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Me, A Cancer Survivor?

by Julio J. Vazquez

1999 was my personal introduction to cancer. That was the year that my mother was diagnosed with lymphoma. Personally, I'm an optimist, but it does take the wind out of your sails a little when someone you know is diagnosed with a fatal disease, and the big C is one we all dread.

She told me that it would be alright. She was seeing a good doctor and she said that he would take great care of her. Living 500 miles away, it was easy to accept her statements as gospel and I knew the best I could do was wait and pray. Imagine my surprise when on November 12, 2000, she passed away, not from cancer, but from an infection that ravaged her body because the cancer treatments had suppressed her immune system so much her body could not fight against it.

Jump ahead 6 years. Cancer once again embraces me. A friend sends me a note and tells me she has breast cancer. I wish her the best and tell her that I'll pray for her recovery. I'm optimistic that she'll recover as she always struck me as a fighter. Another personal brush with the big C, but the year had just barely begun. I didn't know that I would have closer knowledge of the disease as the year passed.

During my yearly physical, the one about which I am religious, my blood work came back with an elevated PSA. I shrug it off, there are many reasons for an elevated PSA, but my doctor decides to be cautious and refers me to a urologist. No big deal, I think, I'll go and with the passage of time I'm sure that the new blood work will come back lower.

"Your prostate is slightly enlarged," the urologist says warmly.

"There's no real cause for alarm because it's not as large as I've noticed in patients with prostate cancer. Let's see what the labs on the blood sample we took come back with and we'll proceed from there."

I nod and leave his office, making small talk with the woman at the outtake desk. "We'll call you if we find anything," she says with a smile. I smile back because I know I don't have cancer.

Want to make God laugh? Tell him what you plan to do today. A week later, my plans were changed drastically. "I need you to come in for a biopsy," the urologist states. "Your PSA is still elevated and we need more positive indication if the enlargement is something we need to work on. I'll switch you over to our appointment desk."

I make the appointment and quickly push the nervous feeling down. I scan the Internet to get more information on prostate cancer. What I find is encouraging, but aspects are mildly discouraging. I read about treatment options and the side effects of each. I become aware of how common the disease is and how easy it is to cure, but I also learn the price to pay to get rid of it. Before I get the results of the biopsy, I have a good amount of knowledge about what path I'm going to choose for treatment because I don't want to cut short certain aspects of my relatively new relationship with the woman I'm dating.

I'm treated. I feel like there will be little to hold me back, but until I try to go through my normal routines, I don't know that my conditioning has been totally affected by the cancer and the treatment. I find out as I try to get my life back to normal that cancer does more to you than you realize until you've been there.

Since the diagnosis and treatment, I've made friends with cancer many more times. My cousins both contacted me and told me they had breast cancer. A good friend lost an eye to the disease. What originally felt like a distant malignancy that would never touch my life has become a close personal friend because I've dealt with it myself, and have helped other deal with it. Me, a cancer survivor? No, I'm a cancer lifer!

Julio is a technical writer and has been writing since High School. He has published four books and is working on a fifth. He has two sons and lives in NC. In March, he achieved a 4th degree black belt in Karate. Last year, during a routine physical, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and went through the experience determined to continue living his life positively and as actively as he had before the diagnosis. His last examination indicates that he has been cured.