Five years ago today I had one of those conversations with my doctor that changed my life in an instant.
Medullary Thyroid Cancer. Stage 4. No cure, chemo doesn't work, radiation doesn't help. Surgeries are the only option. 27% 5 year survival rate.
It was like a grenade going off.
I had a 5 and a 3 year old. I spent my entire life before kids wandering. I wasn't unhappy, in fact I was mostly content but I was going through the motions nonetheless. Then I had kids and everything changed. Life had purpose. I had clarity and I experienced love that I didn't know was possible. I understood why I existed. Everything made sense. I knew that I was meant to raise these boys, to be a father, to help them through the suffering that defines life.
I was angry. So angry. How could this chance at fatherhood be taken from me?
I spent the better part of 2 years feeling sorry for myself, adjusting to having no thyroid, getting fat.
It's a weird spot because for some people (and I appear to be one of those people) the cancer grows slowly. Many people with the slow growing variety can survive years, even decades with the disease. If I knew I only had 12 months to live, I would book that trip to China, take that drive across the country in the RV with the family, book another trip to Vegas, and go skydiving naked. The cancer grows slowly until it doesn't and I don't have a crystal ball. I can't live like there's no tomorrow because there might be a tomorrow and a credit card bill and a mortgage and I still have a family and responsibility.
I told all my friends that I would do anything if I thought it would help slow the cancer. I researched all of the alternative treatments. The diets, the supplements, the gold injections...good god there are some shady mother fuckers who will take advantage of desperate people who are sick and scared.
I used to say "I will eat dog shit and broken glass every day if I thought it would give me 6 more months with my family." Was that true? How could I say that when I looked in the mirror at a guy who was 40 lbs overweight, never exercised, and ate candy and fast food on a regular basis. I had a come to Jesus moment with myself and decided to make a change.
I'm in a fight and the stakes are high...they don't get any higher. I'm not scared of a fight, I've been in more than a few, and I only know one way to prepare. I got in the gym and started lifting weights...heavy weights...squats, dead lifts, presses, pull ups, all the hard, horrible lifts that nobody wants to do. I started eating right...whole foods, real food, salad, meat, no sugar, no grains, limited alcohol intake. I got back down to my fighting weight. I started playing soccer. I started training jiu-jitsu a few months ago and I love it. I don't know if any of this helps but I know that, at 44 years old, I feel better and look better than I ever have in my life and there is no hyperbole in that sentence.
This post is not a spiking of the football because I am 5 years cancer free. I still have cancer and I will never be cancer free unless there is a medical breakthrough. I've had 2 surgeries (most recently 7 months ago) and it's only a matter of time before I have another. So far, my only symptoms are scars on my neck and some dead nerve endings and I'm not complaining. This post is my surprise that I'm still here at the 5 year mark and seem to be in a good spot for a few more. When I originally posted about my disease on this forum, ufl (a survivor himself) said we would get together in 10 years to have a drink and celebrate. I plan on getting that drink.
What have I learned?
None of this matters except relationships. At the end of the day, it's all we have that is meaningful. Everything else is bullshit. Invest your time and energy in the relationships that matter to you.
The Stoic philosophers have it figured out. Any energy you expend on things which lie outside your control is wasted and is a direct path to depression and/or unhappiness.
I'm not defined by this disease and I'm not scared and you won't hurt my feelings if you want to discuss it. I'm in a very stable place mentally. Please don't feel awkward or treat me any differently unless that means you are buying me drinks for the first time. I am still the same sarcastic, ball-busting poster you have always known and I have the best cancer jokes.
I can't tell you the best way to spend your days, but I know that it doesn't involve much Facebook or Instagram. It does involve travelling, live music, psychoactive substances, good books, and hanging out with old friends and family.
Now you've read this post and realized that I am living on borrowed time.
Just like you.
“Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.” - Marcus Aurelius