John Taylor - Cancer, College, and Continuation
It was in the fall of 2012 that my life that cancer would turn my life upside down. At the age of 29, with two kids just five and three at the time, I would come face to face with my mortality, fight for my life, and watch the world around me evolve at a time when my life was at a standstill. 5 years later, I am a college graduate, and on to another new journey in life.
Nobody sits around saying “I better start thinking about what I’ll do if I get cancer.” Especially when you are 29 years old. But as they say, testicular cancer is a young man’s disease, and if left untreated, it can get bad. I mean really bad. Like, it spread from my nuts to my lungs bad. My oncologist said I had probably had it for a while, but having ignored the symptoms I let it spread. I’ll never forget the ER doctor telling me that I had cancer. I was numb, defeated, and scared.
That fall we learned what it really meant to fight as a family. My parents made several trips from SC to VA to help out, my wife was breaking her back and her spirit working, handling the kids, and handling my disease. I was learning how to be a patient, a father, and a husband at the same time. It was hard. I won’t lie. In February of 2013 however, we would receive the most overwhelmingly relieving news: I had beaten it. I beat cancer, and was officially in remission.
Two years is what it took to get myself back on track. Handling the side effects from the cancer and the treatment that went with it was tougher than I had imagined it would be. It beat me up mentally and physically. I didn’t get better immediately like I thought I would. Physical symptoms left me exhausted and hurting quite often. I sat through deep depression, major anxiety issues, and sought counseling and medication for both.
As I was recovering more and more, I started to feel a better sense of purpose, and more of a sense that I can do more with my life than work in the food service industry for the rest of my life. And in the spring of 2015, I decided to add another title to my profile and I become a college student. Prior to that, the last time I had sat in a classroom was the fall of 2001. 14 years before I would return to a classroom. The time in between had been spent mostly working 50+ hours a week. I was nervous. Can I do this again at 32 years old? Will chemo-brain affect my ability to retain information? Can I do well on tests?
Nonetheless, I challenged myself and I knew the subject matter. I was an IT major who grew up with a dad who has been a project manager, programmer, analyst, and just about every other IT employee position and know my way around hardware and software. So as I started, I challenged myself to graduate with a 3.5 GPA or higher. Magna Cum Laude.
I struggled to begin with. I had to take math courses again. Anyone who knows me will tell you I am terrible at math, especially algebra. I struggled with non-core courses. But I was doing it. I was back in college, determined to do something better for myself with this new life I had found after cancer. I had my struggles and a letdown here and there throughout the course of my studies. There’s no doubt of that. Failed tests, bad project grades, difficult presentations. I ran through the college experience with determination.
That brings us to May 11, 2017. Less than one month ago, when I put on the gown, honor chord, and stole, I walked across the stage in a humid, hot gymnasium on the college campus, and I received a cover that will soon hold an associate degree. 2 years of doubts and uncertainties, accomplishments and failures, and I still made it through along with 500+ fellow classmates.
A few days later, I would login to my college account, and check my transcripts. Scrolling down to the very bottom to view my cumulative GPA for my academic career, there sat the numbers: 3.507. I had reached my self-imposed goal. Sure, in college it’s easy to say “C’s get degrees” but I wasn’t going to settle for that. It brought up a pride in myself that I had not felt in a long time, and it was a good way to cap off that part of my life’s journey and move on to the next.
What does the next part of my journey have in store? That’s the next part I will be figuring out in the very near future. I’ve never been a college graduate before so this is new territory for me. The goal is something new as well. I’m not just looking for jobs, but I’m looking for a career. I’m looking to provide better for my family, to advance us forward into the next phase of our lives together, and to advance myself as a person and as a professional. It’s not exactly a lighthearted undertaking.
It’s another scenario of being in unknown territory. A familiar unfamiliarity if you will. This is a place I’ve found myself many times in the past. Worried? A little bit. Scared? Just a tad. Trying to avoid it? Nope. This is the cycle of life that we all go through. My path is different from yours which is different from the person next to you.
What I do know is this: I will continue. I’ve continued for the last 34 years of my life despite the many times I probably shouldn’t have. I have adapted, and carried on, and always try to move forward. Moving backwards is not an option. Not anymore. Continuation of life. Continuation of spirit and of soul and of climbing upwards from what once seemed to be insurmountable odds. And who knows where this journey will take me next? I can’t wait to see how it turns out!