As most of you know, I am one of the lucky ones. Well, I suppose lucky is relative. Relative, because ten years ago I was diagnosed with a highly aggressive and rare form of cancer in my sinus cavity, Sino Nasal Undifferentiated Carcinoma (SNUC for short). How aggressive and how rare you ask? After a reading a study in that comprised in 2013, the 2 year survival rate is only 20% after treatment in the United States and 8% in Canada.
I consider myself lucky for lots of reasons. For one, which is obvious, I survived something that most people do not. This means I have a lot more time to devote to the important things – family, friends, and paying it forward. The second reason I am lucky is and it may need an explanation for some is, I got Cancer. Weird, right? You see, Cancer has really opened my eyes to many things. For starters, it’s not just something old people get, sun worshipers get, or smokers get. The truth is, it does not discriminate. I still remember my first visits to Dana Farber. Where I had to go to head upstairs for Head and Neck Oncology appointments, I would have to walk through the Pediatric Cancer area on the 3rd floor seeing all the children. On my worst days (and I had some ad ones), I could never imagine being one of the parents of these kids. There is no word or words that one could say that was going to change the somber feeling while traveling through this area. The only thing that could break these silences were the kids themselves as they do their best to put everyone else at ease with a joke or goofy gesture. There were days when I would feel like one of these kids trying to cheer everyone else up. After all, I was the only one going through this ordeal medicated….Everyone else had to go through it clean and sober.
There is no word or words that one could say that was going to change the somber feeling while traveling through this area. The only thing that could break these uncomfortable silences were the kids themselves as they do their best to put everyone else at ease with a joke or goofy gesture. There were days when I would feel like one of these kids trying to cheer everyone else up. After all, I was the only one going through this ordeal medicated….Everyone else had to go through it clean and sober.
I will never forget. One day I got off on the 9th floor and wandered in what I soon discovered was the women’s breast treatment center. As quickly as I could, I did an about-face back on to the elevator, but not before two women got on. While doing what I always do on an elevator (stare blankly at the buttons), I overheard the one of them laughing and saying to the other that one of her new favorite games with her husband was “find the nipple”, to which had me blushing and I tried hard not to laugh and I remember looking up at her with that cat-that-ate-the-canary look. I uncomfortably looked down to see how my buttons were doing again. After they left the elevator I looked over at my wife Jenn and said, “Did she just say what I think I heard her say?”, to which she replied “yup”.
Moments like that remind me that we are all in this life together. I am lucky to have gotten cancer and have learned that sometimes all we need is a good laugh and the feeling that you are not going through this all alone. And sometimes you have to be the one that is going to make someone else laugh. If I had to put a number on it I would say that fighter cancer is 90% the right treatment and 110% attitude.
To put this in perspective at the time of my diagnosis, I was 34 years old, married with 2 children. My older daughter Jocelyne was 4 and my youngest Jacqueline was barely 6 months. Prior to finding out that I was going to be treated at DFCI I have to admit I was a complete basket case with all sorts of (not positive) thoughts running through my mind. Though I did question the timing, I never questioned “why me”, trying to stay positive I had the attitude “why not me” especially after realizing Cancer does not discriminate and that just how many other families were in the same boat as mine.
At Dana Farber right from the start I felt like I was in the best of hands. I wasn’t just assigned one doctor that handles cancer. I was assigned a team of doctors and nurses that specifically handle head and neck cancers. What comforted us the most was their bedside manner as I always felt like I was their only patient. The team at Dana Farber always looked at the positive and driving towards getting rid of the cancer. They didn’t quote statistics or dwell on the negative. With their strong positive force, I had no choice but to look forward, propelling myself to get better (even in my days when I felt at my worst) and towards a declaration of NED (No Evidence of Disease). The team looked over every detail of my health and created an environment where getting better was the only option.
I do believe that I wouldn’t be here without them. They kept my family whole and for that we are indebted. Please help me pay-it-forward for the next family who faces the same situation.
Thank you for supporting my participation in the Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk. Together, we can conquer cancer!