The end of May 2021 marked my 3-year cancerversary. Is that even the day to memorialize? The day everything changed or the day of your last treatment — not sure but it feels like the right bittersweet moment. We were a young family with a 3-year old son. Surgery and a little chemo, no problem. I was all too familiar. My wife was in remission after a bout with non-hodgkins lymphoma that started during pregnancy and required an auto-stem cell transplant. I was, with a lot of help, a single father for the early part of his life. And she was distraught for not being around enough or the mom she wanted to be.
Cancer is all about disappointment. The results disappoint you. Your family and friends do something to disappoint you. Your body disappoints you. But it’s also about rebirth. That Zero day for transplant patients, for example. The day you got diagnosed, but also the day of your last treatment when everything starts to get a little bit better, or at least the bad is more vaguely bad and not as sharp.
I was on my way home after a checkup a few weeks after a testicle was removed. Scans looked good. We were in the car, not yet home, and we get a phone call from the hospital. The delayed bloodwork revealed it had spread. Disappointment. Stage 3a testicular cancer now… but BEP chemo can handle it. No surgery required. 3 or 4 rounds. I said, let’s make it 4 just be safe.
After the 2nd round of chemo, you’re not so gung-ho for 2 more of these cycles. We held it together. My wife was my rock. She had been through much worse, so I had something to aspire to. My family and our friends and even employer couldn’t be more supportive.
Another disappointment, the 13th day after my last chemo I experienced the worst pain yet – a pulmonary embolism. Not sure what it was on the onset, we got in the car and drove to the Hispaniola which is just past Fenway Park; thankfully the Yankees and Red Sox game hadn’t let out. The excruciating pain lasted for too long.
The next month, after my last chemo, my wife’s cancer returned. How about them apples? It would prove to be fatal; a little over a year later. We did hospice at home after two unsuccessful CAR-T treatments. Those were the days the vows were really written for.
All this disappointment needs to turn into something. Learn from it. Grow as a person. Find purpose in the pain. Or else… it’ll take everything away from you. It will change how you do things, feel and interact with people… and that will change. Take lessons from it. Bad day at work, people stressing, you know worse. Yes, easier said than done.
Be helpful to someone else. Now, as a single dad, everything feels like a struggle. I constantly need to remind myself, I don’t need to make excuses. Most important of all, everyone has a story. Their worst day is the worst day of their life… even if you or someone you know conceivably had it worse. Be a good person. Learn from the pain and disappointment. Form new relationships with new and old people in your life.
You’ll probably be disappointed again, hopefully, it’s many years from now when you’re old and gray. Don’t disappoint yourself with what you did in between.
By Bryan Polizzotto
Thank you to Amgen for sponsoring this story.