Perspective and Humility

The latter part of this week has been…enlightening.  Many folks have told me that I am a “miracle man;” that I’ve “beaten the odds;” that I’m “special.”  When this happens, 9 times out of ten I will discount the statement, either out of my tendency to self-deprecate or my insistence that my reaction to my diagnosis is how I think most (if not all) people would react in my circumstance.  As I have documented here, I have had my fair share of low days, but for the most part, since my surgery (at least), I have been able to enjoy my life and feel generally healthy.  I’ve been able to go on trips with my family, get back involved with scouts and karate, and have (hopefully) been somewhat productive at work.  Things for me are GOOD!

This past Thursday, MaryBeth and I attended a pancreatic cancer support group and along with the regulars who have been coming as long as I have (the other Merle and Mike), there were some new faces as well.  One of the new people was a woman who had a successful surgery in February and was fighting her way through post-surgical chemo (and not liking it very much).  The other two, Linda and Tommy, were both diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer.  Linda has a mass on her pancreas that is inoperable, and also has a mass on her liver (which, luckily, IS responding to treatment and is shrinking).  We talked a lot about the hope that perhaps not only will the mass on her liver go away with chemo, but perhaps the tumor on the pancreas will shrink so that she may be eligible for surgery.  She is an older woman with a grown child and she is largely going through this process alone.  I think all of us from the support group felt really good that we could provide her support in validating what she was feeling (that many of us have gone through the same emotional roller coaster she is going through) and to suggest resources for her to check (to get a 2nd opinion, to get help with discomfort, etc.).

The other person was a young many named Tommy.  I think Tommy is younger than I am, he is married, and he has tumors on not only his pancreas, but his back, and in his leg.  Tommy essentially had to self-diagnose the mass on his leg, since his old (he has since switched) oncologist discounted his leg pain.  His doctors now are doing intensive radiation treatment to reduce the leg mass.  The tumors in his back are impinging against some nerves, so he has shooting pain if he gets his back into a particular position (for example, lying on the hard radiation table).  Tommy has been to MD Anderson and has an oncologist out there monitoring his treatment now.

In the end, however, both Linda and Tommy recognize that, unless things change, they are both fighting to improve and/or keep their quality of life.  No one knows when they will die.  Linda was told when she was examined to go home and get her affairs in order.  Back in October, her doctors told Linda that she had 3-6 months to live. Hearing Linda and Tommy’s stories gave me a new perspective on my own situation.  When I start to feel sorry for myself or bleak about my situation, I need to remember that I am doing stupendously well!  I *AM* not dead yet; I’m not DONE yet.

Regarding my humility.  As most of you know, I am trying to raise as much money as possible to support work being done to treat/cure pancreatic cancer and provide support to those who are affected by the disease.  I have my own personal website set up so that my friends and supporters can help contribute in support of me or some other loved one that has been affected by this disease.  I had set a goal to raise at least $2000.00 with my efforts.  Well, the other day I received a text message from a friend indicating that he had just helped me reach my goal.  Perhaps it was because I was slow and perhaps it’s because it was Friday, but I took his text to mean that he had just donated some amount of money to my efforts.  Instead, he donated the balance of the funds left to get me to my goal.

His generosity simply highlights how humble I am to have such good friends who are willing to support me in my efforts.  Have you ever seen Mr. Holland’s Opus?  If not, you should.  At the end of the movie, Mr. Holland is getting ready to leave his school for the last time (having “retired” and thinking he had not done anything useful with his life).  He was ushered to the school auditorium and it was packed with a mass of people, there to celebrate him and his impact on their lives.  He didn’t recognize until then, that he DID have an impact on a number of different people and that he mattered.  I often wonder what my legacy will be whenever it is I pass (MaryBeth has made me promise that I cannot die until I’m 104).  When I see the way people have supported me through the ups and downs of my battle; when I see how many people still are wearing their Hamburger Helpers bracelet; when I see that a relatively small number of people felt so moved to donate enough money to get me to my $2000 goal with 2 weeks left until the walk…I can honestly say that I feel loved, and cared for, and that, perhaps, I have done some good while I have been here.

I am humbled by your love and support and I am glad that I can call each of you my friend.