I’ve never blogged or told my story publicly before, but it’s my hope that through it I can offer encouragement to those who need it…So here it goes.
It was almost a year ago that I found myself sitting down with my son for his birthday lunch, when I got the call. The previous day I woke up to find my body covered in bruises. Being a typical stubborn guy I chalked it up to having a physical job and overtraining. Fortunately, a nurse friend of mine saw my bruises and forced me to get lab work done. Which brings me back to the moment before the phone call…
My life was more on track than it had ever been. After working for years in the fire service, I was hired at my dream department. I had begun a plan to explore the country by running a marathon in every state. My time with my children couldn’t have been more perfect. I was happy, Life was good. Then I picked up the phone and everything changed. I was told that I needed to go to the ER immediately. After finishing the birthday celebrations I reluctantly made my way there. Over the next day or two I was poked, scanned, biopsied and pretty much anything else you can think of. In the end I was told I had cancer, specifically Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.
My mind was immediately overtaken by thoughts of my kids growing up without a father and of never seeing family/friends again. Had I enjoyed my last run and spent my last day in the firehouse, a place I loved so much? It was a flood of worry. I stayed in the hospital for a month receiving regular spinal taps, chemo treatments and preventative medications. The hardest part was not being able to see my children. Being 6 and 4 years old there wasn’t much room for explaining what was happening, other than to say that daddy was sick. At that point I will admit to some self pity, the question “why?” popped up a lot.
Despite my situation I had always believed in setting my mind to things and staying positive, so I set out to apply that to cancer treatment just as I would anything else. I developed a workout routine in the hospital, researched proper diets and prepared myself mentally for the battle ahead. It may sound cliche but staying positive mentally is so important to getting through something like this. I know it’s easier said than done, but don’t abandon hope.
I was lucky to have an outpouring of support from family, friends, all my fire service brothers/sisters and even strangers. Having a certain personality I can understand the difficulty in accepting help and support, but at some point you simply must. The hospitals offer great support options as well. We were made to carry each other through difficult times, allow others to do that for you! The kindness of others will make you stronger.
Over the next several months I continued chemo until a bone marrow donor could be found. Halloween, thanksgiving and Christmas passed by. Sometimes I was able to function, other times I could hardly stand or stay awake. It wasn’t easy, but I kept the people I loved close and they pulled me through. A donor was soon located and my transplant took place in January of 2016. I checked in to begin high dose chemo and radiation prior to the transplant. This was to deplete my supplies in order to restore them with better ones. This process also proved to be riddled with side effects. All completely worth it. The transplant itself took all of 10 minutes! One little bag draining into your line and giving you a new life. Throughout the process I tried to remember that no matter how hard it became, the chance I was being given was nothing short of a blessing.
In the months since, I have slowly regained my strength. I have worked through a few bouts of gvhd. I have struggled with frustration, recovery is a long road… But I have gotten to hold my children. I’ve been able to spend important days with my family. I’ve spent time with my fire service brothers and sisters… I even ran… Briefly 🙂 AND I’m cancer free. Though part of these blogs are for the therapeutic value to the writer, I know that as a reader they helped me greatly. When I sat sleepless in my hospital bed it was comforting to read the stories of others and to know that I wasn’t alone in what I was feeling.
All this to say, there will be tough times. There will be crying, hurting, dark and physically demanding times… That’s part of this. But as much as cancer can “rob” you, it can also bless you with a perspective that most don’t ever get to see. Every moment in life is something to be cherished, we now know this in a way no one else can! Live in the happy moments and use them to get through the bad. Stay strong in your mind and heart. Stay hopeful and positive. Love your loved ones, keep them close and laugh as much as possible. No matter what type of cancer or where you are at in your journey, know most importantly that you are not alone in your thoughts. You are part of an amazing community of people. Humbled, brave, strong and gentle hearted… Lean when you need it and support when others do. No one fights this alone.
Author: Mike Williams, Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Survivor