May 20th is this Bill Baker's 'diagnosis day' - a day that all cancer patients face. For many, this is the beginning of a death sentence, the point at which they begin a long battle towards their ending. For the rest of us it is the beginning of a changed life - a 'born again' experience (to paraphrase the teachings I learned in the holy roller churches I grew up in) that changes your entire being, your outlook, your relationships with others, and your views of the world around you.
There are thousands of cancer variations - most of which have no relation to each other than sharing a general category of similar "bat shit crazy" cellular activity. But the one common thread between all cancer is the reaction in your soul once those words of "you have cancer" pass through your eardrums.
As many of you have read from this blog - I passed out when Dr. Philippon said it. After I woke up to an offer of a beer from my doctor (yes, he did offer me a brew - that good French Canadian!) I put on a brave face the rest of the day. I held it together until my friend Steve called and I saw his number and just couldn't pick it up. He left me a touching voicemail later that night after hearing the news - cancer had affected his family in significant ways and he shared encouraging words for the beginning of this new journey. It was over - I completely lost it in that hotel room in Vail. You see people who go through emotional triumphs of joy or experience the ultimate despair and how they leave their emotions "on the table" after that cry. I've been there and it was what I consider to be the darkest moment of my life.
If you've been diagnosed with cancer you know exactly what I mean. Prior to your return towards Cure, Diagnosis Day is a reminder of your mortality and vulnerability. No matter how "fit" you are, how good you treated your body, how few petrochemicals you bathed in, or how few trips to processed fast food joints you took - sometimes you just get a good swift kick in the nuts. It lets you know that you are not in control. Those of us in the faith-based end of things look at this as a way of God telling you that you're just borrowing some time on this Earth - and that's the truth. Those who are more in the atheist/agnostic end of things just say "serendipity" (or whatever the phrase is) and chalk it up to the DNA lottery.
Maybe it's the first, or the second - it doesn't matter to me, but what I do know is that it changes you forever. Those who don't want to hear about 'when I was sick' stories I'm sure get a bit annoyed - but frankly, I don't care. My good friend and fellow survivor Eric told me once "Baker - it's a battle medal that no one can understand except another survivor." He's 100% correct.
It's been 2 years since that day in Vail. 2009 sucked, royally. Cancer diagnosis, treatment, challenging business environment, and a pregnancy in process during all of it put the emotional full court press on me and my family. I feel blessed that my faith, family, and friends are the reasons we came through it. Oh yeah, I would be remiss if I didn't credit the $400,000 in treatment costs that the Rocky Mountain Health Plan absorbed.
Also, Doctor Hinshaw and her PA Julie get BIG props. Also the chemo nurses of Lucy, Emily, Rose, Karen, and the rest of the gals at the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center should get big props. If you're sick, and in Denver - go see them. East 18th avenue is the place to be.
2010 and 2011 have been, by all accounts, kick *ss years for me.
Most importantly, I'm still here. That statement alone is worth a lot of points in the 'win' column. Yes, I am keeping score, because 14 months ago I was fresh out of the battle of a lifetime and wasn't sure how the future looked. Statistically speaking, my oncologist said I had a 50/50 chance that this may come back within 5 years, with the first two years being especially tricky. Now that I've got the first two down, I am feeling a bit more at ease with each passing sunrise.
But that's the thing, as all of you who have had (or do have) cancer know - you're never fully at ease, ever. And it will never change no matter how long you live - you're always looking over your shoulder and asking yourself the question "is that ache cancer?", or "does this sniffle mean it's back?" It's the price of cancer success.
My greatest moment so far has been the birth of our daughter, Elaina. She's beautiful, pretty happy, and (thankfully) looking more like her Mom every day. Thanks to the miracles of modern medicine, we're able to be parents. It's awesome, and I look forward to every day coming home from work seeing her drool-laden smile and hearing "da da" or some other baby babble. This past January we went back out to Colorado for some skiing and for a checkup with my Denver docs. Last summer I caught some grief from the medical staff at the cancer center when I didn't bring Elaina and Amanda with me - so this time I brought my girls. It was great to see their reactions, especially since so much of their professional careers are spent with persons who are dying. They have even said that seeing the gift of life for me and knowing that my daughter has a father was a real joy for them. Give your local oncology doctor or nurse a hug - 1/3 of you will need them in your lifetime.
Here are some photos (L-R) of Julie, Dr. Hinshaw, and Lucy - three women who were instrumental in why I'm still here.
2 years down, hopefully 61 more to go (until I hit 100). How will I celebrate my Diagnosis Day? A lot of introspection, probably a loss of focus at work for a bit, and most importantly time with family.
Sounds good enough for me. I'm just glad to be here.