My name is Jeremy. I’m 40 years old. And I have cancer.
Cancer is hard. I believe that this is a universal truth that you won’t find any argument against — regardless if you have gone through it yourself or not. Cancer is hard.
Chemo is also hard. In my experience, going through chemo has been just has hard as going through cancer. As I type this out, I have entered my second round of chemo. The good news is that when I’m done with this round, I will be halfway done with chemo treatment and that is a very, very good feeling. The bad news is that I still have the other half to go through; and I’ve been warned from multiple sources that it gets worse as the treatments go on.
Yes, chemo is a tool to beating this cancer. The second most important tool (in my opinion, but I’m not a doctor) to beating this cancer — with the surgery being the first. And the surgery being the most important is a fact that has been agreed upon by all the doctors. But chemo is brutal. Make no bones about it, chemo is brutal. It’s like…unlike anything you will ever go through. Just like cancer, it is unlike anything you will ever go through and both take a toll in ways that you would never expect.
Before I go further, I cannot stress this enough: each cancer experience (and, as I’ve also learned, chemo experience) is completely unique to whoever goes through it. There might be someone who goes through the exact same cancer, with the exact same treatment, and have a completely different experience than me. In fact, there’s not a doubt in my mind that this is the case.
And that’s okay. It’s not a competition, but a chance to share a mutual experience with those who have gone through, and are currently going through cancer and chemo. And a giant opportunity to share these experiences with those who have never gone through it themselves.
And I honestly hope and pray that they don’t have to. I wouldn’t wish cancer on anyone. It is truly an evil disease and I will not beat around the bush about the atrocities it does to someone going through it — not just physically, but mentally, emotionally, spiritually, the whole nine yards.
Which brings me to the point of the post: finding grace in the storm. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I wouldn’t be anywhere without my support system. My girlfriend, my friends (who have gone above and beyond and I feel that even that isn’t an adequate description), and my family are 100% what has kept me going. My continued strength is all because of them. I’d be shriveled up in a proverbial ditch (best analogy I can think of at the moment) if it wasn’t for them.
They have been there for me and even with me during my hardest and darkest times in all of this.
I am nothing without them.
Because as strong as this storm is that I am weathering, they are and have been both the shelter and the anchor that I have needed.
Asking for help is something that is hard for me. I’m both an incredibly independent and incredibly stubborn person. I will be the first to admit it. Always have been, always will be. And, yes, it is that stubbornness that has also been a tool in me fighting cancer; it has been a hindrance in my recovery. I am now in a point in my life where asking for help is a necessity. I cannot get through this without the help of others and that is a jagged pill to swallow.
But it’s not a bad pill.
And I need to keep reminding myself.
Because every single time I have had to ask for help, there’s been someone there to rush forth and take care of whatever that need may be. Every. Single. Time. Which has been a humbling experience in such an amazing way. Because not everyone gets that. Not everyone going through cancer and chemo has that. It both frightens and hurts my soul to think of how many people don’t have what I have been truly blessed to have. To know that, day or night, there are those who care so much for me that they are there for me at the drop of a hat. Legitimately twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. No question.
That’s big. That’s humbling. I’ve repeatedly said that there are no words to express my gratitude towards those in my life, my support structure, and it is fully and completely true every time I say it.
And I know that they will continue to be there for me and with me long after I’ve beaten cancer.
These people are the hope that I need to keep going. Which, anyone who has ever gone through cancer, can fully attest just how crucial that is to fight this fight.
Little moments are big moments. I’ll say it again, little moments are big moments. I went on a day trip with my girlfriend this past Sunday and it was exactly what I needed before entering my second round of chemo. It was exactly what I needed after a grueling two weeks of suffering from the side effects of the first round of chemo. I was feeling, well, not 100%, but as close as one can when going through this. And it was a wonderful, phenomenal day.
I’ve had little moments like these peppered throughout this cancer experience. I can honestly say, other than my trip to Cancun this summer, that these little moments have been the most important ones that I have had this year. Make no bones about it — Cancun was the trip of a lifetime and filled with so many memories made with friends who have been there for me during ordeal (to use such a soft term). But I cannot stress enough the cruciality of these small moments — the day trips, the mini hangouts with friends, watching a TV show with my girlfriend while laying in bed, watching a movie with my roommates on the couch, lunch with my Mom, all of the jokes and humor to keep my spirits up, the kind words and thoughtless gestures, even just listening to me when everything just sucks and I hate it all.
The list goes on.
They mean EVERYTHING. Legitimately everything.
Not because they’re big, but because they are small and mighty. As with life, they are fleeting and gone forever if you don’t hold on to them and appreciate them for what they truly are.
My faith has always been complicated and I’ve always admittedly shunned meditation (all the sitting and focusing on breathing and mantras…yeah, not me). Yet, as with everything else, I’ve had some time to actually sit down and think about things I have never allowed myself to think about back when I was “healthy”.
First things first, nothing truly shows you just how short and fleeting life is until you’re faced with the news that you have something in your body actively killing you. And has been actively killing you. All the suffering. All the pain. The sheer misery I had been going through before the actual diagnosis was both real and actively beginning to end my life.
That’s…that’s hard. It wasn’t the dreaded and final “stage four” — which I learned you can’t get from testicular cancer. But it was destroying me in every sense of the word. It was killing me and I’m going to be blunt and honest about it. Had I not caught it when I did…
That’s also a wake-up call. If ever life hands you a “It’s a Wonderful Life Second Chance card”, it’s this. Giving you a highly treatable cancer where there is, providing you survive both the cancer and the treatments to kill the cancer, is something that is meant to be taken both seriously and immediately.
The old me is dead. The old me died on September 7th when my worst fear was finally confirmed. And that’s not a bad thing.
