Halloween day, 2021. Driving through the beautifully desolate Sandhills of Nebraska, I worked my way home from a show with my band the night before. The weekend wannabe rock star lifestyle can be pretty tiring. I was feeling it that lonely morning on the high plains.
Tired, bitchy, and probably nursing a bit of a hangover, I put the hammer down. I cruised through the darkness and into one of the most beautiful sunrises I have ever seen, which is saying a lot for someone who’s spent most of 50 years in rural Nebraska where the sun often treats spectators to an array of vibrant and shimmering colors that defy belief.
After the long drive back, I stowed my gear and took a nap. Upon waking, I found myself going through the motions of life as I had countless times before. As I spent the evening handing out candy to trick-or-treaters, I prepared for Monday morning, ensuring that I had prepared for my meetings and thinking about how much I would rather sleep in than go to work the next morning. Little did I know what was waiting for me this Monday. I was about to start a journey that taught me so many lessons, a few of which I’ll highlight here.
Life Can Change in a Heartbeat
Setting at my desk mid-morning, I noticed two fingers twitching on my left hand. I remember so clearly looking at them and trying to will them to stop quivering. But they wouldn’t. I thought maybe I should go get checked out. By the time I got up the hall, I was in full-blown crisis mode.
I collapsed from a massive seizure a few minutes later. My breathing stopped and I was unresponsive. I woke up several hours later in one of my employer’s inpatient rooms.
The doctors told me the seizure could be stress-related. Before the seizure, I had been dealing (not very well, I might add) with the end of my 25-year marriage. The doctors thought the stressful situation could have been the culprit. There was, however, a tiny spot on the MRI that they wanted to monitor to ensure that it healed.
My neurologist placed me on driving restrictions for 90 days because of the seizure. He told me to take it easy for a while, but the hopes were that I would recover from this fairly quickly. Those hopes were short-lived. Over the next month, my health deteriorated, and 30 days after the seizure, the tiny spot on my brain had tripled in size, and I had brain cancer.
You Don’t Know How Strong You Are Until You Break
I thought I was tough. I was in charge of my life. Suck it up. Play through the pain. While those platitudes sound great and even are good for most circumstances, you find out what you’re made of when you can’t play through. When you’re so broken you can’t pick yourself up.
As I stood in the hospital viewing the MRI of my brain tumor, I felt as though I was suffocating when my doctor told me I had brain cancer. I had just lost my family, and now was questioning whether I would keep even my life. Those were very dark days, and I let myself go to some very dark places. I am so grateful that by God’s grace and the help of so many people, I made it through that time.
It’s OK to Accept Help from Others
I have never been one to take a handout. Raised to pull my weight, I always took care of myself and helped others out as I was able. I didn’t need help from anyone. Until I did. For three months, I relied on others just to get to and from work, the grocery store, and other places that I needed to go.
After a brain biopsy to get the official diagnosis, my Oncologist told me of the plan. She would treat me as an inpatient in Omaha for 3 to 4 days every other week for 8 cycles. If my body responded well to treatment, then we would do a two cycles of stronger chemotherapy and ultimately a stem cell transplant. Both of my brothers stepped up so much into my life to get me back and forth to treatments and to provide with me the support that I needed. I came to realize that needing help does not make you weak; it makes you human.
I mentioned I was going through a divorce when all of this happened. Still living in the marital home, I recently completed the demolition of multiple areas to remodel in the hopes of capturing a higher price. remodel, it was in quite a state of disrepair. Before getting cancer, this work wouldn’t have been a problem for me to complete.
When I went to my first treatment, my care team place a PICC line in my right arm and informed me that I was on a 10-pound lifting restriction for the duration of my treatment. I faced the hard truth that I couldn’t finish the house on my own.
So many people step up to help – friends, family, coworkers, men from my Bible study group at church, and others. I was struggling with accepting all of this help. Someone told me that when we refuse the help of others, we deny them the gift of their service. That resonated greatly with me and helped me focus on being grateful and appreciative of all the caring people in my life.
If You’re Going Through It, You Might as Well Grow Through It
Regardless of your circumstances – no matter how difficult or painful – you can grow through them. It is the only way. When I realized how much downtime I was going to have while fighting this brain tumor, I made the conscious decision that I would focus on my personal growth.
Reading and journaling for hours at a time, I focused my efforts on a few key areas. I had lost myself through the process of trying to save my marriage, and I needed to let go of the past and figure out who I was again. I also wanted to design my future as a cancer survivor.
The other area that I focused on deeply was growing my faith. I read some great books, did daily devotionals, and had some amazing conversations with fellow believers. I garnered so much strength from my faith while fighting the twin battles of cancer and divorce.
My Relationships Weren’t What I Thought They Were
If you would have asked me before I got sick who would be there – really be there – for me when the excrement found the fan I would have confidently rattled off a list of a few people.
And I would have been wrong on several counts. Some of the people that I was certain would have my back become ghosts in my life. It was difficult and at times hard not to dwell on. Gratefully, I had many other positives on which to focus.
So, a few people that I thought I could count on bailed on me in my time of need. The fortunate truth is that so many people stepped up into my life in huge ways and small to help me shoulder the load. Even writing this now, a year later, I’m on the verge of tears, humbled by the outpouring of support that I received from so many.
Strength Looks Different than I Thought
I’ve been a gym rat since my mid-thirties. I thought I knew what strength looked like. I no longer measure strength in muscles.
Strength is the brother driving you hours away for days on end for chemotherapy because you have to go and you can’t take yourself. The nurse setting with a dying patient, comforting the family, then pasting on a smile to walk into another room filled with despair to do it all over again for 12 hours every day.
Strength is picking yourself up, dusting yourself off, and doing whatever you can, however small, for however long you can to scrape yourself forward. Another inch, then another, and yet another.
You Can’t Choose Your Circumstances, but You Must Choose Your Attitude
When you are a cancer patient, you get to know other cancer patients. I met some of the happiest people I have ever seen, even though they had experienced some of the most horrible situations with their health. The humor and joy I saw in many of these patients was astounding given the circumstances. They inspire and humble me, and I try to live out that mentality every day.
It is much too easy for us to convince ourselves how difficult our life is. To be sure, we all have difficulties that we can see in our lives if we look. But we are all much better off looking for the good. Whether you have a good or bad day – or life, for that matter – truly is up to you.
I had to remind myself often that I got to go through chemotherapy. It was a gift. Many people who are diagnosed with cancer don’t get to go through treatment. The cancer doctors find it too late, or it isn’t treatable. Maybe they are just too sick to tolerate treatment. Whatever the circumstances, I was able to go through treatment, meet many amazing people, use that time to grow exponentially as a human, and, praise God, come out the other side healed and ready to start a new life.
Of course, I can focus on how rough I had it, how difficult my life was, and how much of a struggle it is to get back on my feet. The choice is mine. The truth is that I still struggle with wavering back and forth between these two attitudes more than I care to admit, but I am eternally grateful for a second lease on life, and I choose to focus on the good in it.
In Case You Wondered, I’m Now Brain Tumor-free
If you have read this far, maybe you’re curious how I’m doing after all of this. I’m happy to say that I am in remission, back to work, chasing the new normal with new goals and a new attitude for 2023. Check me out on my blog to stay up with all of my progress.
Thanks for reading!
This post was previously published on NAVEL-GAZING.COM.
From The Good Men Project on Medium
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