Life is a journey and I can personally attest to the many obstacles, emotions, milestones and lessons learned that come with it.
I found out the hard way that life isn’t fair and there are no guarantees. I am told by many that there is a plan. That plan is to lead by example and love my life, myself and everybody in it. Those that know me will tell you I have a contagious personality in that I am happy, loved and fulfilled. I am no longer affected by what others think of me. My plan is to inspire and to help others in their personal life challenges. “The glass is always half full.”
On October 15, 1992, my life was completely turned upside down when I was diagnosed with stage IV non-Hodgkin disease. Upon hearing that news, I realized that life just dealt me my cards. It didn’t matter how good my hand was, but how I played it. This resulted in an ever-evolving creation of a “new norm" that ended up providing many opportunities by giving me a whole new slate of choices and options.
Hanel (left) at his sister's wedding, just after original diagnosis
After undergoing multiple CT scans, bone marrow biopsies, laparoscopy and a surgical biopsy, I was given a diagnosis of Stage IV-B diffuse large cell malignant non-Hodgkin lymphoma. I asked, “How many stages are there”? The oncologist looked at me and replied “uh four.” OMG. Chemotherapy was started the day after the surgery due to the end stage diagnosis. This news certainly hit both my family and friends very hard.
Less than a year later, CT scans revealed an increase of disease in my abdomen and again a recurrence of hydronephrosis (kidney obstruction). I had relapsed. The course of recommended treatment was a bone marrow transplant. The chemotherapy would consist of VP-16, 60 hours of continuous Cytoxan and three days (2x/day) of total body radiation. I recall asking my oncologist what a transplant was like. His response, “I am going to try to kill you and change my mind at the last minute.” I replied, “Ok then, let’s do it while I’m still in good shape to withstand it.” I knew then that I was in the battle for my life and that this next set of treatments could very realistically kill me. I had no choice.
Fortunately, I survived the transplant as well as the three bouts of pneumonia that came after. I was advised that I wouldn’t be able to start a family and told to get my affairs in order (multiple times). And as if cancer wasn’t enough, I was further challenged in the following years by congestive heart failure, shingles, sepsis, basal cell carcinoma, and chronic renal failure and ultimately a kidney transplant.
And the drama isn’t over yet. I’ve had to stick to a lifelong medical maintenance plan for the past 23 years.
As these post-cancer treatment health challenges or events evolved I was continuously knocked down and had to physically and mentally fight my way back again and again. With each setback, my mental toughness got stronger and more positive. I quickly learned that with each obstacle, there were personal lessons learned. Opportunities for choices and options were at my immediate disposal for me to “think positively.”
Don’t get me wrong, each bit of bad news surely brought me down. However, I was able to dig deep in search of the “positives.” With each setback, I found an innate fight for a comeback. “Fight the fight.” Over time, this positive thinking became almost automatic and it required less work to achieve that positive mental attitude.
My family, friends, doctors and nurses have also fought for me and been there lock step for each and every round of my fight. Together we have supported my choice to “embrace life” and live one day at a time. My day-to-day approach is that if I’m feeling good, take advantage of the day. If I’m feeling down, I lay low and re-energize for tomorrow. This "reduce to the ridiculous” formula allows me to control or seize the moment. Enjoy today and not to look too far ahead and stress about the “what ifs."
These minor victories serve as motivators to keep plugging away and to enjoy life and to believe in myself one day at a time. After my last bout of pneumonia, when I ended up on a ventilator, I immediately and effortlessly removed myself from those individuals that see the glass as "half empty." I see these people being defeated at the very start of their day. I cannot and will not subject myself to be consumed by negativity. This is one example of many choices that I've made to create my personal happiness.
I thoroughly enjoy the outdoors hiking with my puppy Boxer, and camping and fishing. The outdoors serves as my mental therapy. It clears my head and re-energizes me to take on the next day's challenges. I possess this innate ability to never quit and accept defeat without a fight. I am a small guy who had to defend himself in sports and bullies. I became mentally strong and believe in myself. The fact that I am no longer afraid of dying significantly attributes to my positive outlook and attitude. I consider myself in a "win/win" and peaceful mindset. There is no bad day, so long as one makes the best of it. The glass is always "half full.” My go-to words of motivation are “Persevere and Relentless.”
Today, I am still working full time and celebrating 33 years of service at Citibank. I went back and finished my bachelor’s degree, taught myself to be an avid fly fisherman, have a 19-year-old daughter in college, and was recognized as the Roswell Cancer Institute “Star of Hope” in 2003.
All things considered, life is good with a new found appreciation for life and all that it has to offer.
Read other stories about survivorship.
Scott Hanel is a first time writer who is eager to share his story in hopes of inspiring and helping others. He lives in Alden, New York, with his wife Connie, daughter Madison and their two dogs and cat. Scott has been employed at Citibank for for 33 years.