When and how did your journey with cancer begin?
It was on a family vacation to the mountains of Tennessee in May 2015 that I had my first signs that something was wrong inside my body. That sharp shooting pain from the stomach to the spine seemed unusual. But I had been through back surgery the year before, and lately, the stomach just seemed upset often, so I took a few over the counter meds, pushed through it, and the pain eventually subsided. The stomach aches continued through the summer though, so the last week of August I talked with my doctor about it. A short series of tests confirmed that the pains I had experienced months earlier were actually warning signs of pancreatic cancer. Throughout the summer, I unknowingly continued working and teaching music, unaware that my life had already changed.
How did you find out you had cancer?
My doctor and I initially thought the stresses in my life may have produced an ulcer or something similar. So my first test was a simple ultra sound. In that test, they reported an inability to clearly identify the pancreas. A few hours after the test, my primary care doctor called me to schedule a follow-up MRI the next day. That test confirmed a number of tumors seen on my pancreas and liver. Again, hours after that test was another phone call ordering a CT scan, PET scan and appointment with a local oncologist. Those tests led to a biopsy on the tumors. In a series of just a few days, that minor stomach discomfort ended up being diagnosed as stage IV pancreatic cancer (Adenocarcinoma).
What was the first thing you thought of when you received the news, “You have cancer?”
After the diagnosis, my first thought was, “Okay… now I know what I have. What do we do to get rid of it?” I had been a pastor for nearly 20 years and had parishoners with cancer. I had always thought of cancer like a disease to fight and get over. Going through this myself has really opened my eyes to better understand how this disease completely takes over your life. Once I read up on what my diagnosis meant, and saw how small the odds of surviving through this were, I think I just went into denial mode. Later, I came to realize that this had come into my life and I would need to face that reality, and make changes if I wanted a fighting chance to survive.
What was the reaction from your friends and family? How were they affected?
My wife is the constant center of optimism in all things. I’m writing this five months after being diagnosed, and she still believes it will eventually pass and I’ll be healthy again. My children experienced pretty much every phase of thought you can imagine from courage, to sadness, to withdrawal, to hope and self-less support. Friends offered rides to treatment, hours of sitting as a companion or going for a walk. And through word of mouth and Facebook, we ended up with a prayer network stretching from Maine to Southern California. We also discovered how many people we knew that had been through cancer before us, and they were a strong support with hope, stories of their journey, and insights to care.
What inspired you to seek treatment based on comprehensive care?
During the first few months of treatment, I dicovered that what was really working for me was not just oncology. Science only went so far with my disease and we needed more to find hope. So my wife and I sought out nutritional suppliments and diet to build up my immune system and fight cancer. I drew extensively on my spiritual background to find inner strength. I had friends and family who were massage therapists, counselors, and had experience with diet and nutrition. We found that balancing oncology with mind, body and spirit was the right path, so we started looking for a treatment center where they not only understood those things, but embraced and practiced them as well.
What was your caregiver’s approach to your diagnosis and treatment? How did her support impact your journey?
My wife has been such a strong support. Fortunately she LOVES healthy food. For years, she’s been wanting me to adjust my diet, and with my diagnosis, it wasn’t a hard change anymore. She ferments all kinds of things to make kefir, kombucha, fermented veggies, and sourdough breads. We’re eating the best quality foods due to her study, knowledge, and persistance to find the best nutrition to help my body fight this disease. We attend church together, and discuss so many of the things we read on new treatments, etc. I can’t imagine going through this without her love and support. We all need that someone special to keep us encouraged, and she’s it for me.
How has cancer impacted your life? Is it different now?
At first, I thought cancer would be a bump in the road to get over. Now I realize it is a completey new road. It has taken my job away, my ability to teach music away, and at times, my hope for life away. At this stage, I am working out how to accept those losses, and find a way to move forward with new things that my body can tolerate. So I have a new diet, new nutritional suppliments, renewed spiritual life, and am finding new options to keep my mind functioning and productive. Not an easy change at 56 years old, but with time, I think I’ll adjust.
Have you reached a milestone during or after treatment?
This past winter, I actually had a month where my blood tests, CT and PET scans all said the cancer had resolved and I was clear. It didn’t last, and I’m back on treatment again. But that gave me hope that with the right tools, I can find a way for my body to manage this and see a future, however changed that will be. It also has taught me that we really don’t know how long we have on this earth, and that’s okay so long as we find a way to make each day meaningful. Some days (or weeks) have their set-backs. But those times pass and we move forward. Having a moment of healing gave me hope that I can do it again. My wife and I used that good period to visit our grandchildren, friends from our former church in New Hampshire, and spend more time with our four children. We also booked a trip to Paris in April to celebrate a long overdue 25th wedding anniversary. That will be my next milestone!
What are your passions, hobbies and interests?
I have been a musician my entire life, on the concert stage, as a teacher, and as a worship leader. I hope to be able to utilize this time for recovery to dig back into a few sonatas, jazz standards, and worship music. Our family is also very much into getting outside. Though long hikes are difficult, getting together for a walk along the river, or shopping in a local antique store still remain favorites for us. Lately, I’ve started writing a WordPress blog, and hope to become more available in ministry as a mentor for younger members of our new church family. My wife and I are also planning to travel and catch up on some lost time together. Paris in April? Hoping so!