What my journey with cancer has taught me

When you hear that dreaded “C” word there are a lot of things that go through your mind. For me, the first thing I thought was “I don’t want to die.” I can remember it unbelieveably well. My wife had just left the room to go get stuff taken care of for my in-laws to take our daughter for a few days. At that point, we know I had a fractured femur and I was going to need a hip replacement to fix it. My dad had left work and was in the room when the doctor came in and said that they weren’t doing surgery yet. Through the work-up images and everything, they found that something was eating away at my femur. He then told me that something like this makes them concerned for a malignency…. also known as cancer. I didn’t hear anything that he said after that. I honestly can’t remember a word he said. I just remember after he left looking at my dad and telling him I didn’t want to die. The doctor had seen my wife as she was leaving and already told her but I don’t think it had really registered with her yet.

From there, it was a whirlwind of tests and scans and doctors coming in. Eventually they came to the conclusion that I was not in the best place and I needed to get transferred somewhere else. We still didn’t know anything and it took 2 open biopsies when we got to the hospital in Minneapolis along with the 2nd one being sent to Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston before we finally knew what I had. That was the first thing I learned through this, patience. When you don’t know anything other than you’re sick, you have cancer, they can’t fix your leg until the cancer is treated, but nobody has any idea what you have…. it’s nerve wracking. My experience with cancer prior to this was my grandfather passing away due to complications from treatment for his lymphoma, my great uncle passing away from it, and I can think of one person we knew from church who passed away. So to me, all I knew was that this is going to kill me and we need to start trying to get rid of it!

That leads to the second thing I learned… giving God control of my life. Ask anyone who knows me, that might have been the hardest part. There was nothing I could personally do to get rid of it. Yeah, I got treatment, tried to stay positive, did what the doctors said… but ultimately, this was out of my control. Looking back, you can see all kinds of places that He was working before we even knew what was going on. My place of work has amazing benefits and worked with me on getting back to work. My wife switched where she worked just over 1 year prior to my leave and they worked with her on getting time off and extending her leave so that she could be with me even after her FMLA was gone. My doctor at home studied under the surgeon in Minneapolis who is on of the best in the country so he got me in to be seen there after the doctors at Mayo, where everyone from my area goes, were all at a conference. When I had been trying to control so many things in my life before, God was still doing His thing and guiding everything.

I also changed my career aspirations. Before this, I had dreams of working my way up and getting into at least a VP position. Spending as many months away from my daughter showed me that I really don’t need or want that. I want to be able to come home after work and not be thinking about it. I want to be there for all of her games or concerts or whatever she ends up doing as she gets older. Sure, you can find a good work life balance in those types of positions, but it is much more difficult. I don’t need to make six figures to give my family a good life. I just need to give them my time and my attention.

What bothers me know isn’t all the same as what used to. Sure, there are things that still get me fired up. I am known as the crotchety old man after all…. but I try to think about them before I get fired up. Is this really something worth getting upset about or putting my time into? Sure, I still get fired up over things that I maybe don’t need to, but it is a lot less often. I’ve realized that while I considered myself a realist, I really wasn’t. I chose to look at the world not through rose colored glasses but in a way that all I could think about was what the worst thing that could happen was. Well, when you have cancer and nobody really knows anything about what you have and you have 2 major surgeries… you have to actually FACE the worst case scenario and look at it head on. I then realized that it really isn’t worth thinking about it until you must.

The people you surround yourself with are critically important. You’d be amazed when this happens just who shows up and who maybe doesn’t. Now, I understand that some people are uncomfortable with these situations and choose to avoid them. And that is totally understandable. More so, people that you didn’t realize cared as much as they do, show up in amazing ways. The news teaches us that the world sucks and so many people are evil. Well…. there may be some truth to that, but there is SO much more good in the world than they show. You just have to actually look for it.

I wish I would have been able to learn these things without going through all of this. That said, I am a stubborn German who doesn’t always listen. God knew that and used a big 2×4 to smack me upside the head to get His point through. Don’t make Him do that to you!! I hope everyone can take at least one thing from my journey. We are all going to go through something at some point in our lives. The way you respond to it, can make all the difference in your life after. Choose to find the “lessons” in every situation. God uses EVERYTHING in our lives for Him even though we don’t always understand what that is right away.

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