After I had my allogeneic bone marrow transplant (for relapsed Hodgkin’s lymphoma) in 2003, I read that American men, on average, lived to be 77 years old. Those going through such transplants, surviving the procedure and side effects, and avoiding the return of their cancer, lived to be, on average, 75. I’m 44. If my math’s correct, and if I’m average, I’ve got 31 years left on this planet.
That’s 31 more holidays and 1,610 more weekends until the Grim Reaper comes knocking on my door. If this is how it all shakes out, about 60% of my life is over. I’m 10% over the hill. How steep the slope is, I don’t know yet.
At various points during my recovery, I made all kinds of promises to myself and God, that if I got through cancer, I was going to do all kinds of wonderful things. I was going to be such a wonderful person. I was going to be a walking, talking, beacon of goodness. Mother Theresa could learn from my example.
In my many pleadings for a cure, I reasoned to God and the Great Beyond that my wife shouldn’t be a single parent, and that I needed more time so I could be a loving, wonderful father to my daughter, Kaitlin.
One day when she was very young, things weren’t going well. Kaitlin was screaming and crying, and I was at my wit’s end, angry for some stupid reason. She was in her bedroom, behind the door, I was out in the hallway. I pushed open the door, knowing it would knock her over. She fell back, and thankfully, only her rear end hit the carpeted floor. Not surprisingly, this didn’t end her crying.
Whatever upset me evaporated. I had my screaming daughter on the floor, I was standing over her and I realized I could’ve hurt her. All those promises I made, all those bargains for more time on Earth, were broken. I’d been given a chance to be a wonderful Dad, and I blew it.
Now it was me who was bawling his eyes out. I picked her up in my arms, grabbed one of her books (Good Dog Carl or Goodnight Moon, probably) and started rocking her in a rocking chair. I apologized to Kaitlin for getting angry and knocking her over. I never apologized for anything, to anyone, with so much gusto, in my life. Kaitlin stopped crying, and her eyes were wide looking at me, this babbling, tear soaked, so-called father holding her tight.
I decided the cancer was going to come back and kill me, and deservedly so, because I wasn’t using my time to be a good father. I was, in fact, the bad Dad. I’d been given the greatest gift of all, time, and I broke the bargain with God. I was sure my time would soon come to an end, in some painful and terrible way. I had no one else to blame, but me.
I haven’t been struck down yet. Kaitlin is a great kid. She’s survived 12 years of my care.
Since cancer treatment, I’ve made mistakes, great and small. Opportunities have been lost. But, every day is a new beginning, a new opportunity to do the best we can. Everyone can change, and we can all do at least a little better each day. Confucius is quoted as writing; "Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall."
I guess I don’t need to be a beacon of goodness. I just have to rise after I fall and then try to point myself in the right direction. Hopefully, I’ll have at least 31 more years of dusting myself off.