You don’t know how many people have asked me how I’ve been able to do “it”. The “it” being my “ability” to battle an incurable lymphoma to a draw for now more than five years. Well, at this point I’m willing to admit that it’s much more than a draw, it’s a clear victory for sure! Yes, it’s quite likely that one day my Mantle Cell Lymphoma will return, angry and seeking revenge for the beat down I gave it nearly all of 2013 and into 2014 as well, but for now I’ll choose to bask in the knowledge that I’m living a cancer free life when many were telling me I wouldn’t even be here.
Today, I want to talk a bit about how I managed to pull off this improbable feat. Yes, it took some luck, a smidgeon of good fortune and a miracle…scientific that is; but there was significantly more involved in the winning of the war against this, take-no-prisoners, illness; I’ll call it, preparedness meeting opportunity. By all rights, I should have died in the winter or early spring of 2011, when both a severe outbreak of h.pylori and an intussusception of the small intestine that led to a loss of more than thirty-five pounds, and ultimately, the loss of 2-3 feet of my small intestine and my entire ascending colon.
H.pylori is a bacteria that lives within the digestive tract, unbeknownst to its host…you or, in this case, me. It’s been suggested that more than 30% of all Americans have h.pylori and are completely unaware of that fact. An intussusception is a telescoping of a section of the small intestine or the colon, causing a blockage that prevents digesting food from continuing its journey to a sewage treatment plant or septic tank near you.
In my case, I ended up in an operating room. Those that were there that afternoon will tell you, I entered the operating room with a smile on my face and joy in my heart and woke up in the recovery room in much the same way a few hours later. I was released from the hospital days ahead of schedule and back exercising, albeit rather slowly, within a few days. There were several reasons for my speedy recovery; having the best cancer surgeon on the island sure helped, I had great nurses during my stay in the hospital and a wonderful Caregiver waiting for me at home. But beyond that, it was preparedness meeting opportunity that saw me through.
While in Massachusetts in November, 2012, I suffered a perforated stomach ulcer that was so painful, I thought sure I was dying. I was so convinced that death was at hand, that I told Bobbie in a weak, croaking voice to tell the kids and my siblings that I loved them. Again I found myself on a gurney, being pushed into an operating room. I joked with the operating team, with not a fear or trepidation, as they prepared for surgery and I awoke with a smile on my face and a joyful heart…and a plastic tube up my nose. Again, when I arrived back on the island, I went back to exercising, rather gingerly at first, but exercising none the less. As with the earlier surgery, I had a great surgeon and operating team, great nurses and a fabulous Caregiver, but it was preparedness meeting opportunity that won the day.
In April, 2013, I once again found myself in an operating room, this time for a surgery on my neck that would result in the harvesting of the cancerous lymph nodes that surrounded my jugular vein on the right side of my throat. The actively dividing cancer cells in those lymph nodes were isolated from the remainder of the tissue and allowed to grow and divide in a laboratory dish prior to being irradiated and frozen, all in preparation for five vaccine injections I would receive in the fall and winter. Just before I was wheeled into the operating room, the anesthesiologist asked if I’d like a little something to mellow me out, but I shook my head, “I want to take in every bit of this experience,” I said. After I had moved from the gurney onto the operating table, we all joked about the Beatles music that was blasting from the overhead speakers and my being a pot smoker back in the days when the music was new. A few hours later, I was waking up in recovery, with the same smile and joy, but sans the tube up my nose…oh, what a joy.
I was supposed to stay in the hospital for a couple of days, but because of my overall physical conditioning I was back on the road before noon that very day. I can’t say enough about the surgeon or the surgical team, they were terrific, but it was preparedness meeting opportunity that got me out of the hospital that day.
The next month I started six rounds of intense chemotherapy, each round separated by three or four weeks. Unlike most patients going through cancer treatments, I got healthier with each successive round. In addition, rather than losing weight, I gained 3-4 pounds after each round. Yes, I did have my Caregiver taking care of me, but it was preparedness meeting opportunity that made it possible to be out walking the day after each of those rounds of chemo.
It was Napoleon Hill who said, “Good luck can be defined as preparedness meeting opportunity.” I heard an old recording of him saying just that when I was about thirty years old; since then I’ve kept those words close to my heart and told everyone I know about his definition of luck. To me it means that to the extent possible, each of us has something to say about how our life will proceed.
Long before I was diagnosed with cancer, I was preparing myself for the battle. Cancer was not my motivation for that preparation, rather it was the all too real specter of aging in poor health. I was closing in on fifty and beginning to feel it. Beginning next week, I’ll give each of you my recipe for Preparing for Battle, which happens to be the title of Chapter 8 of my book, Embracing Cancer – Embracing Life.