I have a whole lot to be thankful for this year. It was around this time last year in 2013 when I finally felt like I had all of the challenges of my cancer survivorship figured out, and 2014 has been the year where I proved to myself that I really did. It’s been such a liberating feeling to finally feel free from so many emotional burdens and sources of pain, and to also feel fully secure and confident in life for the first time this year as a cancer survivor. This isn’t to say that I don’t still have and experience physical and emotional disruptions from time to time, because I do. I’ve certainly dealt with an unpleasant thing or two in these past few years as a cancer survivor. The difference is that this is the first year where I’ve finally known exactly how to handle everything immediately, whereas in past years I simply haven't, and suffered terribly at times as a result. I now know exactly what works for me, what makes me tick, who and what I truly need in my life, and also what I don't. I taught myself to adjust my attitude and to be thankful for a very long list of many other blessings in my life, and not allow myself to be hung up on what I hadn't. I've accepted and know that we all must struggle with something, and I learned how I needed to live as a result. And thanks to Stuart Scott, I picked up one of the final pieces of the puzzle for me when I learned that I will never lose to cancer no matter what happens.
You can't do this or get through this alone. It requires support, and not just any support. We have a limited number of mental and emotional slots for friends and people in our lives, and every last one of those slots, especially in the inner circles, needs to be filled with not just great people but exceptional people for us in the aftermath of cancer. At no point in my cancer journey had I ever been lacking for love or support or friendships, but it's been a rather odd life experience in that my wife and I both have siblings, but are still basically only children. We've appreciated what little family we have that has been a part of this journey with us, but I still felt a terrible void from inner slots that I had mentally reserved for people that don't even really exist to us, and probably never will. This whole situation caused me terrible amounts of pain and resentment, but I had to let it go. I needed to create a new family for myself with friends and people that I felt could support me, and become the family that I needed in order to help me find my way through such a stressful time.
I already knew who some of these people were, or needed to be. I just needed to gain the confidence to close one set of emotional doors in order to open up others, and hopefully find that closer inner support that I needed. Any testicular cancer survivor is a brother to me always, but the feelings I have towards people in the cancer community extend beyond just a brotherhood. There are two great testicular cancer survivors out there today, one from New Jersey and another from New Hampshire, who have been wonderful father figures to me as well. They’re both men that live by principle and lead by example, and that never cease in their abilities to amaze and inspire me. A friend in Pittsburgh is a thyroid cancer survivor, my first of several cancer mentors, and is like a sister to me now. A local couple that I met and mentored this year through their own cancer fight have become like a younger brother and sister. Some caregiver mothers and wives have been by my side on this journey as well, along with one truly exceptional oncology nurse out there. And a friend down the street, who most refreshingly isn't part of this crazy world, has just been everything I'd ever dreamed and envisioned that a real sister of mine ought to be. She was exactly the right person and the right soul that I needed to meet at exactly the right time, and she and her family have become like an extension of our own.
One of the people I’m most thankful for is my friend Claudia. I met Claudia the first day at my new job that I started just six weeks after my RPLND surgery, barely even able to stand up straight, and still in tremendous amounts of pain. Claudia is quite simply an amazing and truly one-of-a-kind human being. All you need to know about Claudia is that she formerly worked at the U.S. Supreme Court, but also in hospice care, to understand and appreciate not just the depth of her intellect, but the deepness of her human compassion. Claudia is one of the few if only non-cancer survivors or cancer professionals that just got me. She not only understood everything that I was going through and all of the challenges that I was facing in my life, but she understood me as a person as well, which is no easy feat. We Scorpio men are ridiculously misunderstood creatures at times, so perhaps it just took a fellow Scorpio to help nurture another very troubled Scorpio back to health.
In my darkest moments during survivorship when I was most afraid and in the most pain, Claudia was able to connect with me in a way that few others ever have in my life. All it took was a five minute pep talk with her, and I just felt good and whole and confident, and like everything was going to be okay. She had a natural ability to always bring a sense of calm and confidence to a very troubled soul. Claudia lent her ear and considerable amounts of her time to me to help me sort out deeply personal issues extending beyond just cancer. In addition to everything else, she's also a deeply spiritual person, and helped me to get more in touch with God and the spiritual side of life. I had been lacking and needing a source of spiritual guidance, and she was that for me too! Claudia has been such a great source of support, healing, nurturing, guidance, and encouragement to me as I tried to sort so many issues out. She's that big sister or "sister-mom" that just takes care of everybody so selflessly, and with so much warmth and charm and compassion, that you can't help but love and appreciate and admire her so much for all that she does.
There are so many people out there that have been a part of my life in these past few years that I can truly say that I love for the ways in which they've helped to fill these voids, and enriched my life during these times of great distress. Claudia went above and beyond all of that and went straight to Angel status with me, and there's been no shortage of truly exceptional human beings in my life, so that's really saying something! I’m not sitting in a therapist’s office heavily drugged on anti-depressants today mainly because of my wife, the wonderful support of my cancer mentor (whom I would love to write more about but wishes to remain anonymous), my two awesome kids, and because of Claudia. You can’t put a price on therapy or a friendship like this. A million dollars? Two million? It’s truly priceless. Surviving cancer emotionally is all about finding the right people that have the ability to connect with you in such a special and intimate way like this. These very deep and personal soul-to-soul connections from someone who knows and understands you and what you're going through, are what will help to pull you through the darkest of emotional times that cancer survivorship can put you through.
I can't adequately put into words just how wonderful it’s felt for me to have developed some very close friendships, and to have filled those inner circle slots with not just wonderful but truly exceptional people, both in and out of the cancer community. These people have all enriched my life in ways I never thought possible, have illuminated other paths, opened me to new possibilities, helped me find my way, and have shown me sides of humanity that I had never before felt, or even knew existed. Suddenly, the man that felt he had little in the way of family, now feels rich with it.
Love and Blessings to all of you, and Happy Thanksgiving 2014!
Cross-posted at StevePake.com