How My Bout With Cancer Made Me Stronger (So Far…..)

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April 2018:
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The phone is ringing, I pick up, my Otolaryngologist is on the other end.
(A bad sign right there – when does your doctor ever call you personally?)
This was the conversation:

Doctor:                  “Good day, Mr Susser, we received the test results”
Me:                        “God afternoon Doctor. Is it Cancer?”
Doctor:                  “Unfortunately, yes”
Me:                        “That’s what I thought. What’s going to happen now?”
Doctor:                  ”I need you to come to my office.
– Let my assistant give you the time and date;
– Please stay on the line, I’ll connect you”
Me:                         “Thank you doctor for calling me”
Doctor:                  “You are welcome. Good afternoon”

Wow, that was not at all how the movies and our imagination have us believe the doctors will reveal “The Big C” to us, which goes something like this:

You see the doctor in his private, well-appointed office, (all deep dark leather furniture, brass accents and tasteful art on the wall).
The doctor sits on the edge of his desk close to you, talking with a somber, kind and soothing voice :

– “Hans, can I offer you a glass of water” (or an old scotch)
– “Hans, I have not-so good news”.
– “The test revealed that the lump is cancerous”
– “But, Hans, don’t despair and don’t give up hope, we will go through this together”
– “Do you need a minute alone?”
– “Are you ok to drive home alone?”
– “Do you want me to call someone?”
– “Pls call me ANYTIME, here is my cellphone #”
– Go home now and be assured, together we will do everything in our power to solve this”

Nope.  That’s the movies !
While this might still play out for you if you have the same doctor for 30 years and live in perfect Lala Land, the fact is that 1000’s of people are diagnosed with cancer every day, so the real world looks a lot more unsparing and cold then one would hope for in a crappy moment like this.

In my humble opinion, the most important thing when you get hit with the bomb shell, is the following:

If you want to stay sane and live as well as possible after getting the news, don’t think you suffer from something that is uniquely unfair and brutal to you.
Millions of others share the same burden.
Don’t give up on life, don’t think this is the end of it !  (It may be – but most likely it is NOT !”
Rather, be positive, and you’ll probably find out that you can be stronger than you ever thought you could be in such a miserable situation.
Without a doubt, Cancer is a monster punch in the guts, most likely one of the worst in your entire life, but with some luck and all the strength you can muster, you might walk away from it – at least for some extension of  your life, which you can use to learn how to deal with the situation ahead, support your loved ones who will suffer tremendously with this reality they must share, but ultimately, enjoy the bonus time you have been given, by your God, your doctors, your own strength and a bit of luck.

Since so many people suffer from this unfortunate and horrible disease, research and treatment has advanced in huge leaps in the past few years, and chances of recovery have improved accordingly.

As for my own situation, here is what happened so far:

My first break was that the cancer had not yet spread from my tongue and throat to other areas of my body when I got my first  PET Scan, so chances of my healing are promising.
My second break was my strong believe and trust in God. (I do not believe in religion at all, but God is with me every step of my life. I pray daily and I trust God absolutely.
My faith in Him gives me great power and tranquility in difficult situations like the one at hand.
My third break was that I have my beloved Bella on my side, who always keeps me going, no matter how bad things get and no matter what stones lay in our path.
My fourth break was that I live close to what many consider one of the very best cancer clinics in the land, the Memorial West Cancer Institute in Pembroke Pines, Florida, where I received all treatment.
My fifth break was the utmost professionalism of the gracious radiation technicians and chemo nurses who made me feel comfortable, relaxed and as if I was singularly very special and not one of the many patients they help every single day.
My sixth break was that I have the best, most capable, utmost professional, friendly, warm sympathetic, caring and all-around great doctors I could have wished for, in both my Medical Oncologist, Dr Gelenis Domingo, who is super friendly, caring and professional, as well as my Radiation Oncologist, Dr Michael Burdick.
Incredibly for me, from the very moment I met both these doctors, I felt a special optimism and trust in them to provide me with the very best care possible.
Both doctors made me feel as if I am their most important patient, always supportive, ready to listen whenever I had a doubt, never making me feel as if we were running out of time during a conversation, and both helped me enormously to stay positive 99.9 % of the time during my treatment.
On top of that, Dr Burdick is also the most down to earth and approachable doctor I have ever  met.
Now guess, do I love my doctors ? 😊

Actually, ALL the people I came in contact with at the clinic –  volunteers, front desk staff, nurses, Oncology Nurses, Radiation Technicians and everybody else at the clinic were wonderful and superbly kind and professional.
Even the Department Director who took the time out of his surely busy day to contact me about a small issue I had, could not have been more caring, courteous and friendly.
My Gratitude and Love to all the Staff, Doctors and Management at  Memorial West Cancer Institute !
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But then,  there were the not so positive sides of the coin.

