8. Support

I don't think cancer really changes your priorities. But it sure does intensify your feelings about them. For instance, if your family was important to you pre-cancer, now they're REALLY important to you. Same about how you feel about your spouse, friends, things you enjoy, etc. One exception: work. At this point, I couldn't care less about work other than as a vehicle to have good health insurance, which I did care about. My focus was on survival and enduring these terrible treatments. Period.

And I quickly learned that I couldn't do it by myself. I don't mean needing the nurses and doctors. Of course you need them. No, what I discovered is that I really needed a great support network. Kate. The kids. My extended family. Friends. Neighbors. And others who were either going through what I was gong through, or had done it before. This is where I got lucky.

My brother Dr. Bob, for instance, was a lifeline. He was my first contact when I was experiencing side effects from all the meds and poisons in my system. I trusted him implicitly. The only area where his advice made me nervous was taking CoQ10. It's a supplement designed to spur cellular growth. His intent was to help my body rebound from the beating it was taking. But wasn't cancer growing in cells, and wouldn't CoQ spur growth of these bad cells as well? Hmm. He said yes -- gulp! -- but it would make these cells more sensitive to chemotherapy. More sensitive is medical jargon for being vulnerable to attack. Dr. D., himself an admitted CoQ user, later explained that cancer cells and good cells grow differently, and that CoQ helps good cells. I didn't have a clue whether Bob and Dr. D. were right, but it sure sounded good to me.

Dr. D. was amazing. He gave me his cell phone number, and told me to call him directly for everything. If he could help me with a medical complication over the phone, he would. If I needed to see him, he would change his schedule. And given what was happening to my body -- tingling, fast heart rate, insomnia, the list goes on -- I sure did talk to him a lot. When I saw him for the first time since my treatments began, he gave me a big, big hug. That was a first. Wait, let's see if I got this right: I need to have a life-threatening disease to get a hug from Dr. D.?! Geez, this guy is tough! Others in Dr. D.'s office were huge, too. His nurse, Lynn, was someone who saw me the most. What a sweetie she is. And Tammy, the office manager, helped me with information for other doctors, work and Aetna. And their wishes and prayers for me were touching.

My sister Betty was another important person in my cancer battle. I love all my siblings, but I'm probably closest to Betty. In fact, she was the best man at my wedding. Betty would e-mail me almost daily, and we would talk on the phone for long periods of time. Well, a least she would talk. I would tire during these conversations. But I so appreciated her love and support. She even flew from Denver to Virginia to see me, passing up the opportunity to make a lot of money at a Nordstrom holiday sale. If you know Betty, you know this is the biggest sacrifice she can make for another person.

My sister Joan told me that she was convinced -- utterly convinced -- that I was going to beat cancer. And she said it with such prayer-like calm, I knew she really meant those words. When she drove up to my house from Richmond, we just fell into each others arms. My sister Chris called and visited. I had been upset at Chris for how Michael found out about my cancer. But I told her that I really needed her with me, and she was great. My sister Cathy took a different approach. She purposely gave me space and waited for me to reach out to her. Not because she didn't care; quite the opposite, it was because she cared so much. She understood the difficulties I was having during the day, and how calls or visits could come at bad times. This was great, because whenever I was strong enough to call her, she was there for me. As was her husband and my brother-in-law Steve. I've known Steve ever since I was a kid. He was literally the boy next door for Cathy. Okay, up the street, but close enough.

Facebook helped me connect to my many nieces and nephews. Jeff and Craig were regulars in checking up on me. Valerie, Ally and Kathleen, too. Melissa, who had endured her own bout with cancer in college and would soon marry my nephew, Peter, was a constant source of support. And the Brennans. Oh, so many Brennans! Mara, who would soon marry my nephew, Matt, texted me the most. Her niece, Eleanor, was going through chemotherapy treatments at the same time. Having cancer is bad enough. Having cancer as a little girl is simply awful. In reaching out to me, Mara could better understand what Eleanor was feeling. In turn, Mara's accounts of Eleanor gave me more strength to fight.

My parents were regular visitors at the house, and I talked on the phone to my mom almost daily. At the same time, my parents were concerned about a downturn in the condition of my brother Bud; he had suffered a brain hemorrhage some years back. So my parents had difficulty processing what was happening to their oldest and youngest sons. Many years before, they had lost one of their children to leukemia. They didn't want to lose another.

Whenever my parents came over, they brought food. Tons of food. My sister-in-law, Leala, also sent food to my house every week or so. My favorite: Kate's manager at work, Tonya, who had her own bouts with cancer, constantly dropped off pizzas at the house. Now, these wonderfully smelling cheese and pepperoni pizzas were not intended for me; they were for Jack, who promptly gobbled up each and every one.

When I was strong enough to go outside for a walk, I would run into my neighbors. My friend Jim was especially helpful. He had a terrible cancer a few years ago, and had gone through chemotherapy and radical surgery. Jim helped me understand how to get through the days, and how my life was being changed. Nancy also had gone through rough medical treatment with a brain tumor. Her husband John was an encouraging force for me, as were my next-door neighbors: Julie introduced me to organic drinks; Ashly, a medical intern, told me of the cancer experience of her boyfriend at the time. Kathy would give me the biggest hugs. And our mailman, who is a woman, checked with me every time she drove by.

At work, few knew about my condition. Before I left, I had told no more than a handful. Eric gave me a big bag of DVDs. James bought me music. Mike and Cyndi worried for me. Sharon, whose husband had passed away of kidney cancer, knew what it meant to be in the chemo chair. Jane, who had nearly died from leukemia, knew exactly how hard all this was. Lorig protected my privacy. Still, lots of people figured out that something was wrong, and flooded my email or mailbox with messages of good wishes.

Kate's friends also would stop by. And a number of them had had cancer. As I listened to them talk about the experience, a couple things stuck in my mind. First, they were still alive. That was hardly a given for me, so it was encouraging to see that you can survive. Also, they spoke a language different from other people. A greater appreciation for each day. Wonder at the marvels in life. And a care-free attitude to things that normally would have bugged them. I connected to all of this. It seems there is a club for cancer patients and survivors, and they speak a different language and have different ways to live life. It's a great club to be in. But you don't want to pay the entry fee, that's for sure.

I could go on an on. And I know that I haven't told you about many other wonderful people who helped me. Sometimes, the influx of attention was too much for me to handle. Other times it was just what I needed. But at the end of each day, I felt so blessed to have so many people caring about me, rooting for me, praying for me. Now, you might be thinking, hey he didn't talk about his wife and kids. You're right. That needs a separate post all its own.

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Reader Comments (2)

Your Surgery post on fb just introduced me to your blog. I've spent this morning with it, thankful and privileged--to know you as a survivor and to read your beautifully written, candid story.

May 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKristina

Thanks, Kristina. Hopefully, this has a happy ending.


June 13, 2012 | Registered CommenterJim Kurtzke

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