This New Year's, as many people are making resolutions and looking forward, I will not be among them. I am using New Year's to look back, reflect and be grateful for being alive and healthy for the past 20 years. It's a milestone year for me.
In late summer, 1989, I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. I was 38 and my wife and I were parents of young daughters, ages two and six weeks. Not to be overly dramatic, but my oncologist wasn't encouraging about my prognosis. The cancer was found in my spleen, an expendable organ. But the doctor quickly added there was only a 5-per-cent chance that it hadn't metastasized to more vital organs, my liver or pancreas. He solemnly suggested my will should be up to date. I didn't even have a will.
I underwent surgery to remove my spleen and endured six rounds of chemotherapy. My last treatment was just two days before New Year's. Miraculously, the cancer hadn't metastasized and my prognosis for survival was much improved, close to 90 per cent. But my doctor warned that if my cancer reoccurred, my chances of beating it would be reduced by half. And this cut by half would apply for each subsequent bout of cancer I survived. According to the doctor, the next five years would be telling.
I remember that New Year's vividly. We piled into the car and drove an hour to have dinner and spend the night at the home of another couple and their young children. The kids stayed up later than me. I was so weak and tired that I went to sleep well before midnight. Even with my better odds, as I drifted off, I wondered how many future New Year's Eves I might celebrate?
I have never been angry about being diagnosed with cancer. Unfortunately, being young and a cancer patient did not make me a member of an exclusive club. What I did wrestle with was my loss of innocence. Don't we all cope with our eventual demise by believing that we will live, as the Bible states, threescore and 10? Don't we all believe we will die peacefully in our sleep, not doped up on morphine? Staring mortality in the face in my late 30s wasn't part of the grand plan.
Psychologically, I struggled most with my disease in the first few years after my treatment ended. While I was going through the rigours of chemotherapy, I naively was confident I wouldn't die, at least not right then. The drugs being injected into me had to be keeping the cancer cells at bay, right? But once treatment ended, I felt very much on my own. Without my monthly toxic brew, what was my protection against the cancer returning and claiming me?
This vulnerability would pop up particularly when I was engaged in the emotional duties that come with being a husband and a father. Halloween was a treat for the family. Would there be more such nights? At the Santa Claus parade, as the big guy made his appearance and the crowd roared, I had tears streaming down my face. I hoped the people standing beside me thought they were a result of the cold wind.
I can't say I was preoccupied about the actual act of dying. I was scared about departing life from a self-serving point of view. I rationalized that my daughters would be too young to understand, and growing up without their father would, unfortunately, be their norm. It was I who would be the loser. I wouldn't be around to watch them grow from children to teenagers to young adults. I wouldn't get to dance at their weddings and maybe become a grandparent. I wanted my children to know, love and remember me, not just be a picture on the mantel.
Over the years, there have been a few cancer scares. The most notable happened about two years after my treatment ended. Fatigue plagued me, much as it had before my diagnosis. But it wasn't cancer, just an underactive thyroid that is now under control.
So I have been extremely fortunate. I have been an integral part of my family's and my daughters' lives. I've been there when the girls learned to ride a two-wheeler and then drive a car. I've moved them in and out of too many university apartments and met boyfriends of whom I was suspicious. We've walked together down the Champs Élysées and the streets of other great cities.
Over the past two decades, a lot has happened. I have retired from a first career and started another. I've outlived two family dogs and moved house three times. My parents have died, and while that was a significant loss, it was as it should be. Their child didn't predecease them. And my innocence about life is restored. Intellectually, I am fully aware that our time is fleeting and can be snatched away from any of us in a heartbeat. Emotionally, I enjoy and experience life with the belief that I will run the full course.
This New Year's my wife and I will quietly mark the end of the year with friends. Our daughters will be out with their friends. There will be no major resolutions for me. However, this being 20 years cancer free, I will raise a glass to my past and celebrate all that I have been given and lived to experience. But I do have one small resolution. I will stay up beyond midnight.
Ken Myron lives in Oakville, Ont.
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