Fighting and surviving cancer is one of those things that's going to completely change your perspective on life. Like all too many people, I had been taking too much of my life for granted prior to the cancer diagnosis that forever changed my world. After I turned 30, I stopped counting my birthdays for awhile and didn’t even know how old I was anymore. Part of this was the fatigue, exhaustion, and mental fog of starting a family and bringing our two awesome children into this world, but to recall my age during these years I either had to calculate it out because I seriously didn’t know, of if I was super lazy I’d just ask my wife! It didn’t really matter. Each year was a given and inconsequential. There was no rush as there was always tomorrow or next year. My cancer diagnosis at age 33 taught me just how fragile life is, and that each day really is a gift and something to appreciate. It was the fear of losing everything more times than I care to recall as I fought, recovered, and survived that helped me to realize just how much I have to be thankful for in this world.
And so I bring to you, Five Days of Thankfulness from a Cancer Survivor. Check back each day this week, Monday through Friday, for each day's message of thanks!
Five Days of Thankfulness - Day 1
I’m Thankful for Life Itself.
1. I’m thankful to simply be alive and to be here at all. It really does change things a lot when you wake up each morning and are truly thankful for another day to live, to love, to laugh, and to enjoy your life, and your family, and your friends and all those that are meaningful to you. There isn’t really a such thing as a bad day for me. So long as I and members of my family all have our health, every day is a good day. Did you see me smiling? It’s because I’m here and I’m breathing, and I’m enjoying another day that I might not have had otherwise. Nothing else really seems to matter anymore.
2. I’m thankful to be living in a time where there are cures for cancers like mine such that #1 is even possible. Just a generation or two ago, testicular cancer was a killer and had a 90% death rate. Now it has a 90% overall cure rate with earlier stage disease being 95-99% curable, and is one of the greatest success stories in modern oncology. This past weekend marked the 40th Anniversary of Dr. Lawrence Einhorn discovering the cure for testicular cancer at Indiana University, and treatments for testicular cancer are so effective these days that they’re concentrating on how to minimize side-effects. Yeah I have a few that are permanent, but they don’t mater. I deal with and manage them. What matters is that I’m here. In another time I probably wouldn’t be. What a blessing to live in this time.
3. I’m thankful to live in a place and within a system where we have access to the best doctors in the world, and also among the best overall cancer care in the world. Testicular cancer is considered a rare cancer. The expertise needed to treat or operate for TC doesn’t even exist in some parts of the world, but it does here, and I ended up needing every bit of that expertise. My cancer fight nearly killed me, but having the very best doctors in the world saved me. What a blessing that is, too.
Life is so fragile and precious. Each day is truly a gift and a blessing. Don’t let it go to waste, get out there and live and enjoy it!
Five Days of Thankfulness - Day 2
I'm Thankful for My Family.
1. I’m thankful for my wife, the love of my life, my soulmate, and the beautiful woman that I get to wake up to every morning and call mine. She works so hard and takes such good care of all of us, pulled me through the darkest of times, and I couldn’t imagine life without her. We’re going to celebrate our 10 year wedding anniversary in October, and will have been together for 18 years, just short of half our lives! So thankful for everyday with the love of my life.
2. I’m thankful for the blessing of my children. They’re so precious to me, and literally irreplaceable. Like all too many young adults that have faced cancer, I’ve suffered a complete loss of fertility as a result of my cancer treatments, so to have a family at all as a young adult cancer survivor is such a blessing. There’s been no greater source of inspiration and drive to fight hard and pull myself through all that I’ve needed to get through in the past few years than my two kids. My son especially has even taught me how I’ve needed to live. He knows no worries about tomorrow, nor is he haunted by what happened yesterday. He knows only of today, right now, and wanting to have a good time. It’s exactly the mentality I’ve needed to have. So fortunate to have both of my awesome children.
3. I’m thankful for the dynamics of our family. It doesn’t matter where we’re going or what we’re doing, it’s pretty much a guarantee that we’re all going to have an awesome time together. Sure, the kids push limits and occasionally need some guidance on proper behavior, and extended trips are definitely a lot of work, but there’s truly very little conflict between any of us. Nothing but good times, a lot of fun, and many joyful adventures! The wonderful memories we make together today as a family have helped to write over the painful ones from my past, and have helped me move on in my cancer aftermath. I'm no longer haunted by terrifying aspects of my cancer fight and survivorship. I remember all of the fun things we did and great times we've had this year, and last year, and the year before. There’s been no better source of healing for me than my family, I couldn’t be more thankful for that.
