My Cancer Survivor Story: The Price of Survival
I have been a Hodgkin lymphoma survivor for 60 years. If you’re a childhood cancer survivor, that’s probably before you were even born. In the past 6 decades, I’ve learned a few things that I hope will help you on your journey.
Smile, laugh, dream
In 1962, cancer treatments were harsh. Yet even as a patient, I managed to have some fun. I met famous comedians such as the Three Stooges and Danny Thomas. My parents supported me with love and extra attention. I remember that my mom slept in a recliner beside me each night in the hospital.
During treatment, I dreamed of the day when I could get back to school and start playing baseball again. I wanted to do all the things that other kids could do. But I also knew the stakes were high. In that era, few kids with cancer survived.
Have patience with yourself
After finishing cancer therapy, I had to learn how to walk again. I quickly realized that you don’t bounce back overnight from cancer treatment. It takes time, but you must keep the faith. You have to realize that you’ve been given a second opportunity and take full advantage of that. And you must never give up.
Eventually, I attended college, married my high school sweetheart, and had two wonderful kids. I dedicated my life to serving others—first as a law enforcement officer and later as a state representative. But I wanted to do more. I wanted to help the next generation of cancer survivors. I found a way to do that by enrolling in survivor studies.
Watch for long-term effects
As a childhood cancer survivor, I know it is important to have regular checkups and to share my survivorship plan with my doctors. That vigilance has paid off.
Over the course of my lifetime, I’ve had a few health issues. These include high blood pressure, hip replacement, and diabetes. When I was in my late 40s, I had heart surgery. A few years later, I got bladder cancer. Because I was diligent about having regular checkups, doctors were able to catch the cancer early. There was no need for radiation or chemotherapy.
Through the years, I wondered: Did my childhood cancer treatment—the chemo, the radiation—have anything to do with any of these health issues?
Enroll in survivor studies
When my hospital began a program to study the long-term effects of childhood cancer treatment, I was the first to sign up. By volunteering for survivor studies, I helped scientists discover more about the long-term effects of treatment. Plus, I learned more about my own health.
I found out that some of my health problems are due to my childhood cancer treatment. For instance, I have had nerve pain in my feet for many years. The same chemotherapy that cured my cancer also caused that neuropathy.
A few of my health issues are likely due to heredity, lifestyle, and age. But doctors are still unsure about the origins of other problems I have had. Scientists are looking at the data to find out whether a link exists. What they learn may help them better understand the health risks for other childhood cancer patients.
The long-term survivor studies remind me of the importance of having regular health checkups and leading a healthful lifestyle. But most of all, they allow me to help others—both now and in the future.
I’m grateful for the opportunities I have had throughout my life. If there is anything I can do to prevent some mom or dad from having to say goodbye to their child, then I stand ready to do that. I never want to get so busy that I forget why I’m able to live the life that I’m able to live.