I had worked very hard to support my family, at times working 40 hours straight. So when retirement finally came, I looked forward to a dream come true: my wife, movies, ballgames, and grandchildren would fill my days.
But that dream did not come true. On January 5, 2009, a day before my birthday, I received a call from my doctor telling me I had esophageal cancer. The next morning, I woke up thinking I had a terrible nightmare, only to realize that it was not a dream: I did have cancer.
My next thought was—how can I correct this? Can I rerun my life to a point that would eliminate the future cancer? Why did it happen to me? It’s always the other guy, not me.
My esophagus was removed on March 13, 2009, and the surgery “went well.” The trouble began 2 days later, when an intern laid me on the bed in the wrong position, which forced my digested food to back up and into my lungs. This resulted in a month-long stay in the intensive care unit.
I found out later that my church friends were praying that my wife would be able to handle this; she lived in my hospital room for more than 30 days. When I closed my eyes at night, she was there; when I opened my eyes in the morning, she was there. Except for going home to shower and pay the bills, she never left my side. I was fed by an IV tube, but was unable to eat much.
The first day back home, I had lost 35 pounds; the visiting nurse came to show my wife how to clean the IV tube, and the tube came out. When I saw the face of the nurse, I knew we had a problem. I was told that the doctor would have to insert the tube through a minor operation, or I could “wing it.” That meant learning how to eat again; I decided to “wing it.” During that period I lost another 55 pounds, for a total of 90 pounds.
Because of my critical condition, I could not get chemotherapy or radiation. I fought the cancer the next 5 years with every procedure possible CT scans, PET scans, endoscopies, sonograms, MRIs, x-rays, upper GI series, blood tests, and too many others.
Because I could not have chemotherapy or radiation, the cancer returned 5 years later in January 2014. My focus during that period was on fighting the cancer rather than on why I had it.
I was sent to Procure in Somerset, NJ, for the 2-month radiation treatment. This was not the common office décor for a medical office of hardback chairs and patients standing because the staff had scheduled too many patients at the same time. Instead, this center had a fireplace, large comfortable chairs, and all-glass walls looking outside so you didn’t have a closed-in feeling.
Luckier Than Others?
I found out why the employees worked there—they cared! The previous Christmas, the employees spent their own money to buy Christmas presents for the children in their system. I have formed friendships with many of them that will last forever.
Suddenly I realized why I was there: why my cancer had returned. I saw so many people whose cancer had advanced more than mine. My cancer was stage I, which is still the case 7.5 years later. I now knew the return of the cancer was a positive rather than a negative thing. I realized I had the duty to inform others that if God is on your side, there is nothing you cannot meet.
I was then an 80-year-old man with cancer for 5 years. During the 2 months of receiving radiation, my right knee required a knee replacement surgery, but radiation had to come first. I thought it would be impossible to lay flat on the table, but with God on my side, nothing could stop me: I tried to tell that to others, too.
I remember Dave, who had cancer on his right jaw from smoking 2.5 packs of cigarettes a day; Julio, who got cancer from Agent Orange while serving in the military; and Chris, whose cancer showed on her face. She stayed in a local motel and walked to Procure each day; she lived in upper New York with her husband and 3 daughters. I met her husband on “graduation day.” He had married her knowing she had cancer.
One day they were playing a song over the loudspeaker, and my wife and I danced in their lobby. On my graduation day, I announced that we danced there, and we will dance again, thanks to the concerned people at Procure. It has been more than 2.5 years since my radiation and chemo.
I have since had several medical conditions, including 2 sciatica nerve flare-ups; knee replacement; and removal of my gallbladder. I now know that God is my copilot, who guides me in this time of need. I welcome each day and any challenge that may come my way. Now my wife, the movies, ballgames, and grandchildren fill my days.
One verse guides me fully: “If God is on your side, who can be against you” (Romans 8:31). So true. If God is on your side, what can be against you?
Finally, this old man’s dreams have been answered. I will be heading up a cancer support group at the Monmouth Worship Center in Marlboro, NJ.