Five Days of Thankfulness - Day 3
I’m Thankful for the Cancer Community
1. I’m thankful to have had a cancer mentor. Before I knew anything about what a cancer mentor was or why one might have been useful, I already had one. After we announced my diagnosis to friends and family, a friend from way back who just happened to be a cancer survivor took upon this role without even asking, and I couldn’t have made it through my cancer fight and survivorship without them. Having someone by your side every step of the way who’s been there and done that, and “just knows” and understands all of the challenges that you’re going to face both physically and mentally, made all the difference in the world for me. In my darkest days as a survivor when I was so afraid, having been spooked and rattled so badly by a recurrence scare and suffering from a deep depression and PTSD, it was my wife that gave me all of the love that I needed to stop my fall, but it was my cancer mentor that helped get me turned around and who helped to guide me onto the new path on which I would ultimately thrive. It didn't even matter that my mentor was a she and not a he, and that of course they didn't have the same cancer as me. So much of the young adult cancer experience is common, and transcends gender and cancer differences to the point that it doesn't really matter. I will be forever grateful for this person’s presence in my life, and am proud to say that today this person is an official Imerman Angels Mentor Angel!
2. I’m thankful for the Internet and all of the modern technology that we enjoy, and its way of connecting all of us in the cancer community together. The support I’ve been blessed with from this vibrant and passionate community over the years has been irreplaceable, and I never cease to be amazed, uplifted, and inspired by all of the wonderful projects, charity work, awareness campaigns, wonderful writing and essays, and sometimes even books that people within this community come up with. What I’m most proud of though, is that I’m now able to give back to this great community from which I’ve benefitted so much, and that occasionally that person doing the uplifting and inspiring and coming out with great works is me! For that I’m thankful as well!
3. I’m thankful for the opportunity to have been a cancer mentor myself. It wasn’t something that was planned, it just sort of happened. I think that God knew I was ready, and that I had the strength to stand by someone’s side at every step, as a young couple right in my area lived and experienced the same months long nightmare as me. It was a blessing to have had a mentor myself without even asking, but an even greater one to be able to pay that same gift and blessing forward onto another couple in their time of need. Nothing has been more fulfilling to me. It’s what helped me realize that I had finally come full circle in my own cancer journey. It helped bring me closure knowing that I had truly made it to the next level, when I went from the one in bad need of mentoring and guidance, to the one actually providing the mentoring!
It’s an awful thing to meet people under the most terrible of circumstances like these, but I’m so grateful for the wonderful bonds that have formed, and am overjoyed that I’ve been able to make such a profound difference in other people’s lives. Yet another thing to be thankful for!
Five Days of Thankfulness - Day 4
Thankful for wonderful friends, a solid foundation, and new perspectives.
1. I’m thankful for all of my wonderful friends. I grew up on a very independent streak, and was never really all that social of a person. I never appreciated the power of the right people and friendships to make such a difference in a person’s life, but after my cancer experience my eyes have been opened. Through my friends I have known the power to uplift, to nurture, to heal, to help calm me down, to provide guidance, to inspire me, to help me smile, to help me laugh, to help me have a good time, and to help me forget for awhile, and so many other wonderful things. Whatever I’ve needed as far as people power in these past few years, God has provided in the form of friendships. When I look at a friend in the eyes, I know exactly how they’ve been there for me and the ways in which they’ve made a difference for me through the most challenging of times, and I’ll be forever grateful and appreciative of all of these wonderful friendships. It’s a powerful word, but I can say that I truly do love and cherish my friends, and I’m very thankful for that.
2. I’m thankful for good jobs, and our solid foundation. My wife and I met as freshmen in college, but sacrificed being together through most of our 20’s all in the name of getting through various schools and training programs and getting our careers launched, and didn’t actually settle down under the same roof together until we were in our late-20’s! What we created for ourselves was a very solid foundation, and we needed every bit of that to get through what we have. I had been laid off from my previous job and then found out that I had cancer a few months later. Good insurance from good jobs and a fiscal house that was in good order is what got us through that! Who has six months of liquidity sitting around to weather a family crisis like this? Maybe you ought to. It could happen to anybody. It happened to us. The solid foundation that we have has also allowed us to travel, and go places and do things as a family. All of the fun things we’ve done, and all of the places we’ve gone and memories we’ve made might not have been possible if it wasn’t for that. I’m thankful for the sacrifices we’ve made and the life it allows us today, and what it’s allowed us to get through together.
