Thoughts from a Mesothelioma Patient
I have survived mesothelioma for more than four and a half years. My hope is that my experience may help others. In this letter I will relate in a general way what I have done to survive and enjoy life. Later, I will write several short letters that will detail some of my activities and methods that are only briefly mentioned here. I think cancer started to grow in my body late in the summer of 1989. The first signs were loss of energy, appetite and weight. At the time, I attributed those difficulties to the fact that I was off work recovering from a cataract operation. I thought my condition was due to my inactivity and that everything would return to normal after I returned to work. But after returning to work my condition grew worse, so early in April of 1990 I went to the V. A. hospital in Houston. Their X-rays indicated a large amount of fluid in my chest. I was admitted to the hospital where three liters of fluid were drained from the left side of my chest. The fluid was analyzed and a diagnosis of adenocarcinoma was made. I was told that the cancer was inoperable and untreatable (except for the symptoms) and that I could probably expect to live from twelve to eighteen months. They expected that fluid would continue to accumulate in my chest, so they scheduled me to come back into the hospital early in July. A tube was inserted into my chest and over two liters of fluid from my lung were drained out. I was told that they were going to do a procedure on me that would use that same tube to inject a medicine into my chest area. This medicine would act as a glue, adhering the layers of my pleura together so that no more fluid could accumulate. They said this medicine resembled talcum powder in appearance.
After a couple of days I learned that there was some disagreement among the pathologists as to my diagnosis. One doctor thought it might be mesothelioma, so I was asked if I had a history of exposure to asbestos. I told him that I had been around a lot of it in my work in construction and as a salvager of obsolete chemical and refining facilities. He explained that mesothelioma was caused by exposure to asbestos. At this point I was told that only a few highly specialized cancer hospitals were able to effectively operate on and treat a case such as mine. M. D. Anderson hospital in Houston was one of these places, so I was admitted there. At Anderson the doctors opened me up, took a biopsy and ran a culture for two weeks. The test proved positive` and an operation was performed to remove as much of the cancer as possible. The operation took about six hours and I was in intensive care for four more days. The pain was intense and my recovery was very slow.
In September, after being in the hospital for fifty-seven straight days, I was discharged. I was in a weakened and very painful condition. Because I was living alone the doctors made arrangements to have a nurse from a home health nursing service visit me on a regular basis. Within a week I was able to drive to restaurants and to do other very basic tasks. Within two weeks I was able to take an out of town trip to visit friends. My nurse Marcia and I became close friends, began to date and were married in March of 1992.
After the operation an oncologist informed me that there was nothing else he could do except chemotherapy, which would only have a twenty to twenty-five percent chance of helping me. He also said it would be very difficult for me to handle living alone without help. I decided not to take the chemo and continued to go back to the hospital each three months for blood work, x-rays and a CAT scan. Each test showed just a little more growth of the cancer. It had spread into both lungs. At first the growth was slow but in the summer of 1992, the cancer was growing much faster. I was getting weaker, so in August I decided to take the chemo. The first round of chemo, which consisted of Cisplatin, Adriamycin and Cytoxan, made me sicker than I could ever remember. I wanted to stop the treatment and die, but the doctor said that once the chemo was started it could not be stopped or the cancer would return faster than ever. He said it would make the chemo seem like child's play by comparison. I've got a really good doctor. He is even a better salesman. Five weeks later I took my second round of chemo and, because the dosage was reduced, I took it a little better. Four weeks later I took the third round and it was even easier than the second. I did all right with the fourth and fifth rounds also, but when I took my test to see whether I was in condition to take round six, they discovered more fluid in the chest and that my condition had worsened. They informed me that the chemo had worked to help slow the growth in the beginning, but had now stopped working. I would never be able to take this type of chemo again. In a few days I was scheduled to have the fluid removed and to be tested to see if I was a candidate for some other protocol that they had to offer. In the meantime my appetite picked up, and I started to gain weight and I felt a lot better. When they checked me out on March 5, of 1993, the fluid had disappeared and I was feeling so good, it was decided to do nothing right then and to have me come back in two months.
