that packed the waiting room at my oncology office. I thought to myself, ‘I’m only 39 years old how can this be??

The day I found out I had cancer, my sister, Kelli, sat with me in the ENT’s exam room. The scans on the monitor were mine according to the label on the screen, but neither one of us could interpret them. But we didn’t need the interpretation of the scans to know I had cancer. The moment the nurse came into the exam room, it was written all over her face. I’m not sure if cancer was something she dealt with often, but I would advise her not to go to Vegas. Ever. “The doctor is running 15 minutes behind,” she said, barely making eye contact. Translation in my head: “He’s putting off telling you that you have cancer.” My anxiety was through the roof, my legs shook, and I tried to keep my breathing normal. I hadn’t been this afraid since I was in basic training for the Air Force. I told my sister, “I have cancer,” she just looked at the floor trying not to cry; she had read the nurse’s face too. Twenty minutes later the doctor finally came in to talk to me. He was a techie, and had several gadgets that he swirled around telling me all about them since I’m in a technical profession. I nodded quickly with a blank stare. He could see I was growing impatient so he directed our attention to the scans on the monitor to point out a spot on my tonsil. That was the cancer. It was malignant. It had also moved to the surrounding tissue and to my first lymph node. I would need radiation, likely surgery, and chemo if the margins weren’t cleared. Huh? Well it made more sense 2 months later when I was discussing surgery with my head and neck surgeon.

I actively started making decisions. I decided that my best option for my treatment was to live near my friends and family. I have a huge family, 7 bro’s and sis’ and 40-something nieces and nephews. I love them, but my friends, my chosen family, are for the most part positive and hardheaded. I knew I wouldn’t get away with being pitiful with them. I decided to stay with my friend Brett and my best friend Alicia…they took me in…to their basement apartment!  Well, they actually insisted. Hardheads. At any rate, this is where I stayed for the next 6 months. Reading, journaling, analyzing life, discovering things about myself I never knew. I never once thought I was going to die, that no matter how much pain I was in I couldn’t cry, and I had the biggest bucket list that had ever been composed.

I had an “age of enlightenment” as I call it. Before cancer, I was never so sure there was NOT a higher power, but during and after cancer, I was never so sure that there was. It was clear why the little voice kept urging me to drop to part-time in my PHD program and get a job with insurance. I was only two semesters away from defending my thesis! It made no logical sense, yet, I let in the possibility of a higher deity, made the changes, then began to read everything I could about religion.

Post-treatment I made good on the promises I made to myself. Four months later I defended my thesis and received my Masters degree. Eight months later, I ran my first 5k run since I had gotten out of the military. I threw myself wholeheartedly into a softball team that wanted me to coach them.

I make commitments now and hold strong to them. I let the small stuff go, because there’s no room for needless worry. I take more vacations. I spend more time with my family. I even bought a house, and on June 15, 2017 married the love of my life, Tish. AND as of August 2017, my CT Scan was clear…5 years clean I’m happy to report.

I will not EVER give up. I will keep fighting whatever is thrown in my path, whether its side effects or just bad days when I’m in plume of cancer thoughts, because I beat…the cancer, that I was given for Christmas.