The following post was written by Bill Gasperson, who was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma in 2007. He died on Sunday, Nov. 28.
I have learned many lessons from my experience dealing with cancer. I feel the need to share them with you, in hopes that it inspires someone else who may ever go through the same thing. Here are a few (in no particular order):
- Cancer can happen to anyone. I wanted to title this one “terrible things can happen to anyone,” but decided to be more specific. Yes, terrible things happen to anyone, but cancer itself is very random and there is no way to predict who will be affected by it. We have met some of the nicest, most generous, caring people sitting in the chemo chair beside me. Cancer doesn’t care about race, or sex, how fat or thin you are, or how good of a person you may be. It strikes silently and without warning. There is no way to prepare for it. Once you are diagnosed, you’re stuck dealing with something that most people have just had passing thoughts about and then decided not to think about it, because “it’s not going to happen to me.”
- You need a huge support system, because everyone’s wife isn’t as amazing as mine. Luckily, my wife is a nurse and can help me out physically at home. She was there to fill my ever-growing medicine planner, tell me to sit down when I felt dizzy, put my feet in the air when I passed out from low blood counts, teach me to move after I became paralyzed, and catch the mistakes the doctors and nurses made occasionally. Her job was flexible with it’s scheduling so she could take me to every doctor’s appointment and chemotherapy treatment. Besides doing all of that, for the first year she cared for our house and our toddler mostly on her own as well. After the first year, things got tougher. We started to rely on friends and family to help with cleaning, childcare, and even our finances. Our friends held three different benefits for us to help with our rising medical bills, and without them we would’ve lost our home. It’s amazing how the community is willing to help out, even if they don’t know you very well or have just heard your story through the grapevine. The love of others really touches my heart, and we can’t tell you how even the little things (like baking us a cake or mowing our grass) help to lift our spirits and help us to feel loved.
- Second (and third) opinions are worth it, no matter how nice your doctor is or how much you like him and trust his opinion. My treatment plan changed greatly from one specialist to the next. Even if it hadn’t, it would have been worth it for the peace of mind that talking to another physician brings. I believe that I have lived at least a year longer because I sought a specialist’s opinion and followed through with his recommendations. Even if it costs money and time you don’t have, the extra opinion will give you the confidence in the end to know that you’ve made the right decisions about your treatment.
- Cancer has taught me to be a more patient and loving father. I feel that since I know my time on earth is limited, I take time to do the things my daughter wants to do (like finger-paint or play dolls). I am more patient with her. I treasure all of the little things that she does, because I know I won’t be there for all of the big milestones. I may never see her drive a car, but watching her driving her power-wheels Jeep up and down our driveway, turning to look over her shoulder before she backs up is a cherished memory that I will always have. I may never see her get married, but hearing her talk about “boyfriends” at the age of four already raises those protective feelings in me. I may never see her graduate from school but seeing her starting to read and write, knowing things even I have trouble with, I know she is going to be just fine.
Things could always be worse. At first, I thought cancer really sucked because I had to quit my job. Then I lost my hair. Then I didn’t have any energy to do the things I loved to do. Now, I am paralyzed from the waist down and have trouble controlling my bowels. At each new development, my wife and I tell each other it could be worse. I could have lost my legs, making transfers more difficult. I could be mentally unstable, not able to interact and enjoy my family. I’m always amazed that it CAN get worse. Pretty soon, I’ll have to say, “It could be worse- I could be dead!” But when that happens, I hope we’ll just smile at the inside joke.
- Enjoy the things you have when you have them. I’m not talking about material things, though we did have to become a one-car family, my wife had to stop getting pedicures every six weeks, and I had to stop buying the video games that help me pass the time due to our financial decline from the cancer. No, what I mean is that each day is a blessing and you should treat it that way. Each person in your life is a blessing. Learn from each person and enjoy their company, because they may not always be there. Heck, you may not always be there, either! I cannot put it more simply than live your life, love your life, and be thankful for your life.
- There is no reason that I got cancer. At first, I thought that there was some lesson God was trying to teach me, and if I learned that lesson, my cancer would be cured. I stopped being so materialistic. I enjoyed my wife and appreciated all that she does. I found stronger faith in the Lord. I became more patient with my daughter. None of these things “cured” my cancer. In fact, it kept growing. The longer this goes on, the more I realize there is no reason. God has a plan for me, and I am glad I have changed for the better in this journey, but whether I live or die at the end is up to Him.
A good nurse is extremely important. When your life is hanging in the balance, your nurse is the lifeline. Luckily, I have an excellent nurse in my wife- I am a step ahead of a lot of cancer patients. Our doctor’s nurse kept him in line- reminding him when scans were due, calling us to make sure we were doing OK at home, and calling in prescriptions when we had forgotten to order a refill The nurses that treated me with my chemotherapy were always excellent, giving me tips on how to decrease the nausea, listening to my ever-growing list of complaints, and relaying my problems to the doctor so that I could have relief. In the hospital, a good nurse will warn you before she gives a shot, give you pain medicine when you start to look uncomfortable even though you’re too manly to ask for it yet, and gently wipe your tears when you feel like crying.
- It is good to have hope, but in the back of your mind it’s easy to think “Is this it? Am I going to make it this time?” We know a lot of people who haven’t made it, and that brings the thought of death even closer. For me it is easier to hope for the best but prepare for the worst. I have had frank discussions with my wife and immediate family about what will happen after I die, and what I want for my daughter and my wife after I‘m gone. This is very hard to do but I want everyone to know I will be OK, no matter what happens. I know that when it is all said and done, I will be pain-free and happy in Heaven, and that is what keeps me going. I always hope that I’ve left enough good memories behind that they will remember me for the person I was, the good times we had, and the huge smile I was able to put on their faces.