I continued to gain strength and weight and when they tested me again in two months the x-rays showed no sign of cancer. The doctors then called my condition "stabilized." Each test after that was the same until February of 1994, when the x-rays showed some fluid in the left chest and some nodules on the right lung. I was given a CAT scan on April 6 and reported to my doctor the next day. He informed me that the cancer was growing again but this time more slowly. He suggested the drug Toxan for me and thought I should start immediately. Marcia and I had a lot of travel plans for the next several months, so I asked him if could safely delay this procedure until the middle of July. He agreed and scheduled me to come back in three months. In July the test indicated slow growth and I started treatment by a taxol and 10 edam protocol. I had bad side effects from the other chemo and I was worried about this one.
After a few months I am doing really well and have high hopes that the whole procedure will continue to work well. CT and x-ray test indicate that much of the cancer is shrinking, and the rest is stabilized. This protocol is experimental and there are no definite time limits set. My doctor wants to keep me on it as long as it continues to work well. The side effects have not been too bad with this protocol. The most significant side effects that I have suffered from these chemo treatments is loss of weight. I now weigh about 135 pounds and feel weak a lot of the time. My spirits remain good and I continue to practice prayer and meditation. For the present I have had to neglect my exercise and nutrition programs. I have received and continue to receive the best of medical care.
But that is not the full story. A friend was diagnosed with cancer a few months before I was diagnosed. In order to better understand his problem, I read several books that dealt with cancer. One of these books was "Love, Medicine, and Miracles," by Dr. Bernie Siegel. In his book, Dr. Siegel outlines some of the attitudes which patients develop who get well from seemingly incurable illnesses. I also read some books on death and dying and discovered that I agree with some of the writers who say that death is not necessarily a failure. My aim is to live each day to the fullest, whether it be one more day or thirty more years.
Another thing I did was to locate a cancer support group that was run along spiritual lines. Little did I realize that all of this was to save my own life later on. I attended the first meeting of this group a few weeks after I was diagnosed, not to find a way of getting well, but because I thought that I would get some comfort from being with others who had been diagnosed with cancer. I did find, and continue to get such comfort; but I have gotten many other things as well. In our group I met people with a positive attitude and an approach to health that was working for them. We talk about practical matters such as how best to interact with our medical care givers and to take responsibility for our own welfare. This meant that I should begin to question the kind of treatment that I receive and learn as much as possible about those procedures. Other matters that we discuss are proper nutrition, exercise, coping with pain, fear, resentments, and much more.
The founder and original leader of our group is Rosemary Ross. Rosemary had written a workbook, "Creative Living and Health" that serves as a format for our discussions. She also has made a tape with a message of hope and a suggested meditation that has been very beneficial to many of us, both in and out of our group.
I suffered from alcoholism for many years and nearly died from it in 1975. At that time I turned to a spiritual program for help. It was suggested that if I would take certain steps on a daily basis I would be given, by the grace of God, a daily reprieve from the horrors of alcoholism. It was suggested that I begin to live my life one day at a time. This meant that I would seek to live each day to the fullest, shutting out thoughts of the past and the future when those thoughts were inappropriate to the present. I had wasted a lot of my time and energy in remorse and guilt about things in my past, but had done nothing to amend those misdeeds. Likewise I had spent much time and energy worrying about what might happen to me in the future, yet not taking any action to prevent these things from happening. As a result of practicing these principles in my life, when the doctors gave me the "terminal cancer" diagnosis, I decided to put my uncertain future in God's hands and concentrate on living fully each day, one day at a time, accepting with gratitude all the help that was offered to me: spiritual as well as medical and physical. Alcoholism is a terminal illness. I consider each day that I have lived since June 20, 1975, to be a day of grace, over and above what I thought I deserved or expected.
I had never known what really good living was until 1975, when I began my new life, but the best and most meaningful days of my entire life have been lived since I was diagnosed with cancer. I have lived some very painful and difficult days since the diagnosis, but they have added meaning and purpose to my life. I was an agnostic prior to 1975, and if I believed in a God, I didn't like what I believed. I am not affiliated with any religious organization, but I have benefited by what religion has to offer and I try to see where religious people are right. Many of them prayed for me when I was very sick, and I believe their prayers are being answered.
Being diagnosed with mesothelioma and working for recovery from it has brought into my life many wonderful things. The most important thing is that I have more of an awareness of the presence of God, and his purposes for me in this life. Because of this my fear of death has been greatly diminished.
