Year of first diagnosis: 1996
Kind of cancer/s: chronic lymphocytic leukemia, esophageal adenocarcinoma
I was diagnosed with CLL in March, 1996. It was discovered during a routine blood test during my annual physical. My initial reaction was bewilderment as I had no idea what was in store for me and who would take care of my family.
It was later determined that the probable cause for my leukemia was exposure to Agent Orange during my tour as infantryman in Vietnam. I then had feelings of anger and self-pity thinking that my country had abandoned me. Why was I sent over there and why did they do this to me? I will say that the VA has stepped up and have been excellent to work with.
Over time my feelings came to an acceptance of the disease and willingness to learn to live with it. My mantra became, “I cannot do anything about it so enjoy whatever time I had left.” In 2007, due to me depressed immunity, I contracted a fungal infection of the lung and was given a 15% chance of survival. Due to unwavering support, I not only survived but came even to working full time.
In 2009 I was diagnosed with Stage 1 esophageal adenocarcinoma. My treatment options were limited due to the CLL. However, the expert staff at Mayo Rochester used experimental procedures and now I am healing.
I am faced every day with three potentially fatal diseases on their own. Having all three and not only surviving but living a normal productive life is nothing short of a miracle. It has made me appreciate and embrace each individual day.
I have not made this journey alone. My wife, Linda, has been a rock and an advocate for premium care. She researches and works with care givers to insure proper protocol. She boosts spirits and takes on the worries so I do not have to.
I have also been blessed with an outstanding group of doctors. Drs. Alan Campbell, Russell Lampen, Passad Eyre, Andrew Ramsahoi and Diaz have all been fearless in dealing with my issues. I cannot imagine a more professional and gifted group exists anywhere. And the nurses. I have been attended by a group of angels. There are too many to identify but they all hold a special place.
My recommendation to anyone who is undergoing a cancer diagnosis for the first time is to first rely on your support network. Your family and health care professionals are your partners in this journey so let them help. Secondly, live each day to the fullest. Smile as often as you can and help others whenever possible. There is a higher power in charge so you may as well enjoy the ride.
Finally, thanks to Sister Sue for her positive outlook and humorous approach. Be it the Tigers or a negative diagnosis, she always helps to see the brighter side.