In this time of preparing for Relay For Life*, I would like to share my celebration.
Nine years ago (February 2003) I was diagnosed with lung cancer. My odds were poor; my lifespan was projected as very short. They couldn’t operate because the tumor had grown out of my lung and surrounded nerves, blood vessels and my esophagus. They immediately put me into treatment – radiation five days each week and chemotherapy one day a week.
You, of course, don’t want to die from cancer and you really don’t want to have to go through treatment. Treatment is rough. It took me five years to get over it more or less. I am absolutely not complaining about treatment. I rejoice at being alive and salute those men and women who gave me wonderful care and continue to delight in my survival against rough odds.
The radiation darkened my skin making it very sensitive to touch. It burned my esophagus so that at the end of treatment I needed narcotics for a month in order to eat; it was so painful. Still today my esophagus is so rough that phlegm gets caught and I go through serious coughing jags. Radiation hardened my lungs. This coupled with emphysema; I have 50 percent of the lung capacity of a person my age. Radiation also affected my thyroid gland in my neck so that I was tired all the time and even testier than usual. Pills helped that.
Chemo messed with my memory and other cognitive functions. It is called chemo brain. That is somewhat cleared up. I got to treatment an hour away with the help of friends. Certainly one of the reasons, I get to write this is because of care and support of my partner of then and now.
I had smoked for decades. When I started they were still extolling its virtues. Doctors were in advertisements promoting smoking, major television shows were sponsoring smoking. Let me be clear, I smoked decades passed the time I knew it was deadly. I take full responsibility for the results of believing “it will never happen to me”.
I quit smoking a year and a half before they found the tumor. If you smoke, the time to quit was yesterday. If you sell tobacco, you may make a profit but you lose the moral high ground, you are support a horrible addiction and may cause illnesses and even death.
I went all around Minnesota for a few years after treatment talking to young people about not smoking. What was impossible to convey to these young people as it would have been to me at their age is the utter joy of being alive – good friends, good work, good food, and the wonderful sensuality of living.
One young woman asked me during my talks to students, “If you could tell someone one thing about not smoking what would you say?” My almost immediate response was, “The people who love you want you to live.”
*”Relay For Life – Relay For Life is a life-changing event that gives everyone in communities across the globe a chance to celebrate the lives of people who have battled cancer, remember loved ones lost, and fight back against the disease.
At Relay, teams of people camp out at a local high school, park, or fairground and take turns walking or running around a track or path. Because cancer never sleeps, Relays are overnight events up to 24 hours in length. Relayers do not have to walk all night, but each team is asked to have a representative on the track at all times during the event.” From: http://www.relayforlife.org/
For more information about my experience, see my website: