Friday, April 19, 2013

Cancer and fatherhood: A survivor story

The second worst thing I ever heard from a doctor was that I’d likely never father a child naturally.
I was 26 years old when I got that news. It wasn’t an easy thing to cope with. But by the time I heard it, I was just happy to still be alive; happy to have all my parts attached. Which brings me to the worst thing a doctor has ever told me.
“It’s called osteosarcoma. It’s a type of bone cancer.”
I don’t really remember much of the conversation before or after that. I nodded in all the right places and tried really, really hard to not cry. The doctor kept talking about finding it early and  treatment options, but the whole time all I could think about was, “I have cancer.”
I survived.

I’ll spare the details of my treatment, because, as pretty much everyone in this day and age knows, cancer treatment sucks. But I made it. I’m cancer-free. The tumor that was found in my foot was gone, and they didn’t even have to amputate anything (yay!).
Unfortunately, due to my successful treatment, my fertility had been affected and I was told (in not so many words) that if children were going to be in my future, they would likely be adopted.
But like I said before, at 26, I was just happy to be cancer-free. Happy to still be walking. Happy to get on with my life. Happy to be alive.
And I had other things to worry about, anyway. For me, cancer carried a huge amount of guilt. It’s irrational and makes little sense and even now, almost four years later, I can’t explain it. I felt guilty for what the illness had put my parents through, particularly my mom. I felt guilty for what the illness did to my sister, who lives across the country and lived her life in California feeling awful she couldn’t be near me. I even felt guilty that my treatment worked the first time and had no complications. There were parts of me that felt guilty for surviving. Don’t ask me why. I still don’t know.
I had a lot of issues. In fact, I barely had the chance to think about being sterile, barely had the chance to think about what cancer had taken from me when my girlfriend told me something surprising.
She was pregnant.
I owe my life to the doctors who treated me. They were brilliant and wonderful and they are all my heroes. But one of them made a mistake.
As a survivor, cancer is almost like swear word. It’s a word that strikes terror and brings tears. It’s hard to find anything good about cancer. But sometimes you have to look a little harder.
The disease changed my life. It broke me down and then taught me how strong I could be. It made me question everything, but forced me to prove to myself that I deserved to be happy.
Cancer is one of the worst words in the English language, but like I said, sometimes you have to look a little harder.
My son was originally supposed to have been born in the middle of June. His due date was June 15. A Gemini. But he waited, almost like he knew something we didn’t. When he finally made his grand appearance, it was the end of the month. So, in a twist of strange irony, the son I was never supposed to have; the boy who made me a father after the treatment of an awful disease was supposed to have left me sterile, was born a Cancer.
Being diagnosed with and treated for cancer was the worst thing I’ve ever experienced in my life, but the time I spend with my wife and the little Cancer that we were never supposed to have is by far the best.
He taught me that every once in a very long while, Cancer doesn't have to be a bad word. 
But like I said, sometimes you just have to look a little harder.

Here's a video of me giving a "Survivor Speech" at a local Relay for Life event. The speech inspired this blog post, so there is a lot of the same stuff, but if you want to hear me actually say it, be my guest.

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