Happy 2nd Cancerversary to Dan! Two years ago today, I was headed down the road to college to pick Dan up and take him for a Bone Marrow Biopsy (BMB). We knew there was something wrong with him but we really weren’t sure what it was. There was an issue with his blood but we figured it couldn’t be too bad since just a few weeks before he had been running 5-10 miles per day! We were basically clueless about what was to come and I am grateful for that! After the BMB, we were told we wouldn’t know for a few days what the results were but that everything had went well. Afterwards, I brought Dan back to college and drove the 75 miles back home. It was a relaxing drive…the surgeon had given me the impression there was nothing to worry about so I actually enjoyed the ride home…singing to the radio, etc. Good thing I did, as it would be the last time I would truly relax for about 8 months!
Later that evening, the phone rang…it was Dan. He had gotten a phone call at school from the Hematologist that had sent us for the BMB. He told Dan that he was “pretty sure” that he had Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL) and would need immediate treatment. Since we had requested a doctor in Sioux Falls, he said he had arranged for a doctor there to call us to tell us the plan. Imagine…you are 20 years old…a college student…alone in your dorm room…and someone calls and tells you that you have Leukemia! I can only imagine the shock, pain and confusion that he went thru in those moments…And then, to have to call his mother and tell her, he had cancer! I know that was the hardest thing of all for him to go through…knowing the pain I would be in and not being able to hug me! After he told me, we both cried for a few moments…then I went into fight mode! Before a race, I had always told him, “Kick some (insert opposing school) @ss”! So I told him, “We are going to fight this. We are going to kick Leukemia’s @ss!” He chuckled and said “Yes, we will!” That seemed to calm him down…even then I knew that I had to stay calm and in control, so that he would be strong for whatever was ahead. Then he went off to tell his friends, teammates and coach what was going on and waited for the Sioux Falls doctor to call with the plan. I can’t comprehend what those conversations were like – I know they were shocked, just as we were. He would need to leave school the next day to begin treatment…leaving his schoolwork, friends and teammates behind…for a year!
|Dan in the hospital with his "fake hair"|
So here we are two years later. Although Dan has done incredibly well during treatment, there have been many tough times…financial issues, medical issues of all kinds (including a blood clot in the jugular that required 2 shots a day in the stomach for months) and the removal of his Triple Lumen Hickman catheter due to an infection. When I look back, it is not these things that come to mind first but rather the good things that came our way…the incredible outpouring of support from family, friends & co-workers…the wonderful doctors & nurses that cared for Dan…and the amazing survivors we have met along the way. The best part of this experience though has been how both Dan and I have grown in the past two years…hence the title “The Gift of Cancer”.
Dan has always been a “good kid”…not that he didn’t get into trouble. It wasn’t often but when he did, he learned from his mistakes and tried to never do it again. He was quiet and shy…introverted but thoughtful. His teachers always said they wished he would speak up more – they were certain he knew the answers but wouldn’t raise his hand! He rarely started a conversation with someone but would answer, briefly, when spoken to. Sports were always his focus and after winning state in the 4x800 he earned a bit of swagger! Schoolwork was important but sometimes he did just enough to get a decent grade…accepting a B when a little more work would have gotten him an A. He could’ve made it onto the National Honor Society but didn’t want to write the essay – who needs that anyway, right?? That was his mindset.
|Dan crossing the finish line at state - State Champs!|
Today, Dan is still a quiet guy but is much more engaging. After 2 years of doctors, nurses & techs greeting him and asking him how he’s doing he has learned to reach out. At first, he would just say fine…then, eventually “pretty good” and now he will engage first and tell them about his latest running exploits or his perfect 4.0 from last semester. His grin has turned into an all-out smile that brightens the room. He is also so determined to do well in college…the B’s just aren’t good enough anymore and he is now gunning for one of those medals around his neck at graduation in 2013! He can’t indulge like other kids in the partying…with all the drugs he has in his system, more than one or two drinks are not wise! Most nights he is in bed by 9 or 10…after the up to 10 miles of running, classes and the chemo, his body is just worn out by the end of the day! It doesn’t seem to bother him…he keeps the end game in sight and focuses on the ultimate goal…finishing chemo and graduating! Before, Dan’s prize possession was his medal for winning state in the 4x800 relay. Today, it has been replaced with a purple medal from the Relay for Life! The track medal sits at home under glass while the Relay for Life medal goes with him to college to remind of what he’s been thru and what is to come!
For me the changes have been gradual…I have found my voice…literally…as proven by this blog! It started out of necessity with Dan’s Caring Bridge to keep everyone informed on his progress and transformed into a growing passion that I am just beginning to realize. I used to write – both stories and poems but haven’t done it in years. I am happier & more content with my life now. I think when you go through something like this you learn to not sweat the little stuff anymore but focus on the bigger picture. My kid has cancer…so if I make a mistake or someone doesn’t like me or my hair looks like crap…in the big picture, those things are really pretty insignificant! I am much more positive…to be honest, I was a little bit of a Negative Nellie… looking at the glass half-empty instead of half-full! I enjoy life more and notice the little things…like the chipmunk in my yard…I’m sure he was there before but I never bothered to look. I love the feel of the sun or wind on my face and try to take the time to just see what is going on around me! I am not so hurried anymore! I take the time to watch the birds and the butterflies in the yard. I don’t take myself so seriously anymore. I am finally at peace with who I am and what my life is…boy, that took awhile!
Like everyone says…you find out who your friends are…and I have many more than I thought! I found support from my brothers & sister and their families as expected but also was lifted up by my work family too! They put up with my frequent absences and occasional breakdowns and still kept me around – I am so grateful to all of them! All the Coaches, Parents, Teachers…they all stepped up to help keep us going in this fight. I actually learned to ask for help…I still have a way to go with that one but I am working on it!
|Dan and I at the ISU Meet in Ames|
But the biggest gift that cancer gave us was each other…that neither Dan or I had to go through this alone…we did it together. I remember one time early on saying “we had a lumbar puncture” and then I apologized to Dan…I didn’t have the LP, he did! He answered, “No, we both did…you’ve been with me thru everything.” So from then on, I used “we” when I talked about anything regarding his illness. We have gotten very close in the last 2 years…we sure spent a lot of time together. I did get a little sick of the non-stop viewing of ESPN Sportscenter and the Food Network but I am getting a respite from that when he goes back to school. The bond we have forged is stronger than ever and is one of the greatest gifts I could ask for. I would trade places with him in a minute and take on all he has gone through but I know that he is grateful for this gift also. He wouldn’t be who he is and where he is without the Leukemia. I wish it could have come to him in a different manner, but “it is, what it is”. So Happy 2nd Cancerversary Dan…and here’s hoping for many, many more!