The cancer marathon: One step at a time

By | March 5, 2009

My dad died of lung cancer when he was 54. I’m 55. And while my mom lived to be 90, she had a very difficult life. She lost four babies and then she lost her husband of 29 years. Through it all she never complained. Her faith was strong. She stayed positive and moved forward. I’ve tried to follow in her footsteps through what I call the cancer marathon.

stperegrinewebPrayers to St. Peregrine

As part of our series on Coping with Cancer, The Compass invites our readers to submit names of friends and relatives who are battling cancer. At the end of our series we will publish the names, along with a Prayer to St. Peregrine, patron saint of cancer patients. All of our readers are then invited to offer prayers for those listed. Send names to [email protected].

After a series of tests and biopsies, it was determined that the cancer was on the base of my tongue and not in the rest of my body. It is called squamous cell cancer. Ironically, my odds for survival improved a little bit over the previous diagnosis because the life expectancy for someone with this type of cancer is 12 to 13 months.

After receiving this diagnosis, my wife and I had several poignant conversations about our future together and what needed to be taken care of as soon as possible. We also had similar conversations with our children and their spouses. It is an interesting time in one’s life when your faith is tested and you begin to understand what is really important and that life itself is a very precious and fragile gift from God.

Shortly after receiving my diagnosis, I began preparing for my treatments. As part of the preparation, I had a feeding tube inserted into my stomach so that I could have nourishment during the treatment period. In May 2008, my cancer marathon began with a series of 35 radiation treatments and six chemotherapy treatments. I had to wear a mask for the radiation treatments.

The mask was bolted to the table so I couldn’t move my head. It was a challenge for me to breathe and not feel claustrophobic. I received chemo on Thursdays and by Saturday the chemo train had arrived. I felt tired, listless and, quite frankly, useless. The radiation burned the back of my throat so much that eating and drinking were difficult, if not impossible. Although I could never taste the supplement I was digesting, thank goodness for the feeding tube. It helped keep me nourished.

About three months after I finished these treatments, I had a PET scan to see how my body had responded to the chemotherapy. The prognosis wasn’t good. The PET scan showed that the cancer had spread to other parts of my body. It was difficult news to swallow.

Cancer can test you physically, emotionally and spiritually. I had been through so much already and yet the marathon was not finished. I had no choice but to keep moving forward. Frustration took on a whole new meaning for me. The new cycle of treatments included two chemo drugs and one non-chemo drug.

One of the chemo drugs caused my hair to thin out so I decided to shave my head. It was quite a different look for me. The reaction from my two innocent and inquisitive granddaughters was priceless. “Poppa, you lost your hair.” Then they would laugh and giggle and I would laugh and giggle with them. Their laughter was the best medicine for me.

The non-chemo drug that I’m taking has caused me to have a rash over most of my body. It’s a lot like being a teenager with acne. To my way of thinking, if all three drugs can help me, then I don’t mind being a bald-headed grandpa with acne.

All three drugs seem to be working in fighting the cancer. The last two PET scans showed improvement in the areas where the cancer was residing. In one of the areas, the cancer had been all but eliminated. After my current set of treatments has been completed, I will have another PET scan to determine the next course of action.

Throughout this whole marathon, I’ve been very fortunate. I have the prayers and support of family and friends. The doctors and nurses at Green Bay Oncology and Radiation Oncology, where I go for my treatments, have been terrific. My cousin, who is a radiologist in Washington, D.C., has been very helpful in reviewing my scans and advising me about the treatments. The people at work have been very supportive, helpful and understanding. My wife, Debbie, has been with me every step of the way throughout this process. She is what I call a “loving nag.” And I mean that sincerely and affectionately. She tries to get me to eat more, drink more, get plenty of rest and also makes sure that I take my medications. Cancer isn’t just my illness, it’s our illness.

My hope and prayer is that someday there will be a cure for cancer. In the meantime, please keep cancer patients and their families in your thoughts and prayers. We need your support as we all continue to run the cancer marathon one step at a time.

Kuick is communications director for the Diocese of Green Bay and general manager of The Compass.

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