Patient Stories - June 15, 2017
The Voice Within
It was just 3 words, but they took me back, possibly even shocked me: “You have cancer.” I can still hear those words spoken by my physician on the phone. In hindsight, I took it too calmly. Maybe it was the matter-of-fact way in which he said it.
How do I start this? We all have a voice within, but those who have some challenges in life will find the voice stronger. If a major illness, such as cancer, is your challenge, then how do you share it with your caregiver, or your loved one? Your inner voice is with you every fraction of every second. But God created us in such a way that we can never fully share our every detail of a thought.
That Feeling in the Pit of My Stomach
I was 7 years old when our country got involved in World War II, and I can remember having a feeling in the pit of my stomach each day, as a result of the war. Even as a young boy, concern for our country and for the brave men fighting in Europe or in the Far East consumed me, but I suspected that everyone else had the same feeling deep down. It was a shared angst.
Having cancer involves a similar feeling of dread. I have a constant feeling in the pit of my stomach (actually esophagus, in my case), reminding me again and again that I have a life-threatening illness. I may be going through my daily activities, when the thought hits me unannounced, “I have cancer!” But you learn to live with it, as I have.
If you could accurately relay your deepest thoughts to your special ones, how could they fully feel or comprehend what you are saying? Perhaps they can’t; maybe they must live it.
When I was first told I had esophageal cancer, my mind started racing. I can’t fully describe the thoughts and the fear that roared through my mind, such as, “I’m going to die…now”; “Why me? This sort of thing always happen to the other guy”; “What can I do to fix it?” and on and on.
The funny thing is, I don’t fear death, but I don’t look forward to the act of dying.
A Life After Cancer
I have found that there is a life after cancer. I have found that we must adjust our life after a cancer diagnosis. You select the things in life that you enjoyed the most before cancer, and can still do, and you concentrate on those things.
I hate that look on people’s faces when they don’t know how to address a person they know is undergoing cancer treatment. It’s similar to being at a funeral, when all you can say to the loved ones of the deceased is, “I’m sorry for your loss.” I know that we all have a different viewpoint on this, but I have no problem talking about my challenges with others.
During the first 5 years of living with cancer, my complete concentration was on the treatment. When the cancer came back after 5 years, I suddenly realized that there was a reason for it. A positive reason!
Finding Positive Reasons
God gave me that reason. For once in my life I was being told to think of “the other guy,” not myself. As I waited for my radiation treatments, I met others whose cancer was more advanced than mine. After all, my cancer was still in stage I; I believe I had a responsibility to help others.
Losing 90 pounds during my cancer treatment ended up being a positive thing, too. I no longer had sleep apnea, and carrying that much extra weight could very well have caused a major heart problem later on.
I have attended several support group meetings for cancer survivors. However, I feel that it’s the person who is currently undergoing cancer treatment who can often benefit the most from these group meetings. Those who are undergoing treatment are the ones who have the pressing questions that no one else in their lives can answer. They are the ones who need the hug and the answers in the form of a personal history of a cancer survivor.
It took me a while, but I have learned to listen to the “inner voice,” which I believe is God’s voice. To accomplish this, I am starting a second cancer support group, to include those in treatment. The first support group is in Marlboro, NJ, and the second group is in my home in Aberdeen, NJ. Through these groups, I hope to support those who have survived cancer, as well as those who are just starting their journey.