Badly burned skin around the area of the radiation, resulting in strong pain.
Badly burned throat, resulting in tremendous pain and making it impossible for months to eat solid food, or drinking anything else than plain, lukewarm water. Thank you dear morphine, to help me be able to get through this without going bonkers !
General loss of muscle mass, resulting in (so far) permanent fatigue and weakness.
Horrible skin problems, which have started to heal slowly (Imagine having the worst possible sunburn on a large percentage of your body, not just at the area that has been burned by the radiation, but all over the body. At first, it was just bright red, then itching so bad I had to take strong medicine to handle it and get a bit of sleep at night. Then, the skin peeling off in hand-sized patches, leaving small parts of exposed flesh, which sting like bees when I take a shower.
Permanent hair loss on most of the area where I proudly sported a beard for 40 years. (Still vain after all these years). 😊
However, thankfully, these and a few other small things were the only negative symptoms so far.
Knowing how much more many other cancer patients suffer, not only from cancer itself, but also (mostly?) from radiation and chemo, I consider myself very lucky to have suffered relatively little so far.
Yes, I do consider myself lucky !
After all, I was 65 years old when this started and have lived a blessed, eventful, interesting, exiting and mostly wonderful life.
Some people get hit by this when much younger, some even when still in their childhood. So who am I to complain about my misfortune ? !

But, I also must pat my own back, for being strong and positive during this (ongoing) ordeal, which at times was not an easy task to accomplish.

As my friends know, I live alone with my dog Bella.
When you love somebody, be it a person or an animal, you make sure that you do everything in your power to ensure the well-being of that person or animal, even if you are nearly too weak or in too much pain to even move.
In Bella’s case, she needs to be fed once a day, get a snack 4 times a day, she needs to go for a long walk (30/45 minutes minimum) at least twice a day and for a few more short walks at least three times a day.

And then, there is taking care of myself.

– During treatment, just getting up in the morning was often the first high hurdle.
– Taking a shower can be tricky when you tend to lose your balance due to all the med’s.
– Then on to make the bed daily and changing the linens often.
– Preparing meals from scratch almost daily, usually a pureed vegetable soup or fruit soup, once a day to last for a few small meals during the whole day.
– Driving and shopping for necessities.
– Driving to and from treatment.
– Cleaning the apartment between the cleaning ladies’ visits.  (Those of you who know me, my place is always spick and span, even when sick as a dog,)
There are of course many more chores one must complete daily. Under normal circumstances, we do these chores almost automatically and with none or minimum effort. However, while being in treatment and for a certain time afterwards (usually a few months), these chores can become hard to navigate obstacles, which require a strong will, digging very deep into one’s own motivation and the will to survive, requiring a constant effort to overcome the adversaries of daily life.

Of course, I do have friends and neighbors who offered help (most of them obviously hoping that I will decline), but I am grateful that I also have a few genuine and generous friends, whose offers of help were frequent, heartfelt and real.
(Thank you, Dieter and Chacha, Curtis and Ana, Gaby and Ralf, Peter and the entire Ayala Family).
Actually, one friend flew-in all the way from Germany for a few days, just to make sure I can cope.
(Thanks again, Heiner)

Despite all the offers, I mostly declined any help from everybody, for two reasons:
– First – that’s just the way I am. I prefer to give, rather than to take, unless there is no other option.
– Second – I pride myself to have enormous self-discipline in most tough situations, and therefore be able to pull myself out of trouble, most of the time.
(However, I am a mushy softie when it comes to people who do me wrong and whom I will forgive anyway – I do need to improve my self-discipline a bit in that area).

In a nutshell, my reason to decline help during this ordeal was that if I would give in easily and get soft on myself when things get tough, I would start to depend on others. As a result, I’d become weak and suffer even more, all else being equal.

As for my relationships with people, most “Friends” and even some family with whom I had steady contact for 20, 30 or even 40 years, did not make the tiny effort to contact me and try to lift-up my state of mind a bit by just periodically having a chat.
Mind you, I am not sad, upset or disappointed about this, after all, I am old enough to realize that most folks are too consumed with their own life to give a hood about others. I learned that early on in life, being generous and getting very little or nothing in return (physically, materialistically and mentally).
In the past, I nearly always was the one who toke the first step and kept relationships alive, by calling, skype, writing or visiting. (Of course there were a few exceptions of the norm).

When my beloved wife Maria was still alive and we lived in the big house by the lake, when we threw huge parties with life bands and disc jockeys at least once a month and sometimes twice, when there was an abundance of food and drinks (and some of the good stuff to smoke) for all to indulge-in freely, when we opened our house for whole families to spend their vacations (some even brought friends along), of course THEN people were eager to show up at the door, there was a never-ending supply of “friends” and the phone would not stop ringing.
But once that ended and especially now after cancer knocked…….. deafening silence.
Whereas before I would forgive and forget and say I love you anyway, in the future I refuse to waste my time with “friends” who are just drinking and eating buddies, ready to have a freebie but otherwise just occupy space in my head, my heart and in my wallet.
Of course I realized most of this in the past, and Maria and some of my real friends pointed that out to me often, but I was too forgiving and let them take advantage of our generosity.
Well then, good riddance to those “friends. (I needed a bit of venting here, sorry.…..) 😊

But there is a silver lining after all !
Instead being influenced negatively by all of this, I welcome the experience and its lesson, because even this has made me tougher now, when I need it most.

