Before I die
Cancer is a painful and difficult issue to talk about, but when you read or write about it, you have somehow more time to review, to think, and to express what you feel or think about this strong topic or issue. Life is a priceless reward, a beautiful gift you have to care, to feed, and to cultivate; and it could be healthier, or weaker. When you are diagnosed with a deadly illness, there is an uncontrollable mix of feelings. Decisions to make, treatment to choose, and words to say are only a few of those questions that need to be filled up with long answers. My life is now changing very fast in the same way your sight is moving to the next paragraph.
I was diagnosed with cancer some years ago. Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of irregular cells that can spread out from one place to another inside our body. As a result it destroys other cells and even may lead to death. Mesothelioma or malignant mesothelioma is a cancer that affects our organism due a long-term exposure to asbestos and dust particles. It appears near the protective lining that covers almost all our body’s internal organs located within the chest, the lung, and the abdomen cavity. Our organism is not able to stop it quicker spread to other organs. The symptoms of mesothelioma disease may include chest or abdominal wall pain, difficulties to breath, cough, fever, anemia, fatigue, abdominal bloating, and also weight loss.
Once I was diagnosed with this uncommon form of cancer, I started to think more about mortality and responsibility, about my life and what the death represent to us: a permanent or irreversible fact. Life is a mystery, because it is always changing. I shall affirm it after many and many years of living. What life has reserved for us is almost unpredictable. One statement is always true: Nothing remains the same. You live, create, and then die. You have goals, dreams, hopes, and you work every single day to achieve them. But life is full of surprises. Living also implies sharing the suffering. When it occurs, all the members of the family have to be reborn in their lives.
I woke up an early morning. I felt terrible. I could not breathe. I made some calls and after drank a cup of Cuban coffee, I visited some friends. I shared with them a secret I kept in complete silence even with my own family for almost two months. What I have received from them is all the support I needed to continue with this battle.
My doctor explained carefully my diagnosis. I was submitted to different tests to confirm the results. Chest X-ray and CT-scans were at the beginning of a long list. The last analysis was validated with a painful biopsy and a microscopic examination. When the doctor came with the final diagnostic, I felt like there was nothing better to do; just wait. I experienced lots of feelings, memories, and emotions at the same time. I was aware of my whole family. I felt I had a huge responsibility to live in such a profound way that I could not have enough words to explain what all these words meant. I represented not only a father, but also the person who protected and gave my family love and support. I would not abandon my family. I knew how important I was in the life of my children and my partner. I was the person they look to or ask for advice on important events in their lives, such as future studies, work opportunities, upcoming events, family expenses, etc. The love I received from them was unique and irreplaceable. And still is.
I started fighting. I consulted countless physicians in order to clarify doubts. They explained me about the different treatments I could follow in order to delay the spread of the disease. I investigated not only the different types of treatment, but also which were the secondary effects of each one. It was not easy. Sometimes I felt like I did not have enough energy to continue. I was dealing with the painful and physical symptoms of the illness and also confronting the significance connected with the diagnosis and the response of others to the disease itself. Everyone was suffering. For a moment I saw my death as one solution that could stop the suffering of the person who suffers the infection as well as the caregivers. However, every member in my family was doing their best to diminish the pain I was experiencing.
I made many inquiries. I investigated about the disease, symptoms, and treatments. I read and read with such appetite that I could give a complete dissertation about this rare type of cancer. I also wrote my findings of many hours of study and investigation. My family aided me to continue with my researches. I also talked with patients suffering the same illness and compare the results of their own decisions. I learned despite even receiving a treatment with chemotherapy, radiation therapy or even surgery, the disease carries a poor prognosis. New questions appeared. I started debating between which treatments to choose if all they had little to offer. It was a very difficult decision. New crisis appeared. I battled against all those different phases I have read in many other scientific books. I faced, in not any specific order, from denial to anger and from isolation to depression stages. I never got to an end. Accepting there were not many things to do is like finishing any connection with life: a bond more spiritual and less physical with the persons you loved.
I went to the church and I prided for my family.
After some months of continued examination I found mesothelioma is better treated when is diagnosed in it earlier stage. I participated in conferences about this and many other fatal diseases. I would like to learn more about new treatments and investigations. I was never alone. My family not only accompanied me, but also fortified the reasons why we were there.
I felt weak. Because I could die in any moment, I started doing more demanding jobs and added new responsibilities. I thought I could have not enough time to finish any of them. When a person is sick, everyday has a strong and profound meaning. My chest ached. Even though pain is a sensation that cannot be directly measured, there were some days it overwhelmed me. In addition, I felt how all the members in my family were also experiencing a profound soreness because they believed they were not doing too many things to diminish the pain I was sustaining. They gave me emotional support, and that was a lot.
It took some time before I chose which treatment could be the best. I met with my doctor and his colleagues to discuss my diagnosis. Doctors that have followed my illness shared with me any improvement or retreat. All they agreed using conventional therapies could stop spreading these malignant tumors all over the body. Even though I knew there is no cure for this form of cancer, if let it untreated could fasten its damaging consequences. I took the risk. Radiation and chemotherapy, in conjugation with other drugs, are still the only treatment for mesothelioma that has been proven to reduce symptoms and improve survival of a patient. Surgery was the last option we chose because it is often ineffective when the disease is too advanced.
My organism was no able to give a response up to a certain point. Doctors decided to change the treatment. In addition, I made the decision to collaborate with investigators. I had nothing to lose, and a lot to gain. I realized if I have not too much time left, I would like to help find a cure for other patients suffering the same conditions. I considered participating in some clinical trials that might give me more cure options. We all worked together to get the painless alternative. After a certain time, my body started answering in a positive way. New hopes appeared.
I changed my routines. I started enjoying every single day as it was the last one. I took all the chances. I retook my writings as well as all those things I relegated to healthier times. Doing things I had been postponed for many reasons gave me new motivation to follow in the same direction. My world changed. The man that looked almost death at the beginning of this reading is now the same man, but with other perspectives. I am a very lucking person. What I thought was and end to a journey showed me the beginning of new fabulous pleasures.
What a life I have lived! Four years have passed from my first visit to the doctor. I remember I had fever and I could not breathe. Today I have the opportunity to write my experiences, I do with enormous satisfaction. Instead of kept at home waiting for a painful end, I chose to live. I understood death is in every place around us. People are dying every single day, and for many and different causes. They could die fighting for their beliefs or just by drinking a soft drink in the moment their body need a professional help. Even though death is a painful and irreversible loss, I did all I could in order to live better.
I am still drinking the same Cuban coffee in the place I used to go to discuss with my wife our fears and hopes. It is late. I must hurry and leave this paper just like you see it is. Today I will go to celebrate with my family and friends my younger son graduated from college. He wants to study medicine. We will meet here later to enjoy an unforgettable night. Now it is also a perfect moment to finish this essay. While you were reading it, I just arrived to this beautiful place. I have many reasons to celebrate. I am also a survivor. Son, could you pass the sugar please?