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January 05, 2005

Popping Cancer update: The day the local minister got pissed off.

(quotes from my own diaries and from Internet cancer resources)

I have always been a quiet, mild-mannered type of guy.

In my memory, there are two instances, both on soccer fields, where someone punched me - once dead in the face, hard - and my response was stillness. Staring and smiling.

I preach peace in my church. I believe that I am one of the gentlest souls you could ever meet. There is probably nothing you could do to my person or my possessions to cause me to respond in anger.

But if you touched my wife - if you made my wife cry - I would kill you. It's that simple. I would break you with a rage you've never seen before in your life. I expect that I would pound and pound, not until you were dead, but until you were dead and my rage was spent and I couldn't raise my hands to hit you again.

"Once men are caught up in an event, they cease to be afraid. Only the unknown frightens men."

"The time for action is now. It's never too late to do something."

- Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Tonight I held my wife, and we both cried.

Cancer has officially pissed me off.

Your response to this is the most important factor in determining your chances for survival. Your response is more important than any medical statistic, treatment, or possible breakthrough.

-My Doctor

When I was 18 years old, I was told that my chances to live were not very good. I had late-stage Hodgkin's Disease, a type of lymphatic cancer. The lymph nodes in my neck had grown so large that my shirts were a full neck size larger. The lymph nodes above my lungs were large enough that when I went to bed at night, if I tried to lay on my back, I couldn't breathe.

I know that God will not give me anything I can't handle.
I just wish that He didn't trust me so much.

-Mother Teresa

So one afternoon I was playing tennis very poorly with my friend Scott. That night I was at an oncologist's office. The following morning I was in surgery, the first of many biopsies.

In the next six months I received all the radiation a person was supposed to receive in a lifetime. Everyone else was back in school, meeting girls, having late nights, living their lives.

That'll make you angry. Angry and sad.

My role as a surgeon is to buy people time, during which they can heal themselves.

-Bernie Siegel, MD

Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

-Romans 12:2

The greatest discovery of any generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his state of mind.

-William James

Then came chemotherapy. God, the horrible memories that still creep like silent spiders in the darkest corners of my mind. The long afternoons spent throwing up, then throwing up again, until I was throwing up nothing, violently. Hit in the stomach suddenly by sledgehammer cramps that would double me over, make me cry out against my will, sometimes throw me from the bed.

Fevers into the 104s. Covered in sweat and unable to think rationally, to take care of myself, to lift myself out of bed to go to the bathroom one door away. Wanting to curse and shake my fists at God, except that the poison held me down, pinned me to the sheets, or to the floor, wherever I fell first.

Coughing, choking, gasping for air, praying for strength before the next cramp hit, or the next bout of vomiting.

Never being given that strength. Not once in eight years.

Being alone. Utterly and completely alone.

The vast majority of survivors do not believe they got well by chance. Triumphant patients believe they worked for their wellness, earning it on a daily basis.

-Greg Anderson

Getting cancer can become the beginning of living. The search for one's own being, the discovery of the life one needs to live, can be one of the strongest weapons against disease.

-Lawrence Leshan

And somehow I survived each treatment. Twice - on two separate occasions - my doctors told me that scans looked clear, that I wouldn't need any more treatment.

Within six months of each such declaration, more cancer had been detected in my system.

There is a point at which one, after 8 years of cancer treatment, ceases to be afraid to die. More fatally, they become afraid to hope.

There is nothing in the world that can take the place of persistence.

-Calvin Coolidge

Society may predict but only I will determine my destiny.

-Tallmidge Griffin, Four Years Old

And so the doctor said I needed to do a painful bone marrow transplant in a hospital nearly two hours away from home. I was 25. I had been through enough.

Indeed, those were the words I used when I told my family that I didn't plan on going through the procedure. "It is enough," I said in tears. "Eight years is enough. Let's just not do any more treatment. Let's just wait and see what happens."

My family and girlfriend (now wife) had watched me suffer all along. They agreed, or at least allowed me to make that decision. How could they not?

It was my doctor, Dr. Kostinas, who saved my life. I told him I wasn't going to Richmond for the transplant. He said "You're going to do the transplant or you're going to die."

Ouch. Looking back, I believe that in that moment he may have been my only friend in the world.

My emotions changed a dozen times in about a second. First was self-pity. "It's not fair."

Next was anger. "Why is this happening to me?"

Finally, rage. Cancer was the enemy. It was evil. It was a dark force that wanted me dead and wanted to use my own body to kill me. That rage was what carried me through the transplant.