3. I’m thankful for my new perspective on life. There are a lot of terrible things about fighting and surviving cancer, but there are good things too, and I really am appreciative of my new perspective on life. There’s nothing I take for granted anymore. I appreciate everything, enjoy everything so much more, and know just how lucky and blessed I am. I appreciate each and every friend that I have, my wife, my family, my job, my wonderful colleagues that have been so supportive, and so many other things. I’m cruising through Day 4 here and there’s no way I’m going to get to everything that I’m appreciative of and thankful for. You can’t enjoy a beautiful sunrise, fresh air up in the mountains, or your family or friends when you’re stuck in a hospital bed or a chemotherapy ward chair fighting like hell, and wondering if you’re going to die or not. Suddenly that “bad day at the office” seems so trivial and unimportant. Everything changes. You see everything so differently and in a whole new light. I’m thankful that I’m even here at all, and that I’m alive to be writing this. (Day 1) I would never wish anyone to go through what I have, but I do appreciate and am thankful for this new perspective on life.
Bonus thanks today, for changed perspectives. I looked in the mirror the other day, and for the first time I really noticed that I'm not the younger guy that I used to be. I was diagnosed with cancer at age 33, and will turn 37 next month. I have more gray hairs all around, and my eyes and face look different. Do you know what I prayed for while sitting huddled in corners more than a few times? That I just wanted to live and to become an old man someday "like everybody else", so that I could see my children grow up and hopefully hold and play with a grandchild one day. I wear this newly noticed "aging" with great pride. It's a sign of survival, of resilience, and that I'm still on my way to my ultimate goal in life. So very thankful for that!!! (And now it's time for another buzz cut - my way of hiding those grays!)
Five Days of Thankfulness - Day 5
God's gifts and blessings to me personally.
For too long I had been fixated on what I hadn’t been blessed with personally in life, like good health, and finally learned to become thankful for what I had. All of the previous four days I consider to be gifts from God in the world around me, but on this last day I also wanted to recognize and be thankful for God's gifts and blessings to me personally.
1. I'm thankful for impeccably good instincts about things and people. I can't read people's minds nor is it really a sixth sense (or maybe it is?), but I can tell very quickly whether something or someone is good for me or not, and whether they're supposed to be a part of my life or not. When I’ve listened to these instincts I’ve been rewarded handsomely, and the occasional times I haven’t I’ve been hurt when I’ve failed to steer myself clear of people and things that would do me harm. This instinct did an incredibly good job of housecleaning so to speak, when it was given full rein when I had really been hurting during my survivorship. It helped to bring me more of what I needed in my life, and also did the dirty work and got rid of what just needed to be gone. And once upon a time as a young freshman in college, this instinct went off the scales positive like never before in my then 18 years about a girl I had just met, and within a week I knew I had found my future wife. First girl I ever dated. You’d better believe I’m thankful for an instinct like this!
2. I'm thankful for the ability to look deeply within. Cancer pushes you far beyond your limits, and forces you to really get to know yourself and to truly understand what your needs are both as the core of your person, and as the person you’ll evolve into in your life after cancer. I’m thankful that I’ve been able to get through all that I have without finding myself in a therapists’ office, or on an anti-depressant or other drugs. I made sure that I had plenty of "me time" where I could just tune out the rest of the world and focus, I meditated while running, wrote furiously in a journal and held dialogs with myself, tapped into mentors and friends as needed, and kept myself well stocked with wine! If only that were a billable medical expense! Thankful for self-healing.
3. I’m thankful for the gift of expression. Whether through a lens via photography, or the written word, I’m thankful to be able to express outward what I’ve learned or what I’ve felt inward. I’ve been told more than a few times that it’s rare to be able to use both sides of one’s brain. Maybe that ability has been there all the time, or perhaps my cancer experience forced me to develop it. Either way, yet another thing to be thankful for.
Understanding what I had been through, along with taking this self-assessment of God-given gifts and blessings, I came to the realization that God not only gave me all of the tools I needed to heal from this experience, but also the ability to express what I had learned to help heal and educate others. It’s helped me to understand perhaps a bit more about why I’m here, and has given me a new purpose and mission in life. It feels good to be tapping into God-given talents for the first time in my life, for such a wonderful cause as cancer advocacy and helping to improve the lives of cancer survivors everywhere. To take what’s been such a terrible experience and to turn it around in such a way is one of the things I’m most thankful for.
God Bless and Happy Friday!!!!!
Cross-posted at StevePake.com