Now, I’m not saying the old me was a bad person. He was definitely a great friend who cared for others. But he wasn’t a person who was growing and had no desire to. The old me had a passion and a purpose in life that kept getting swept under the rug of work and social obligations. The old me had terrible time management skills that were a hindrance. In short, the old me was stuck so far in a rut that he didn’t even realize that there was still a whole lot of life that was just ignored and would never be fulfilled with the path he was on.
The old me is dead and I’m okay with that.
What does the new me look like? I’m still learning that myself. I’m growing again. Here’s what I can tell you so far. I’m praying a lot more and it’s more meaningful and honest. My faith is both stronger and a whole, whole lot simpler. The new me is kinder, even more so than I was before. The new me is stronger. Stronger than I have ever been. The new me appreciates the little things. The new me is gaining that sense of wonder and curiosity that has been crushed and buried under the monotony of life. The new me wants to travel more than I ever have before. To see the world instead of just talking about it and haphazardly dreaming about. The new me wants to experience things again. To write about them again. The new me isn’t scared of life, but hungry for it.
The new me wants to be a better friend. Not that I was a bad one before, but there was always room for improvement. And, honestly, there was a lot of room for improvement in the the old me. Even with all the love and support that I’ve gotten from others who have shown me just how much they love me, I feel like I don’t deserve it and the new me wants to be a better friend to all of those who have been there for me — especially during these dark times.
The new me appreciates more. The new me now knows the importance of breathing and letting things go. The new me is learning to be more patient of others — but more importantly learning to be patience with myself. The new me is learning to forgive others more — and more importantly, that it’s time to start forgiving myself.
The new me both knows and embraces the little moments.
The new me knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that this could all be gone tomorrow.
The new me knows that if I don’t embrace life now, then it will be gone forever. And that is not a regret that I want to take to my grave. I want to know when I take my last breath that I gave this small, fleeting life my all and lived it.
The new me wants to let go of petty goals that don’t mean anything and start focusing on the real goals that will actually fulfill me and the lives around me.
The new me is learning to let go of the petty hurts that didn’t mean anything and wants to start focusing on healing the bonds that may have been broken.
The new me is the one that is going to start living again.
Speaking of faith and meditation, I’ve had three realizations since my times in and out of the hospital. Number one, I may claim to be a Christian, but I was a bad one. Hardly ever went to church, I had stopped praying, and while I preached forgiving others and lending a hand and all that jazz, I hardly practiced it myself. There were a multitude of times when I let my anger cloud my judgement. More importantly, there were a multitude of times when my judgement of others clouded my chance to help and serve them. Honestly, unless anyone asked me point blank what my faith was, I never told anyone because I knew how much of a bad example I was leaving and I felt ashamed of myself for it.
Was I kind and compassionate and (in my mind at least) a good person? Sure. Was that enough? Not even close. And I knew it.
I was the living embodiment of the Oscar Wilde quote “every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.” Only I was more focused on living in that past than desiring to have that future.
As mentioned before with the difference between the old me and the new me, the new me wants to help more. To reach out more. I’ve been given the gift of life and it would be selfish of me not to extend that to others. Now, in full honesty and disclosure, I have no idea what that’s going to look like, but I do know that I want to at least start giving to charity again. To do things like Toys for Tots and others that have a direct impact on the lives of others.
I also know that future me wants to reach out more and be a beacon for those who are going through cancer. These blogs posts, while personally cathartic, have also been a stepping stone to giving voice to those who don’t have the strength or words to explain their own personal ordeal. Yes, each person has a unique cancer experience, but also having cancer and going through the treatments is both a unique and shared experience. It might not be the same for everyone, but we can all relate in some form or fashion. Now that I’m part of the “cancer family” I want to give them, us, a voice. One that is so rarely heard.
The second of the three revelations I had was that I had been meditation this entire time: in the form of walking. It’s the one thing above all else I did to help collect my thoughts and process things. If ever there was a big decision to make or even just something I was just going through and needing help processing, I picked a direction and just walked. Sometimes it was hard. There have been walks I’ve been on where I’ve had to stop to break down and cry. But at the end of each one, I was at peace with whatever it was I was struggling with at the beginning of the walk.
Another important thing to mention is that all of these walks were done 100% alone. It’s the only way for me to truly think and process. And I realized just how crucial that is.
Once my health is restored to me, I am going to continue that tradition.
The third and final revelation is the importance of breathing. Taking three deep breaths; and also making sure that I breathe through hard things. When I was going through radiation, I had to lay on a lead bed. It’s…about as uncomfortable as you think it’s going to be. One thing that they told me to start practicing was to focus on my breathing when I got up and down off that bad. It made a very noticeable difference when I did and didn’t do it. I would actually leave in immense physical pain if I didn’t breathe.
Then I started noticing it in other things, too. Focusing on my breathing when things were starting to get hard and I was getting frustrated with myself (still very, very much an ongoing thing — even as I type this out) does help me stop, collect myself, and then proceed. Is it easy? No, of course not. No good habit is easy. Is it necessary? Absolutely.
As far as the three deep breaths, it’s the closest I’ll come to a mantra. Taking three deep breaths in, hold for five seconds, and then releasing takes zero time and resets me completely in the moment. Yet, just like with focusing on my breathing, it’s something I need to remind myself to do, over again over again.
In closing, cancer is hard. Chemo is hard. Finding grace when you’re going though hell is hard. Yet, it always seems to be that it is in the hardest times that the most important lessons we need to learn happen. It’s when our comfort zone has been destroyed and we’re forced to rebuild a whole new reality that we finally learn just what was truly important the entire time.
And making peace, both with others and especially with ourselves, to find that grace during those storms that we think will blow us away and drown us forever, that is what truly matters most.
My name is Jeremy. I’m 40 years old. And I’m learning to live again.