How many times have you heard it said that today is the first day of the rest of your life? On some days, we feel that more acutely than on others. Two years ago, March 22, 2014, is one of those days where the truth of that saying is recognizable even in hindsight. It’s the day I suffered a major seizure and was diagnosed with a glioma.
When they’re being pedantic, doctors will tell you that primary brain tumors are not cancer. They’ll tell you that “cancer” is reserved for things that can metastasize throughout your body – frequently ending with a brain tumor. Tumors of the central nervous system rarely do that and so are not technically cancer. Whatever. Wherever people who have received a cancer diagnosis get together, they let me in the club.
Thinking of myself as a “survivor” has always left me feeling conflicted. The word conveys a finality that seems inappropriate. If you survive a car accident, that accident isn’t going to come back and kill you again. Surviving cancer offers no such reassurance.
I’ve been reminded of this three times in the last year. A volleyball mom I never met but whose story I followed saw a cancer that had been in remission for a few years return. It ended her life in about three months. The woman who taught our children in elementary school finally lost a heroic battle with a lung cancer that had returned after a long period of inactivity. A man whom I’ve known, loved, and admired for 25 years just recently succumbed to a relapse of mesothelioma. I found myself inspired by their fight and the love and grace they showed throughout.
I remain buoyed by people who persist in the face of difficult odds. The son of a former coworker who has time and again beaten back neuroblastoma since he was three years old. The friend at church who hasn’t let breast cancer detract from being a strong mom. A former co-worker who was diagnosed with his own brain tumor over 10 years ago. And now the friend who just told me within the last week that she’s part of the club too.
The reality is that I’ve had it easy compared to most. My disease has remained progression-free since the tumor was removed. I’m surrounded by friends who pick me up when I get down. I am lucky to have quality health insurance that is provided by my employer. And I blessed to have an amazing wife and wonderful children who shower me with love.
There is no guarantee that my MRIs will continue to come back stable. To the contrary, the statistics are pretty clear that some day I’m likely to face another day that will be the first day of the rest of my life. But with God and the people in my life who fill me with joy and hope, I know that any future journey will not be made alone. Perhaps I’m a survivor after all.
On that first day of the rest of my life, I decided I wanted to make two kinds of choices. The first is to work with people I love, honor, and respect. The second is to find ways to be in service to others. Mutually Human has provided me with the opportunity to do the first. Riding in Pelotonia is an example of the second.
If you’re looking for a way to support the fight against cancer, consider supporting people riding in Pelotonia. I’m back after a two year hiatus (www.pelotonia.org/mikedoel). I’m not alone. Monica McJunkin, Kevin McJunkin, Julee Klima, and Mark Harris are all riding again and also deserve your support.
Thanks to everyone in my life who has been there for me over the last two years. I do not survive alone. I survive with you.