When I was diagnosed in April of 1990 I was put on disability retirement. I could never have visualized how much I would enjoy doing only those things that I really like to do. Retirement and the opportunities it has given me is wonderful..
I could not place a value on the love I feel for the people that are in my life as a result of being diagnosed with cancer. Being in love and loving someone may be different things, but I am experiencing both of those things with my wife, whom I would not have known except for cancer. I believe love to be a powerful healer. When I visited my support group for the first time, I discovered that being with people with a common problem removed many barriers that might have separated us before. I could feel closer to them than others I had known for years. I am a member of Anderson Network, an organization of current and former patients of Anderson cancer center. We try to help cancer patients by answering their questions and providing understanding when and where it is needed most. When I first called the Anderson Network hot-line I was connected with an Anderson networker who was a mesothelioma patient. We immediately became good friends. He put me in touch with others and I found the same camaraderie with some of them and their families.
Being able to share my experience, strength and hope with others has been one of the most important things that I have done to get healthy and to stay healthy. I am now in contact with a few others who are scattered over several states. We write to each other and talk on the phone occasionally. Once in a while I get to visit some of them. Books and tapes have been a big help to me. I would appreciate hearing from you. If you would be interested in corresponding with me or other cancer survivors, or if you would care to hear from others, then just let me know. I would also like to hear any comments you may have about the contents of this letter.
Best wishes for good health,
19710 Oak Green Ct.
Humble, Texas 77346
MY NUTRITION PROGRAM
I have always known that proper nutrition is important to good health. I learned in our cancer support group that certain foods have proven effective in preventing and reducing cancer. Group members suggested that I develop a plan for a nutritious diet, a plan that included less fats and sweets, and more fibrous foods such as grains, whole wheat and oatmeal. Barely cooked and raw vegetables are also important. I reduced the amount of red meat in my diet and concentrated on eating a wide variety of foods.
In Humble we are fortunate to have a variety of good restaurants, so we eat out often. This makes it entertaining and enjoyable to eat the kind of foods that tend to keep me in good health. The American Cancer Society and the American Cancer Institute both have some good pamphlets on nutrition. I have found good books on nutrition in the book stores also.
I learned that it was difficult to get enough nutrients from raw vegetables no matter how much I ate, and that canned or frozen juices lost their potency. My answer to this was to purchase a juicer. I blend together carrots, apples, celery, spinach, beets, tomatoes and other available vegetables and fruits. Later I located a restaurant that would prepare my juice for me. I now make a routine of first exercising, and then going by the cafe for my juice. Several of the cancer group members had gone to a nutritionist in order to get his recommendations about what to eat and what not to eat. After doing blood analysis and other tests, he suggested certain vitamin and mineral supplements. In the beginning I couldn't afford him, so I read some literature about my diet, and got Marcia (who used to own a health store) to recommend some vitamins and minerals for me to take on a daily basis. I also heard that aloe vera juice was good to help the body get rid of cancer, and I found a supply of it at Walmart for about eight dollars per gallon.
After seeing a special on T.V. about shark cartilage curing cancer in some cases, I read some literature about it and decided to give it a try. I now take it regularly. As with my exercise program and other routines, I must discipline myself to stay in action. I have grown complacent from time to time, but I have always returned to my routine. After my operation and during the time that I was taking chemotherapy, my appetite was greatly diminished. I then resorted to drinking several cans of a food supplement called Ensure. It can be found in most drug stores, grocery stores, and Walmart. Ensure contains all the nutrients necessary to keep one alive.
During these difficult times there would come to mind certain foods that would sound good to me. Marcia would make an effort to get and prepare those foods for me whether they were supposed to be healthy or not. Improvement rather than perfection is my goal at this time. So that's my nutrition program in a nutshell. I'm always open to new suggestions and am constantly looking for likely improvements. Any ideas that you have about nutrition would be of interest to me. In the meantime, I'll continue seeking ways to strengthen the above outlined formula.
THE IMPORTANCE OF EXERCISE
For several years I had been walking about two miles per day. I found this exercise stimulating physically and mentally. In the fall of 1989 I began to tire easily and started to cut back on the distance I walked each day. I believe that this fatigue, and a loss of appetite and weight, were the first indications that I was getting sick.
