stage 3 follicular lymphoma (FL)
I was diagnosed with stage 3 follicular lymphoma (FL), a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), at the end of 2017, and our world was turned upside down. I lived a pretty healthy lifestyle, stayed active, and ate well. I never thought I would be diagnosed with cancer until I received the phone call from my hematologist/oncologist late on a Friday night. My body went numb as I listened to the diagnosis and the aggressive treatment plan around the corner. I felt sorry for myself for about five minutes, but I was blessed to have amazing support from my loving wife, and my oncologist's bedside manner was exactly what I needed, calm and reassuring.
Lesson number #1, it takes a village, and it's a must to have the "right" physician for your needs. Advocate for yourself since no one else will like you can. The next week I had my port installed and a biopsy to confirm, giddy up, it was go time!
I'm an optimist to a fault and here comes lesson #2, positivity is your secret superpower to get through it all. Fast forward a year and a half later, after countless infusions, doctors’ appointments, a trip to the ER, staying at home since my immune system was at the same level as an HIV/AIDS patient, we beat cancer and received the diagnosis of "no evidence of disease!"
Lesson #3, learn from all of the difficult tragedies in life. Your learning and perspective will be much more powerful than the wins. It's easy to feel sorry for yourself when things don't go your way, but try to find the silver lining, the lightness in the dark. You will come out stronger than ever, and you will be a better version of yourself. I wasn't able to exercise because of complications, and I didn't feel well enough. But once I was off active treatment, I hit the gym and started to run . . . well kind of, couldn't make it past a half mile before I collapsed on the treadmill.
Lesson #4, dust yourself off and try again, and again, and again. I thought to myself, I just beat cancer, went through the most difficult medical treatment of my life, if I can survive and conquer that, I can do anything! Which brings me to
Lesson #5, never doubt yourself, and you are truly stronger than you think you are! Before cancer, I never ran more than a 5K. I didn't think I was strong enough to go further, but cancer taught me I can go as far as my mind will let me, and then some. Challenge accepted, and that is where my love for running and endurance sports was born. Two half-marathons, 5K-15Ks, mountain bike races that next year, and I was hooked! I started to run for myself to see how far I could go, but then I saw my friends diagnosed with various cancers, so I decided to run for them and myself! We raised almost $10K for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) Light The Night (LTN) walk in St. Louis in honor of my close co-worker who is disease-free today, #Fighting4Fauss!
Lesson #6, when you can, help those around you who are going through hardships. It will be more rewarding than anything you have done in your life. Your journey and experiences will be their survival guide.
Why stop at half marathons? Let's go for a full! The 2020 Chicago Marathon didn't happen, but we ran virtually anyway! I ran in honor of my dear friend who was battling AML at the time. She was gracious enough to allow me to run for her and LLS every year I could! She ran every training run and step with me as she was always in my thoughts and prayers. Unfortunately, she passed shortly after virtual Chicago, one of the most difficult phone calls. Before she passed, I made a pact with her, and I was going to honor it if I had to crawl across the finish line. Fast forward to 2021, the Chicago Marathon was my first Team In Training (TNT) event/marathon major, and I raised over $3K in memory of my dear friend #TEAMDRAGON! I came in at 4:09, and I'll beat it next year! The love and support I received from my friends and family were overwhelming, and I couldn't have done it without them and #TEAMDRAGON! Refer back to Lesson #1, it does take a village, allow people to help and support you. It will help everyone in the healing process, including yourself.
I am one of the lucky ones. I went from cancer patient to marathoner. Cancer will always be a part of my life, but I will not let it define me. I wear it as a badge of honor and a reminder of WE CAN DO ALL OF THE HARD THINGS. There is a reason why I was chosen for cancer, to unveil how strong I really am AND to help those around me going through their journey. Lesson #7, life is short and absolutely beautiful. Don't waste time wishing, remove “could of”/”would of” from your vernacular, and JUST GO FOR IT. You might stumble and you might fail, but it's better than not trying at all. I now live my life in the present and try to do all of the things I wanted to before cancer. I am stronger from going through my cancer journey, and I hope I can share what I've learned so others don't have to learn from their tragedies.
2022 NYC Marathon, here we come!