Milestones

One year ago on Jan 26, I was sleeping. Sort of. Brian, his parents, and my mother were sitting patiently in a hospital waiting room trying not to worry. And wait they did. For over 10 hours.

One year ago tomorrow, I was sleeping through my 2nd major cancer surgery. Dr. Philip Boudreaux, of the NET Cancer Clinic at Ocshner Medical Center in Kenner, LA was leading a skilled team in attempting at removing as much cancer from my body as possible. They were ready to remove lymph nodes, and bowel sections, but thankfully, once inside they saw all of my cancer was still confined to just my liver. Their attention turned fully to this organ: my friend, my enemy, my liver. In 10 hours they removed nearly 90% of my disease. They counted every tumor. 37 surgically removed; 3 were killed by using nano-knife technology; 40 total tumors now gone from my liver.

Going into the surgery, we (Dr. Boudreaux included) were hopeful that maybe 75% removal would be achieved. The fact that nearly 90% was taken out was a huge achievement. So I will never begrudge them for leaving a few small, hard to reach tumors still in place. What he did that day is something other surgeons didn’t even want to attempt. My family, patiently praying and waiting for the surgery to end, are the ones that were truly courageous that day. I merely had the luxury of sleeping. As for when I finally did wake up, the story goes that the first thing I said to the nurses and doc was an enthusiastic question:

“Is anyone else having as good a day as I am?”

Somehow, perhaps sub-consciencely, I knew that I was coming out alive and that the surgery was a success. I don’t know that Brian has ever been more proud of me.

So here we are. One year later. Another milestone reached. It’s easy, after being diagnosed with cancer, to start noticing every milestone. Now, I can’t say for certainty (based on my own personal experience) if others mark events as often or with the same regularity as a cancer survivor. All I can say is – with my diagnosis it’s become quite easy to mark the time, and to remember and be aware of the amount of time spent living.

  • Jan 26, 2012 – Cancer Surgery #2. Not life saving, but certainly life extending. Here we are now marking one year later.
  • Aug 4, 2006 – Cancer Surgery #1. Removal of my primary tumor in my small bowel. This was life saving, and therefore affectionately referred to as my Re-Birthday (also of note, it was my parents wedding anniversary)
  • Aug 4, 2011 – The birth date of Eleanor Rose, my best friend’s first baby and the most beautiful baby at that. The 5 year anniversary of my own Re-birth now has a new reason to be celebrated. And every Aug 4 from here on out will be a celebration of her life, and all I get to look forward to as she grows.
  • October 10, 2010 (10/10/10 – affectionately known as one of those “Perfect 10” kind of days) – completed my first (and what will likely be my only) marathon. A race distance I never thought I’d live long enough, or have the strength enough, to finish. I was going to wait to do this to mark my 5 year cancer anniversary, until my older brother Josh (and marathon coach) stated the obvious: why put off another year, what you can do today?
  • May 28 – my own Birthday. Notable for many reasons, in that I share it with a twin brother (CJ – who’s distress over my diagnosis was not hidden from me. Is it really possible to live in a world without your twin?) and I share it with Brian’s niece (Sydney – who turned 7 that week when I was diagnosed). That’s right – my birthday in 2006 fell over the weekend that I had to wait for the liver biopsy test results that would ultimately lead to my diagnosis.
  • May 31, 2006 – my D day. 26 years old. A blessing every year to grow older. My advice to anyone – don’t be afraid to grow old. There are many in a year that don’t get that privilege.
  • April 11, 2006 – the birthday of Jorja Joann and Samuel Walker (my older brother’s twin babies). Their birthday is already special enough, but for me it also holds an extra reminder of where I was headed, and the start of an incredible journey. There’s a picture of me holding Jorja in the hospital when she was a day old. I am underweight, and too skinny, sickly looking – but smiling. Happy for the joy that my brother and his wife were experiencing. But this was the period of my life at which I may have felt the worst, and had absolutely no idea why. The next 6 weeks for me were filled with diagnostic tests and doctor visits.

Every milestone the twins reach is now also a milestone for me. And I love that and cherish it. You don’t get a diagnosis and hope to make it just a year. For me, I was determined to see them pass as many milestones as possible, and to dance at each of their weddings; filling every moment between my diagnosis and that far off dream with as much living as is humanly possible. I hope they do the same.

There are a lot of milestones in everyone’s life, and which ones we chose to celebrate or ignore is entirely up to the individual. But I know for me, and my circumstances, there aren’t too many months that go by without some sort of reminder of what it means to be alive, and to recognize how far I’ve come.

“The longer I live, the more beautiful life becomes.” – Frank Lloyd Wright