In February 2017, at the age of 57, I was diagnosed with CLL/SLL trisomy 13. The month before, I was experiencing severe abdominal pain that landed me in the ER. A scan showed that I had a bowel obstruction and a mass on my liver, with additional spotting on a lung and swollen lymph nodes throughout my body, all of which were symptomatic of cancer. I was admitted to the oncology unit of the hospital, and further biopsies confirmed my cancer diagnosis.
From there, I started working with the team at Virginia Cancer Specialists. I began chemotherapy in June and that has been going extremely well. I feel fortunate to have ended up at what I believe to be one of the finest facilities for cancer treatment in the country, if not the world. Every doctor I’ve dealt with has been terrific and the support staff are all extremely professional and pleasant to deal with. They are more than willing to help you get a second opinion and they can provide a wealth of information.
Throughout this journey, it’s been important for me to take things as they come and not be overwhelmed, not only for my own well-being, but for my wife whose prior husband died of cancer and for whom this is very tough at times. When I was first hospitalized, the staff told me how impressed they were with my positive attitude. After some very challenging times in my life, I am just grateful to not only still be alive in the first place, but to be surrounded by so much love and support from my family and friends. I have been a recovering alcoholic for 26 years, and the support network that helped me through that has also helped me through my cancer journey.
I am fortunate that my cancer diagnosis has not prevented me from being active and doing the things I love which are primarily making music and art. I have also been able to remain physically active by walking, running and kayaking. So all in all, I’d say it’s not a bad deal. In some ways I’m just lucky to be alive at all, so I consider this bonus time.
For other patients who are facing cancer – you are not alone. Even though it’s hard, try not to catastrophize in advance. Just take each new piece of information you get about your situation as it comes and do the next necessary thing. You are in a unique position to truly treasure and appreciate this time we have here. And you are in a position to help others through your strength and inspiration and continued capacity to love and accept love. Reach out and allow yourself to be reached.