Don't let anyone tell you that anything good ever came from cancer. Cancer is evil. It is hate. Anything good, any lessons learned, came from the patient alone. DON'T EVER SAY THAT ANYTHING GOOD CAME OUT OF CANCER.

Just don't.

If you keep on doing what you've been going, you'll keep on getting what you've been getting.

-Anon

Every man has the right to risk his own life in order to save it.

-Jean-Jacques Rousseau

The individual whose hopes for his own full rich life are sufficiently high to enable him to deal with temporary setbacks appears to be most resistant to cancer.

-Lawrence Leshan

There is no way to survive a bone marrow transplant without anger. My heart stopped once in the 5 weeks I was there. I stopped breathing at least twice. I needed at least a dozen blood transfusions.

Once, a friend came to visit me. On her way to the floor, she noticed men and women rushing to the unit. Alarms were blaring and lights flashing. She made a mental note to ask me what was going on when she got to my room.

They were running to me.

Hang in there. We are so vulnerable and overwhelmed when diagnosed with cancer. The word itself is all consuming.

-from a bulletin board for breast cancer patients

My veins are filled, once a week, with a Neapolitan carpet cleaner distilled from the Adriatic and I am as bald as an egg. However I still get around and am mean to cats.

-John Cheever (1912-82), U.S. author. Letter, 10 May 1982, to Philip Roth (published in The Letters of John Cheever, 1989), concerning his cancer and its treatment.

The transplant was a success. It was ten years ago.

Last month, I was diagnosed again.

Today I am alive.

I say "today" because that is how one beats cancer. Daily. Get through today. Survive the afternoon.

Worrying about tomorrow is a common, fatal mistake.

Feel how you feel today.

And so today I am alive. Today my doctor said "there's more disease than we initially believed." But today I am alive, and now, more than that, I am angry.

My response so far has been reflection, sense-memory, a bit of fear. All that is over now.

How DARE this evil come back. How DARE cancer make my wife cry. We WILL live, do you hear that?

We will live because we will live today. Cancer can't touch my today - our today.

God, this pisses me off.

One must not forget that recovery is brought about not by the physician, but by the sick man himself. He heals himself, by his own power, exactly as he walks by means of his own power, or eats, or thinks, breathes or sleeps.

-Georg Groddeck (1866-1934), German psychoanalyst. The Book of the It, Letter 32 (1923).

Today was a pretty good day.

-the diary I kept during my first experience with cancer. Shortly after this entry, the bone marrow transplant made me too weak to write regularly.

So I can tell you a few things, even in my rage, gentle reader.

I am more alive right now than you are. I cherish everything around me with a gripping, grasping desperate love. I live to feel with all five senses again, to drink in every feeling, good and bad, that life can offer. And if I die, I will not quietly slip away, I will die like a stroke of electricity and I will miss everything SO much.

There is no shame in dying of cancer.

The only shame is in not living. Not fighting.

One day soon I might die. But I'm not dead yet.

And I'm not going easy.

And today? Today was a pretty good day.

Posted by Dan at January 5, 2005 09:53 PM

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Comments

Dan,

Thank you for one of the most honest and raw reading any reader could have!

May today be a good day for you as well because you will make it that.... You both will.....

Good, bad, or ugly may come ones way but it is how one continues to fight each day that makes the difference...

And you've got strength like a mountain whether you realize it or not!

Prayin',
Cam

Posted by: Cam at January 6, 2005 10:49 AM

For anyone cashing out of "Dan Champion Will Live Forever, Inc.", it looks like "Dan Champion's Damn-sure Alive Today, Inc." is a good investment.

I've always kept a few shares of both myself.

Posted by: Pete at January 6, 2005 03:49 PM

Pete,

Sounds like insider trading to me.

Posted by: Big Dan at January 6, 2005 04:27 PM

Sounds like you've got the only attitude you can have in the situation. I'm glad to hear you'll be fighting this thing. Didn't expect anything less.

You've beat it twice before, I have no reason to doubt you can beat it a third time.

Posted by: Joel Caris at January 6, 2005 06:11 PM

Dan,
I'm a man of limited means but if you want a visit or something, I'm in Brighton Michigan. It isn't that far and you're more than welcome to come visit here if you want a road trip. I'd be happy to come down and say hello. You continue to be in my thoughts and prayers. From an outsiders view, you are showing uncanny strength. I guess you became my favorite blog for a reason.

Posted by: Ralph at January 7, 2005 12:25 AM

I'm somebody's favorite blog!

That's the best thing anyone's ever posted here.

Posted by: Big Dan at January 7, 2005 10:13 PM

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