After getting out of the hospital and attending a few meetings of my cancer support group, it was suggested that it would be helpful to do some exercises each day. I chose walking as my exercise and would walk as much as my strength would allow. It made me feel better and increased my appetite, thus helping me to keep my weight up.
Later I joined the President and First Lady health club, so I would have a good place to walk even in extreme weather conditions. It has turned out to be much more than that. I now use the stairmaster, bicycle machine and several other machines that help me to exercise my arms, back and the other parts of my body. After a minimum of thirty minutes of this activity I go to the steam room for ten minutes, then to the whirlpool hot tub for fifteen or twenty minutes.
As I mentioned before, I have a good cassette tape selection of talks by Bernie Siegel, Deepak Choppra, Wayne Dyer, Rosemary Ross and many others who talk about gaining and maintaining good health and well being. I listen to these tapes while I am exercising, and meditate on some of the ideas presented in them. I also do this while in the steam room and the hot tub.
When I first started using the exercise machines I was only able to go for two or three minutes on any of them. As I went along I increased the amount of time and the effort level on the machines. Today I can easily go for thirty minutes on the stairmaster at the two or three effort level and accomplish over two-hundred flights of stairs.
When traveling or at times when I cannot get to the gym, I usually find a good place to walk. I walk at a fast pace. It is necessary to stay moving for at least twenty minutes to get my heart rate up to the level that will do my body good. One of the members of our cancer support group is a trained therapist, and has taught me and others in the group some effective exercises that can be done anywhere and without equipment.
I feel so much better when I am doing my exercise routine on a regular basis, but after I have been feeling really good for a long time, I grow complacent and miss days. I must discipline myself daily to do all of those things that keep me alive and in good health. I hope that some of this may be of help to you in developing your own program. I'd like to hear what you are doing for exercise, and perhaps together we can improve the quality of our exercise programs.
HOW I DEAL WITH FEAR
For a lot of my life I was plagued by fear. It brought about circumstances that caused misfortune I felt I did not deserve.
Fear motivated me to make many unwise decisions concerning the course of my life. I was afraid of responsibility. Success increased the scope of my responsibility, therefore I became afraid to succeed. I sabotaged my own efforts to achieve by overindulgence in alcohol. I escaped these fearful situations by means of the bottle, but also by searching always for an easier, softer way in employment, relationships and other commitments I was forced to make.
By 1975 I had reached the stage where fear had led me into terror, bewilderment, frustration and despair. I was unemployed and unemployable, and was incarcerated in the Camden Arkansas city jail. There a kindhearted judge ordered me to an alcohol treatment center in Eldorado, Arkansas. While in the center I began to attend meetings with other alcoholics who had recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body. I learned that alcohol was just a symptom of my problem.
My real problem was all of those things that made me need to drink.
Several things were involved and fear was high on the list. It was imperative that I take a good look at myself to see what was causing this destructive fear. I found that self-reliance had failed me. I had once had self confidence, and although it helped, it didn't fully solve the fear problem.
I learned to trust infinite God rather than my finite self. Today I am in the world to play the role He assigns me. To the extent I do as I think He would have me do and humbly rely on Him, does He enable me to match calamity with serenity. I asked Him to remove my fear and direct my attention to what He would have me be. At once I started to outgrow fear. When I speak to you of God, I mean your own conception of God. This applies, too, to other spiritual expressions that you may find in my letters or other communications. My own conception, however inadequate, was sufficient to make the approach and to effect a contact with Him. At the start this was all I needed to commence spiritual growth. I did this by praying even before I believed. I asked God to reveal himself to me as he wanted me to see Him. Today I am able to accept many spiritual concepts that seemed entirely out of reach for me in the beginning.
To the extent that I turn my thoughts to the welfare of others, I am free of fear. I have a method of ridding myself of fear when it crops up. First I check myself to see where I have gotten into selfishness and/or dishonesty. Next I ask God to remove the fear, and I immediately discuss the situation with someone. If I have harmed anyone I quickly make amends to them. Then I resolutely turn my thoughts to someone I can help. These simple actions have always worked remarkably well for me.
