So what have I learned? Here are some lessons that I picked up along the way that might be helpful to others. They are listed in the way that I thought about them and are not necessarily in a priority sequence.
#b#Lesson 1#/b#: The Caregiver. It is important to have a caregiver to support you during the process and Pat has done an admirable job in that capacity. She went with me for most of my consultations with Dr. Yi and all of my meetings with Dr. Fong and Dr. Poplin. Having two sets of ears hearing the advice makes it more likely that you will agree on the program going forward.
She was also invaluable in helping me recover from the three surgeries, helping button and unbutton my shirts, and letting me nap when I was fatigued from chemo. In response, I try to treat her to coffee and juice in bed each morning.
#b#Lesson 2#/b#: The Medical Team. I believe that I had the best medical care you could find. From Dr. Davidson’s original colon surgery, to Dr. Poplin’s advice, to Dr. Chandler’s consultations, to Dr. Fong’s liver surgeries, and most importantly to the knowledge, consultation, and humanity of Dr. Yi, I was blessed with the best advice that I could hope to find. I truly believe that without the knowledge and dedication of these people, I would not be here today.
#b#Lesson 3#/b#: Having a Plan. It’s been said that when you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there. When you have a plan then you have some purpose in your life.
We found that when we knew what was on the docket for the next month or two, it made living day by day much easier, and just a step in the direction of the plan. And each good day that you have continues to build up your memories of the past. As they used to say at IBM, “Plan your work, and work your plan.”
#b#Lesson 4#/b#: Keep the faith, baby. I have found that keeping the church involved in all the aspects of my journey has been very beneficial to me. From the church prayer chain that has prayed for the success of my surgeries and treatments, to the personal visitations from our senior pastor, to the joy I have found in singing in the choir, to the Thursday noon small group meetings to the daily prayers that my wife and I share, we have found strength in keeping our faith.
Our minister, Greg Young, frequently prayed with me for the healing touch of the Lord, and visited us both at home and in the hospitals in Princeton and New York.
This faith may have started in my early days in Bowling Green when my mother would dress up all her children in their Sunday best, and we would walk the four blocks to the Methodist Church and take up a row of eight; mom and dad, and the six children. This was normally followed by a typical Sunday afternoon dinner, with, perhaps, one or two of my father’s students in attendance. A Bible verse which I have found particularly relevant to my current situation is Isaiah, chapter 40, verse 31. “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint.” Very well said.
#b#Lesson 5#/b#: It’s not your fault. Cancer patients have a tendency to second guess the past. I know that I did. Why did this happen to me? What did I do wrong? But that kind of thinking does not help in your treatment or in the outcome.
Getting cancer is not your fault. You just have to know that those kinds of things happen in life and your objective now is not to dwell on what might have been but on what is. So I believe the best option is to get your plan in place and stick with it. Don’t think about who is to blame. Think about your actions.
#b#Lesson 6#/b#: You’ve got to have hope. There is a song in Damn Yankees called “You’ve got to have heart” sung by the Washington baseball team in the locker room regarding their game with the Yankees. One line in the song goes. “You’ve got to have hope; miles and miles and miles of hope.” And that is true with the fight against cancer. You have got to hope that you will succeed. You have got to hope that tomorrow will be better than today. You have got to have hope that the treatment will work. If you don’t have hope in what you are doing, than the odds are that it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy and you will fail.
I am now wearing a yellow LiveStrong Bracelet from the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Any time during the day that I feel that I am losing my confidence or feeling down about things, I take a look at the bracelet and it reminds me that I must have hope.
#b#Lesson 7#/b#: Don’t hide it. I found that talking about your situation was better than hiding it. As I mentioned earlier, we had a pretty good sized E-mail base that we updated after major events in my journey. I keep the Thursday group up to date on my progress. All of our local friends knew about me. We talked openly to other church members in the church coffee hour, a number of whom had their own cancer experiences. One day I counted five church members coming or going out of my oncologist’s offices.
The one area of our lives where we did not talk about it much was to our real estate customers. As long as we were able to provide good service, we did not want to jeopardize relationships or business dealings by having customers worrying about my condition. Some of our customers knew, but many of them did not. Those that did were supportive of us and always interested in my wellbeing.
#b#Lesson 8#/b#: The Mind vs. the Body. My brother Jim has a philosophy regarding controlling the mental part of your life, and that stuck with me throughout my treatment. You can’t worry about the how’s and why’s of cancer, which is the physical side of things. What you can control is your response, which is the mental side of things. His motto: “I don’t have Parkinson’s. My body does.” The same statement could be just as true with cancer.
#b#Lesson 9#/b#: Keep a Positive Mental Attitude. Somewhere in my IBM career, I went to a seminar entitled “Success Through A Positive Mental Attitude.” It focused our own ability to determine what our mental attitude is going to be at any point in time and on our need to have a positive attitude every day. As mentioned earlier, people have commented about my positive attitude. I believe that, whether you are dealing with cancer or something else in your life, a daily positive attitude is one of the most important things that you can bring to the table.
#b#Lesson 10#/b#: Know your stuff. I have found that the more you know about your specific cancer and your treatments, the better questions you can ask your oncologist and surgeon, and the more likely you are to understand their responses. As I mentioned earlier, I searched out a lot of information on the Internet regarding colon cancer and its treatments. I am even signed up for a service that distributes results of presentations from some of the annual meetings of the oncologists. And I download the annual reports of the American Cancer Society.
I have subscribed to Cure, a magazine dedicated to cancer education and I pick up the pharma brochures on the various chemos that I take. I also get a lot of side information from the chemo nurses. It makes me feel good to know that I have a little bit of the knowledge it takes to understand the cancer that I have.
#b#Lesson 11#/b#: A Day at a Time. It may be a little trite, but you have to take the journey a day at a time. Getting stage IV colon cancer, or any serious cancer or disease for that matter, is not a good thing. But with the treatments available today you can, hopefully, hang on for a long time. That’s what I hope happens to me. So what you have to do is take the day you have today and make the best of it. You can’t do anything more about yesterday; you can have a plan for tomorrow, but today is the day that you can actually make something happen.