1 Year Anniversary

Over the past year, people have often commented on my strength and how well I am coping.  I could never see myself as strong.  I was doing what the doctors told me to do and what I think anyone would do in my situation.  I’ve met many people with cancer who capture the true essence of strength but I could never see it in myself. When I was told that my cancer was never gone, I was devastated.  I had done everything I could to beat this and it didn’t work.  Now I realize I am strong because my fight is far from over.

My brother Tim refers to it as P.M.A. (Positive Mental Attitude).  My good friends Alli and Laurie, refer to it as M.T. (Mental Toughness).  The “it” is mental strength and my biggest ally in my fight against cancer.  For me, mental strength is not putting up a wall to protect me from feeling bad.  I’m not capable of doing that.  Rather, it is accepting the times I feel bad, overwhelmed/sad and knowing how to pick myself up.  It is understanding I will have unforeseen struggles and knowing I’ll get through them because I’ve made it this far.  As a therapist, I have great insight into myself and know when I need to break down and when I can hold it together.  I usually break down in the following three places: while showering, driving to work, and in church.  I do not cry in front of my older daughter because she doesn’t understand and I don’t want to scare her.  Crying is not an everyday occurrence and usually the tears are tears of thankfulness.  The breaking down part is what makes me stronger mentally because I see how fortunate I am.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not thankful for having cancer.  I’m thankful for everything in my life and I think having cancer causes me to appreciate the things I used to take for granted.

One thing that I like to do is hold a moment in my mind and experience it in slow motion.  I replay the memory over and over again in my mind and feel the same emotions as when I first witnessed the event.  I do this everyday and it usually involves my wife and children.  The moments are everyday simple things like: a hug from Katie, a look from Janie, holding Anabel, a laugh.  I wish I could truly explain living in a moment but it’s beyond words.  It is what gives me mental strength and is very calming.

I’ve used certain mantras throughout this experience to comfort me.  My first mantra was, I’m going to be okay Lord, Lord I’m going be okay.  I would sing this to myself or aloud.  I then went with, Thank you Lord for what you’ve done for me, Thank you Lord for what you’re doing now, Thank you Lord for every little thing (you might recognize those lyrics).  Now my current mantra is, Be not afraid, Kevin. You have found favor with God.  Each time I say these phrases I experience an inner peace and a bounce in my step.

All of this leads to my biggest source of strength…you.  Without your support, I know I wouldn’t be as strong as I am today.  I am truly blessed and very thankful to all of you for your kind words of encouragement.  It was a year ago today that I was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer.  To me it seems like ages ago that I faced a possible cancer “blizzard”.  Even though I still have cancer, I’m much stronger mentally than I was a year ago.  At times I’m still scared, but more often I’m thankful because I’m lucky to have a beautiful family and all of you.

At the beach

At the beach

Family at the Outer Banks

Family at the Outer Banks

Eagles training camp with Tim and my dad

Eagles training camp with Tim and my dad

Gerrit's wedding

Gerrit’s wedding

Anabel's christening

Anabel’s christening

Cardinal Stafford, my earthly angel, and I

Cardinal Stafford-my earthly angel and I

Please pray for my good friend Karen and her family.  She is my age and was diagnosed with a similar cancer in September.  She is now under hospice care.  She truly captures the essence and grace of strength.

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Here We Go Again

Chemo bags

Chemo bags

This Tuesday I will begin more chemotherapy.  It has been five months since I have received it.  Even though I tolerated the chemo really well before, I’m worried this time will be different.

My chemo regimen is the same as before.  Every other Tuesday, I receive chemo for four hours, along with steroids and other meds.  Then, before leaving the infusion center, a chemo pump is attached to my port.  The pump allows me to receive chemo for 48 hours without needing to be in the hospital.  A port is a device which accesses my veins.  It was surgically placed under my skin between my collarbone and pectoral muscle.  One reason for needing a port is that the chemo could blow out my veins if delivered through my arms.  It is also used for drawing blood and administering injections for CT scans.  After 48 hours with the pump, it will beep and I will then return to the infusion center to remove the pump.  Then that Friday I go back to the infusion center to get a shot to boost my white blood cells.  This routine repeats every other week for two months.  After two months, I’ll have another scan and make more decisions based on the results of the scan.

Me and my pump

Me and my pump

Pump decor by Katie

Pump decor by Katie

I have learned that with cancer nothing is black and white and I will have unforeseen bumps in the road.  The hardest thing for me right now is that I was so close to remission.  After 12 rounds of chemo and two major surgeries, I thought I was ahead of the cancer, only to learn it was never gone.  Now the fight continues.  Previously I was ignorant and didn’t know what to expect.  My perspective has changed and I believe it will make some aspects of these next rounds easier, not easy.  It’s never easy.

On a side note, I’ve experienced more signs that assured me things will be ok.  For me, a sign is an abnormal thing that happens to me on a hard day that helps me feel better.  For example, on the day of my scan I ran into two former clients, whom I haven’t seen in years and always wondered how they were doing.  I also ran into my old boss who helped me when I was first diagnosed.  I consider those experiences as signs because it was unusual to see them especially in the cancer center of the hospital.

Another time was on Christmas morning.  While watching my children open presents, I wondered…how many Christmases will I spend with my wife and kids.  Later that morning I checked my email and saw an email from Cardinal Stafford (Who I befriended along this cancer journey. A future blog entry will tell about my pilgrimage to Vatican City and Rome).  In the email, he said that he discussed my illness and faith with the Pope and the Pope told him, “Assure Kevin he is in my prayers.”  As a Catholic, that was the best Christmas present of all.

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