When I was diagnosed with throat cancer at age 39, my first thought was my wife and three children.
Yes, I was scared.
No, I didn’t know what was to come.
What I did know was that leaving a toddler without a dad was not an option.
Putting my family firmly in the category of my “something to fight for,” I pushed through my battle with cancer, often reminding myself during the worst times that my little 4-year-old needed a dad.
I prayed a lot during that time. I am Catholic, and felt closer to God when I was battling cancer in 2009 than at any other point in my life. I promised God many things if I could get better – and one of those promises was that I would reach out to anyone who had cancer and offer help. If someone doesn’t want to talk about their disease, that’s okay. But if they do, maybe I can help one person cope.
Four months after I first heard the dreaded c-word, my PET scan showed that I was cancer free. When I went into the chemo room to thank my nurses, many of them told me they knew I’d make it because I talked nonstop about my son and family.
That was ten years ago. Today, I still come to the Cancer Center on Wednesdays to volunteer. The first time I saw a patient with the telltale “red neck” from radiation, I offered them something that would help and asked how long they had been in treatment. When I heard that their answer was five weeks, I immediately replied, “You’ve got it beat, you only have two weeks left!” When the radiation patient asked how I knew, and I told him that I had been through the same treatment a decade before. (Even now, seven weeks is a timeframe I can’t forget.)
“You see that young man over there? He beat the same thing I have 10 years ago.”
A few weeks ago, I overheard a lady I had talked to tell her friend, “You see that young man over there? He beat the same thing I have 10 years ago.” When I realized she was referring to me, I almost walked over and gave her a big hug.
That afternoon while driving home, I had a good long cry. Even if I had only helped only one person, I was keeping my promise to God. That made me feel valuable.
I have been there. And when I facing my disease and treatment, I needed every bit of encouragement that was offered to me. I understand.
This is why I volunteer.