Sharp, Lauren

Every muscle in my body aches as I pull myself out of bed. I saunter to my light switch, no better rested for the ten hours of sleep than the six the previous night. Emory Austin states, “Some days there won’t be a song in your heart. Sing anyway.” I am having a hard time doing that today. As I stare into the mirror above my dresser, I notice that my cheeks look to have grown over the past few weeks. Slowly, but obviously. Add that to the amounts of blood I have been coughing up, and I am terrified. My mother and wife have both been nagging me to go to the doctor, but I tell them I will be fine. They may be right, though. I decide to go without telling them. I will let them know after I get my results back.

Unfortunately, my results prove nerve-racking. Mesothelioma. I have never even heard of this cancer and now I am being told it will kill me. How am I supposed to react to that? Six months to live. How do I tell my mother that her only son will be dead before the end of the year? How do I tell my wife that her husband of twenty years will no longer be here to love and support her? How do I tell my children that their father will no longer be able to attend their games and dance recitals? How can I let my family down? I have to beat this cancer. For my family. For myself.

The doctor says something about surgery. It will not save me, but it will help me deal with some of my symptoms. Or radiation. Or chemotherapy. None of them offer much chance of a cure, only a way to make the process more drawn out. Other treatments offer relief from the pain. I decide to do my own research and not just rely on the doctor’s opinion.

Mesothelioma is an incurable cancer caused by asbestos exposure. Since many buildings in the mid- to late-20th century used asbestos in the construction process, many men like me are at risk for getting mesothelioma. This cancer affects the body’s internal organs, specifically the cells that create the lining of these organs. I cringe when I think about all my old buddies with whom I used to work construction. Many of them were smokers, which my research shows can only compound the problem.

In my research, a man named James O’Connor kept coming up. He was told his cancer was inoperable and to say goodbye to his family. Instead, he created a regimen of lifestyle changes and outlived his diagnosis by more than six years. That would be wonderful. I would be more than willing to take some pills and do some exercises if it meant more time with my family. This man’s story gives me hope. Maybe I can outlive my diagnosis.

I find that there are several experimental treatments that have worked on animals but are not proving too promising on humans. I have a family to worry about – wife, children, parents, and sisters. I cannot stake my life on a maybe. I decide to do a combination of radiation therapy and lifestyle changes. Taking nutritional supplements, along with doing relaxation techniques, will hopefully combat some of the pain and keep me from stressing so much. Lifestyle changes worked for James O’Connor; maybe they will work for me.

Though I try not to show it, I live in fear every day. I am so scared. This cancer will kill me. End of story. That is terrifying. I may not live long enough to see my daughter graduate from college. Or see the beautiful girl my son proposes to. Or meet my grandchildren. All the things that I looked forward to have been snatched away, leaving me all but helpless to fight against it.

Tomorrow, my radiation begins. My parents have brought me and my family into their home to ease the financial and emotional burden. It will be a great help to be surrounded by the people that love me. Their support will be just as crucial as any therapy. I will fight this cancer. I may not win, but I will not go quietly.

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