A Message of Hope

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A Message of Hope

by Dr. Steve

She was a friend of mine, someone who fearlessly shared the most intimate details of her recent illness with her friends. She was in her 40’s, so beautiful, articulate, and easy-going. Considering the fact that she had Breast Cancer, I couldn’t understand how she could stay so calm.

30 years later, when I had to step up to the plate — when my own life was on the line — I followed her example and knew exactly what I had to do.
1- I must not go through cancer alone. Isolating makes a bad situation even worse.
2- I must reconnect with my Higher Power, who I call GOD.  And
3- I must reach out and help other cancer patients and their families.

A year ago, at the age of 79,  I walked into my Nashville doctor’s office for a routine checkup. I felt great, even questioning why I needed my annual exam at the height of the Covid pandemic. I know I was a little anemic, but a few iron pills would probably do the trick. Considering my age, I was in great shape. I exercised every day. My weight was perfect. I ate a healthy diet (with the exception of a few Dunkin’ donuts). And I didn’t smoke or drink.

An hour later, I staggered out of his office: Without immediate treatment, I had 6 months to live, a year and a half at most!

Was he crazy? I didn’t believe him. It was Multiple Myeloma and Secondary Plasma Cell Leukemia, one of the rarest types of blood cancers. My only hope was 5 months of intensive chemotherapy, followed by a Bone Marrow Transplant. The problem was that I would be the oldest patient ever to receive a Transplant. The cut-off age was usually 75.

Could an “old geezer” like me, handle such a taxing procedure?

Oh well, I’ll worry about that later.

The next few days were a blur. All those medical decisions had to be made. 2nd opinions, 3rd opinions… Thankfully I had my incredible wife in my corner. We needed a crash course in this very rare disease. Who was the best specialist to see? Which hospital should I go to? And of course, I had a family to think of. Facing reality, arrangements had to be made, just in case, I didn’t make it.

Even though I was in panic mode, and my family was hysterical, I somehow remembered what my friend had suggested so many years ago. I started making my calls. I even spent lots, I mean lots, of time “speaking”  to my Higher Power. They weren’t fox-hole prayers either. I wasn’t asking HIM to “fix me”. I was asking GOD to give me the strength to handle the upcoming treatment, the knowledge to make good decisions, the patience to console my family, and the courage to be an example to others who were facing a similar prognosis. (just as my friend had done 3 decades ago)

Amazingly, defying the odds, I had very few side effects while the very strong chemo miraculously did its magic.

(loosing my hair and 12 lbs kept the paparazzi away )

Cancer had been brought under control and it was decided that despite my age, I was now eligible for the transplant. Some hospitals, like Vanderbilt, had never even performed this procedure on a patient my age.

Btw: one important factor was that I didn’t smoke or drink! If you need a reason to stop, this should be it.

Eight weeks later I was at the University of Alabama/Birmingham’s amazing Multiple Myeloma Department, where Dr. Luciano Costa’s nationally recognized, state-of-the-art, bone-marrow transplant Team was waiting for me.

What followed was a miracle. I’m in total remission, one day at a time. However, with this type of aggressive cancer, I’m now an outpatient on a preventive chemo regimen. This is a small price to pay for an extension of my life.

What can every cancer patient (or anyone diagnosed with a serious life-threatening disease) learn from my experiences? Let me first start with two memories I have during my first year of cancer treatment:

1- It was 2 in the morning. Of course, I was in pain. Of course, my GI Tract was creating its continuous turmoil. Of course, I couldn’t sleep. Of course, the Transplant Nurse came in to see what was wrong. It was obvious that something was upsetting her. So, I asked her. She sat at my bedside for 30 minutes, telling me about her own personal problems, so happy that someone was finally listening to her. For that short period of time, I even forgot about my own problems.

2-  I was so mad at GOD. How could HE do this to me? I’ve become a decent husband, father, and grandfather. So I spoke to one of the holiest men I know, Nashville’s Chabad Rabbi Yitzchok Tiechtel.
He and the congregation were praying for me. Wow!  Immediately, a sense of hope came over me. I can’t imagine one day going by, without speaking to the “Man Upstairs” for guidance, encouragement, understanding, and love.
I truly believe that GOD “gave me cancer”  so I could:
– spread the message of hope to those who feel hopeless.
– spread the message of optimism when all they feel is doom. and
– spread the message that we must never give up, no matter what the odds are against our survival.

Here are some lessons I learned this year:

1- Get a good therapist who can help you with the incredible fear, anxiety, and panic that goes along with every cancer diagnosis.

2- Learn everything you can about your disease.

3- Get a second, then a third, and if necessary a fourth opinion.

4- Confirm your diagnosis and treatment with leading national experts, not necessarily with the closest doctor to your home. (Face-time makes consultations so easy.)

5- Ask questions. Demand answers. “The only stupid question is the one you don’t ask.”

6- You must become your own best advocate. “Trust but verify”.

7- Join a cancer support group.

8- Find a Cancer Coach, someone who is dealing with your disease. He or she is invaluable.

9- Keep a gratitude list and a diary, Write everything down. Chemo gives you “fog brain”. It’s not you, (or your age!). It’s the damn chemo that makes you forget things.

10- Reach out and help other cancer patients.

11- Bring along someone, preferably your spouse or adult children to every visit. Then compare notes about what was said.

12-  Only see MDs who specialize in your specific disease. They are on the cutting edge of the latest treatment and research.

13-  Research shows that a positive attitude, an optimistic state of mind, overall mental awareness, and faith gives the patient a much better chance at survival.

14- And above all else, develop a relationship with your Higher Power.

“GOD is doing for me, what I couldn’t do myself.”

HE must have other plans for me. I better pay attention, so I don’t screw up whatever time I have left.

I HAVE CANCER….

CANCER DOESN’T HAVE ME!!!


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