By now you probably ask yourself – what the heck has all that to do with cancer ???

Well, let me explain. When you sit at home alone for months and don’t know if this is the end of your life, you tend to think about these otherwise unimportant things, trying to figure out how much of your life you wasted – wasted with what, wasted with whom, and how to proceed if cancer does not win this battle.
Once I realized that I will not waste my time and my energy with fake friends and their lack of compassion anymore,  my mind was freed from lots of useless baggage.
This influenced my positive outlook and made me a stronger person, realizing that life is too short to spend wasting on petty people and trivial stuff, but that from here on I must concentrate more on the folks and things that really matter in my life.
The realization of all this helped me gain much focus and mental strength, to fight cancer with all the energy I can muster.
For myself, every bit helps, both physically and mentally.
While I have seen many people break psychologically from cancer, so far it has made me mentally stronger, which is all that counts right now.
I will do my best to get even stronger as time goes by, both mentally and physically.

                                                                                Life is Good !
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August 2018:
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While my chemo and radiation have run their course for now, it will take another two months until I find out if the treatment was successful and if I am cancer free.
(My next PET Scan is scheduled for the middle of October)
But, even if declared cancer free then, the cancer can return any time and regular check-ups will be necessary every three months, for the duration of five years.
Only then will the cancer be declared completely defeated.
In the meantime, and no matter what the outcome may be, I intend to enjoy life with all I’ve got.

 

 

                                                                             As for my future ,
                                                                     I’ll See, I Hope, and I Pray!

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P.S.
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Friends, please know that I don’t feel sorry for myself, on the contrary, I feel blessed.
The reason I want to share my story is to give people in the same or similar situation hope and motivation, to be strong and get themselfes and their loved ones out of a depression and hoplessness from which they might suffer.
As I said above, I believe every bit helps.
I hope that folks who read it pass it on through their own social network, instead of thinking:
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“If it does not touch me, it does not concern me”
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Below are a few pic’s to illustrate my journey so far:

 

 

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A short Time before it all started

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Bella
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Bella

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Daily Treatment                                                Daily Treatment
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My new look. I kind of like my goatee 😊

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And there you have it!

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20 comments

  1. Hi Hans!

    Good summary and a well expressed account of your experience with the “c” word.

    I enjoyed reading it.

    I believe before we left on our trip you were gonna get your last chemo therapy. How are you feeling? I am so proud of your courage and your conviction. I’m sure Bella has been an important encouragement that contributed in bursting your spirit and strength. No doubt dogs are man best friends!

    Hope to see you soon again.

    Take care. Give us a call.

    Love,

    Chacha

    Sent from my iPhone

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    Liked by 1 person

  2. You’re point on with how “friends” love the good times and ghost away during the difficult times….but sadly, that’s life.
    You stayed #POSITIVE
    You fought the #Battle
    You never failed #BELLA
    You have a #NewYouLook
    YOU ARE A WARRIOR!!!
    Here’s to that #ChampionshipSeason chef!!!!!!!
    God’s continued blessings to my #FRIEND I’ve never met……#YET.
    Awaiting your acceptance for a home cooked meal in Delray Beach with Bella by your side…..(when you are ready as discussed).
    #KOKO or Keep On Keepin On

    Bobby Delray

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for sharing your real life experience of courage hope and strength!! I like the new look…goes with the new diet trend you are talking about!!\ You always have good people by your side even if we are not in Florida!

    Talk soon.561-283-7918 magic jack Henry Junnola

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s so good for people to read about how it is for those dealing with cancer. It’s such a scary word, that most of us are afraid to ask about it. We often think, “What if I say the wrong thing?” Well, I don’t think anything anyone can say is worse than having cancer, so why not talk about it? I’m so glad you did. Sometimes I think the treatment is worse than the disease, but of course we will do anything to cling to our precious lives. It’s good to know that there are many more success stories nowadays than there were just a few years ago. Thank you for sharing your story with us, Hans. One hard lesson we learn is that when the chips are down you find out who your friends really are. And none of us needs “fair-weather friends.” I wish you all the best in your recovery.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Anneli,

      That was my intention. I don’t feel sorry for myself, on the contrary, I feel blessed.
      The reason I want to share this is to give people in the same or similar situation hope and maybe motivation to be strong and get themself and their loved ones out of a depression and hoplessness from which they might suffer.
      As I said, I believe every bit helps.
      I just hope that folks who read it pass it on through their own social network.
      But, as you know, for most People the attitude is :
      “If it does not touch me, it does not concern me”

      Life is Good !.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. What an encouraging journey you have made it. You are just absolutely a “tough old bird,” as they say. (Perhaps there s a similar phrase in German?)
    Thanks for letting us peek into your life with such a personal story, Chef Hans.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hallo Hans, habe leider nicht alles verstanden, aber es ist wichtig, Freunde in dieser Zeit zu haben. Ich bin froh, dass Du auf dem Weg der Besserung bist und freue mich schon, Dich in Deutschland wieder in die Arme nehmen zu können. Liebe Grüße aus Deutschland

    Liked by 1 person

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