When the doctor informed me that I probably had cancer and that they wanted to admit me to the hospital, I was stunned. Looking back on those first few minutes I think I was just kind of numbed by fear, but this soon wore off and I was confronted with the question of what to do next.
First I inventoried the situation and asked God to remove my fear. I had recently had a friend who was diagnosed with cancer so I decided to call him, knowing that he would understand my feelings. I was admitted to the hospital that night and I slept well.
The next morning I began my day by praying that I be shown how I could live this day so as to be of maximum service to Him and my fellows. I resolutely turned my thoughts to what I could do for someone else. At this point I looked over to the bed on my left and noticed that this patient only had one leg. I introduced myself, and asked him if he would like for me to get a cup of coffee for him. This started a nice friendship, and I listened to his problems. Soon there were others in the ward who needed someone to run an errand for them, or just needed to talk. The day was a good one and I didn't have time to experience fear about my diagnosis.
To the extent that I have followed this formula, I have been free of fear.
HOW I DEAL WITH RESENTMENTS
For most of my life I blamed people, places and circumstances for all of my troubles. I even put some of the blame on God. When I sought help with my alcoholism, they explained to me that in order to get over drinking alcohol I would have to get rigidly honest with myself. This meant that I would have to see where my thinking, my attitudes and my actions had been the cause of all of my problems. When I looked back in my life I discovered that selfishness and self-centeredness were the root of all my troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity I stepped on the toes of others and they retaliated. Sometime they hurt me seemingly without provocation, but I invariably found that sometime in the past I had made decisions based on self that later placed me in a position to be hurt. When it became apparent to me that I had created my own misery, I found it necessary to take an inventory of my grosser handicaps. The number one offender was resentment. It had brought on spiritual sickness, which in turn had adversely affected me physically as well as emotionally. I listed the people, institutions and principles with whom I was angry. In most cases I found that my self-esteem, my money, my ambitions or my personal relationships (including sex) were hurt or threatened.
As I took a good look at the past it became clear that a life that includes deep resentment leads only to futility and unhappiness. It had certainly happened to me. To the extent that I permit this, I waste hours that might be worthwhile. When I harbor resentments I shut myself off from the sunlight of the spirit. Resentment may be a dubious luxury for other people, but for me it is poison.
I saw that these resentments must be mastered, but I could not just wish them away. Most of the harm done to me, I brought on myself. When I was harmed without provocation I tried to regard these people as spiritually sick. I ask God to help me show them the same tolerance and understanding that was shown me when I first sought help for my alcoholism. ?God please save me from being angry?, was my persistent prayer in these cases.
Next I try to put out of my mind, the wrongs done to me and look for my own mistakes. Where have I been selfish, dishonest, self-seeking and frightened? Though a situation is not entirely my fault, I try to disregard the other person involved entirely. Where am I to blame? I admit my wrongs honestly and try to set these matters straight.
I have not stopped experiencing anger, although I feel it much less now that I understand what it is about me that allows it to happen. By being on guard for fear or anger, I can identify and be rid of it before it becomes a major problem.
When I experience anger or fear I look to see where I am being selfish or dishonest, and ask God at once to remove these defects of my character. I discuss these things with someone immediately, and quickly make amends if I have harmed anyone. Then I turn my thoughts to someone I can help. Love and tolerance of others is my code.
I cannot be helpful to all people, but God does show me how to take a kindly and tolerant view of each person I meet. Following these suggestions has transformed my attitude from one of hate to one of love of this world and the people in it. The more I practice these principles the better they work for me. I believe this formula for peaceful living contributes greatly to my recovery from cancer.
PRAYER AND MEDITATION
I was raised in a Christian family. Throughout my childhood and into adolescence I was a regular attendee of Sunday school and church. I was taught good principles by which to live and I saw this way of life demonstrated in our family.
As I grew older I began to violate these principles more and more. Sometimes it seemed the harder I tried to live right, the more I failed. At some point I made an assessment of my life and concluded that if what I had learned in Sunday school was true then I was to be consigned to an eternity in hell. I seemed to be powerless to change the course of my life and it was becoming more corrupted all the time.
My thinking was that we live this life as a sort of trial to see if we would be fit for eternity in heaven if we were judged good enough, or an eternity in hell if we were not. I was convinced that if this was true I most certainly would end up in hell. Sometimes this scared me very badly. My decision was to hope that what I had been taught was not true, and to reject religion and God. Actually, I was never able to fully believe there was no God, but to the extent that I could believe that, I found some comfort. Much later and after much suffering I found out that it was not God but my concept of Him that frightened me.
When I use the word God, I mean your own conception of whatever power you believe in. This applies, too, to other spiritual expressions that you may find in my letters or other communications. My own conception, however inadequate, was sufficient to make the approach and to effect a contact with Him. At the start, all I needed to commence spiritual growth was to begin praying even before I believed. I asked God to reveal himself to me as He wanted me to see Him. Today I am able to accept many spiritual concepts that seemed entirely out of reach for me in the beginning.
In the beginning it was suggested that I concern myself more with what I was asking for in prayer, than to whom I was praying. If I would pray with an open mind, He would begin to reveal Himself to me as He wanted me to see Him. I am powerless over the disease of alcoholism, so I started out praying for the power and strength to go one day without a drink of alcohol. I still start my day with this prayer and I have not had a drink of alcohol since I began this practice. Never was I to pray for myself or my own selfish ends, except as my request bore on my usefulness to others. Only then might I expect to receive, but that would be in great measure. I ask in my prayers each morning for good health so that I can better do His will for me, which is in part, I believe, to help others achieve good health. This letter is an attempt to carry out what I believe is His will for me.
After God had begun to reveal Himself to me as loving, caring and forgiving, I made a prayer something like this. "God, I offer myself to You to build with me and do with me as You will. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Your will. Take away my difficulties that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help, of your power, love, and way of life. May I do Your will always."
After taking a moral inventory of myself and discovering the exact nature of my wrongs, I was ready to have God remove these defects from me. I then said something like this; "My creator, I am now willing that You should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that You remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows. Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do Your bidding.? When I retire at night I review my day. Have I been selfish, resentful, dishonest or afraid? Do I owe an apology? Is there anything that should be discussed with another person? Was I kind and loving toward all? What could I have done better? Was I thinking of myself most of the time? Or was I thinking of what I could do for others and what I could pack into the stream of life? After making this review I ask God's forgiveness and inquire what corrective measures should be taken.
On awakening I think about the twenty-four hours ahead. I consider my plans for the day, but before I begin I ask God to direct my thinking, especially asking that it be free of self-pity, dishonest or self-seeking motives. When I am faced with indecision I ask for inspiration, an intuitive thought or decision. I relax and take it easy. I don't struggle, and the right answers do come to me after I have tried this for a while. What used to be an occasional hunch or inspiration gradually has become a working part of my mind.
I usually conclude this period of meditation with a prayer that I be shown all through the day what my next step is to be, that I be given whatever I need to take care of my problems. I ask for freedom from self-will and I'm careful to make no request for myself only. As I go through the day I pause when agitated or doubtful and ask for the right thought or action. A good prayer for me at these times is the serenity prayer that is, "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." Many times during the day I remind myself that I am no longer running the show. I then say "Your will, not mine, be done."
Prayer is where I communicate with God. Meditation is where He communicates with me. The more I try it, the more effective it is. The methods that I have described have worked well for me and I believe they will work for any one who earnestly tries them.
I have several good books that present a variety of ways to meditate. I think each person will find his own best method. I have also collected a number of good tapes that offer guided meditation techniques. Among these are several by Dr. Bernie Siegel that have helped me. These tapes can be found in many book stores. Rosemary Ross has made a very good meditation tape. My life is always good to the extent that I use prayer and meditation as my guidance.
WHY DID I GET CANCER??????
When I first visited my cancer support group Rosemary Ross, our leader, asked me if I needed to be sick again? Did I like some aspects of being sick? And what did I like about it? I did not know how to answer the first question.
There were some aspects of being diagnosed with cancer that were beneficial to me. In 1982 my mother died and left a small estate that I used to start a small business. The business was unsuccessful and by 1989 I was broke. I closed up the store and went back to work operating a crane on a construction project. I was making some progress financially when in the summer of 1989 I developed cataracts on my eyes and had to be laid off from work so that I could have an operation on my left eye. It was several months before I located another job. I know now that the cancer began to grow in my body during those months that the future looked so uncertain. Soon after I entered the hospital the doctors informed me that my case was terminal and that it was highly unlikely that I would ever be able to work again. It was then that I applied for and received disability retirement from Social Security. Previous to the diagnosis I had not felt good about the prospects of spending the next several years working construction while awaiting retirement. So when I was granted retirement, I felt really good about it. I enjoyed being able to do only those things that I wanted to do. I liked this aspect of having cancer.
Another benefit that I became aware of in the beginning was the beauty of having so many new people in my life as a result of being diagnosed with cancer. The people in my cancer support group demonstrated the closeness and love that can develop in that setting. Since then I have met and formed close friendships with dozens of people that I would not have met except for cancer.
My wife came into my life as a nurse. It's not likely that I would have allowed her into my life as closely as I did if it had not been for my poor health. To explain this, I must go back to 1983, when Jean died. I loved Jean more than I thought I was capable of loving. We had lived together for almost eight years when she died of lung cancer only twenty days after diagnosis. For the first few months after her death, I didn't date anyone else. But then I decided that I might find the kind of love with someone else that I once had with Jean.
The first relationship was good as far as it went, but fell short of being what I had with Jean. Later I met and fell "in love" with a girl who was not available for me for a permanent relationship. In an attempt to get over the feelings I had for her, I found another girl to go with. This relationship was not right for either of us, and it developed into an emotional storm until we finally agreed to end it. At this point I looked back on my "love" life, realized that I had been very selfish in my approach to women, and decided not to have any more romantic entanglements. This also happened soon after the cataract operation and during the time I was unemployed. This is when cancer began to grow in my body.
Were these turmoils related to my diagnosis? What happened in the last few years that made my immune system quit doing its job properly? This question kept arising in our meetings, and I read similar questions in the books I was reading, including Bernie Siegel. Several others in the group began to answer this question, referring to their own case, in a way that helped me understand what had happened to them. Some of the answers I heard involved failure to achieve life-long goals, thwarted ambitions, or lack of purpose in living. When the same question was asked of me, I continued to maintain that the cancer was caused by exposure to asbestos. After more urging, I agreed to see a counselor.
I was making an effort to determine what, if anything had gone wrong in my life. My counsellor has had much experience in helping others deal with health problems. She gently guided me into an exploration of the past that brought to light the major problems that I have described above. My major difficulty had been brought on by my decision to live alone for the rest of my life. My gloomy outlook for my employment and financial future was another big problem. By the time I found out what the exact nature of these difficulties had been, both of them had already been eliminated.
The love I have for Marcia is beautiful and healing. Our life together is much more than anything I could have dreamed of. We do almost everything together. She has filled a big void that existed in my life. It is my belief that making a decision to turn my will and life over to God as I understand Him will provide all my needs if I keep close to Him and perform His work well. I have always heard that God works in mysterious ways, and He has certainly channeled my needs to me in ways I would never have guessed. I have prospered much more since diagnosis than ever before. Likewise, I was on guard not to let women into my life. I think God took an angel, disguised her as a nurse, and sent her to me. That's the only way I would have let Marcia into my heart. This also shows that God knows more than I do what my needs are. It's easy for me to see now that I limited the power of God to guide and supply my life. I had made up my mind that the only way that I could make a living was the way I had done it in the past. I decided which women I would go with, and then not to go with any of them. When I was diagnosed as terminal, it was only then that I could surrender these areas of my life to his care and direction.
It seems to me that life is about learning to solve problems through experience. The greatest lessons I have learned in my life time, have come as a result of experiencing alcoholism and cancer. The greater the problem the greater the miracle of its solution. All these experiences have served to increase my consciousness of the presence of God in my life. I think that is why I was born to this world. Now when the question is asked "Do you know why you got cancer?" I can answer yes, but the reasons no longer exist. When the question is asked "Do you need to be sick again?" I can answer "No I do not need to be sick for the same reasons that I was sick before." It is necessary for me to keep in touch with my subconscious in order to find out what might be troubling me at a deeper level. The methods I use to accomplish this involve meditation, dream analysis, and journaling. I will write letters on many of these subjects in the coming weeks.