Survivor Stories: 2017

 

Carl Sharperson//husband and father//Leadership Innovation Strategist//US Naval Academy Graduate//US Marine Corps pilot//author of the book "Sharp Leadership:Overcome Adversity to Lead with Authenticity//www.carlsharpersonjr.com

“Adversity comes when you least expect it.”

“For a year or two, I had been experiencing unexplainable skin variations. While odd, I didn’t have cause for concern, but I opted to go for a routine colonoscopy. The results were normal. However, by Christmas, 2010, I wasn’t able to lay on my stomach or my back. I decided to go back to the doctor, who said that my symptoms were probably constipation, which I’d heard before. After some time in the same condition, I went back to the doctor who ordered an x-ray of my stomach. Two days later, I received a call that my lymph nodes were swollen, and I was being referred to an oncologist.”

“At that moment, three questions went through my head. Number one, how long am I going to be here? Number two, how am I going to spend my time here? Number three, who am I going to spend my time with? I had simplified my life down to three questions. Finally, I was diagnosed with Stage 4, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, which is the most advanced form. I wasn’t given a survivor’s timeline; however, there are people who live with lymphomas for 20, 30, 40, and 50 plus years. Starting February of 2011, I had six rounds of chemotherapy. I was declared cancer free in June of 2011, buy lymphoma never goes away. It can come back.”

“At the time of my diagnosis, I was self-employed. Things were pretty tight due to the residual effects of the recession. Since I was unable to work due to my illness, I had exhausted all of my savings. I talked to some Naval Academy classmates of mine and they pooled together their resources. They basically supported my wife and me financially for the entire year. Their financial and emotional support was a key ingredient to me overcoming adversity.”

“The best advice I can offer to someone fighting cancer is to simplify your life. The top three priorities for me were faith, family, and friends. An internist told me after my first chemo treatment that the body cannot heal under stress. With that, other key components that helped me to overcome were prayer, exercise, eating healthy, reducing stress and being around supportive people. Everything else was an option.”

“Lastly, I developed a sensitivity for caregivers. While I was the one going through the cancer, my wife and those around me were also greatly affected. Cancer not only wore me down, but it wore my caregivers down as well. I’m so grateful for the sacrifices my wife and others made for me. So, if you’re battling cancer, don’t neglect asking your caregiver what they need and helping them whenever and however possible. You can overcome adversity. You can win.”

  Read more from the Survivor Series @survivor-series.php. Photos by Jose Zurita. Interview by Amy Doser. #survivorspark

 

Lester Dickard // husband to Linda // father of Jason & Angela Leigh // grandfather of 6 grandkids (ages 10-21 y/o) // Superintendent with Harper Corporation General Contractors, managing the CSP project // Easley native // fisherman & lover of family lake trips // lost to kidney cancer (diagnosed ‘12; left us July 15, 2018 at 66 y/o)  

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  Photo by Jose Zurita. Interview by Emily Price. #survivorspark

"The biggest thing people need to know is: Don't give up. They have all kind of drugs out there now that can actually help you. Look to the Lord, because believe it or not, He will touch you. So just don't give up. Just keep looking forward. It’s a scary thing & all, but like I say, I went to the Lord in prayer, & I tell everybody that He handled it. He healed it in that He has helped me to deal with it.

“The cancer had already encapsulated my left kidney, & I didn’t know it -- everything was working fine, I thought. I didn’t feel bad. I just went for a physical, & my doctor felt something hard down there, so he sent me to get a scan. My kidney had already quit working. Cancer had covered my spleen & was touching my diaphragm.

“But I've continued to work the past 5 years I've been battling cancer, & that has really helped. I kept pushing myself to go. I worked every day. I thank God that I am still working, even through my different chemo treatments & pills. No matter how sick you get, try to keep going -- but you can only push yourself so far. I work here about 10 hours a day, & sometimes I have to just sit down in the truck so I don’t get worn slam down. Do take a lot of breaks when you need to.

"Harper had asked me, ‘Would you be willing to do the CSP since you've had cancer?’ I said, 'Sure. I would be glad to do it,' & it's been an experience. The Park is really coming together. It's going to benefit a lot of people & be a really good thing when we get it through. I can see where it will help people if they can get out here, walk around & relax. They don’t have to focus on the cancer. They can focus on the right things.

“I think my favorite part is the children's park; the turning point across the river, the lion for the kids...That's what bothers me the most about cancer. When I go to have my infusions & all at the hospital, & I see the little kids that are suffering, I just want to grab them & hug them. I know pretty well what they are going through, & they haven’t even lived half their lives. It breaks your heart. I'm 66 years old, & I've lived lots of my life, so I'd rather it be me with cancer than a little kid.

“Dr. Stevenson said 3-4 years ago that I should’ve been dead...but we just keep going. Whenever that day does come, I feel like I am at peace, because the Lord has blessed me & kept me around this long.”

 

 

Teryi Youngblood Musolf // wife of Steven; mother of Simeon & Sophia // food expert, CHOP! Cancer ‘16 judge, & Chef Coordinator/Emcee of CHOP! Cancer ‘17 (Aug. 25; chopcancerupstate.com) // Ballentine Equipment Company representative // 2016 SC Chef Ambassador for the Upstate // lover of the Blue Ridge, hiking, gardening, canning // survivor of/with the following: Cousin Lee (bone cancer); Grandfather Ebb (passed to esophageal); Cousin Carol Sue, Cousin Kim & Sister Liza (breast); Uncle Bill (male breast); Uncle James (passed to lung); Aunt Janet (liver); Mother-in-law Catherine (passed to lung)

“In my life, I’ve seen a good deal of cancer. It would be easier to tell you how many people in my immediate family DIDN’T have cancer. It started when I was very young, & my first experience was with someone very close to me. I was 9, & my cousin was 7 when he hurt himself playing basketball. We found that he had developed cancer in his knee, & they had to remove his leg at the knee; later at the hip.

“When I was a junior in high school, my dad’s father -- who ate more Tums & Rolaids than anyone I’d ever seen -- got diagnosed with esophageal cancer, which very quickly progressed, & we lost him when I was at a Clemson football game. The wind went out of my sails when everyone else was cheering. I knew something had happened. That one was probably one of the hardest…[Tears & laughter.] I’m sorry, I always get emotional when I talk about it!

“It was 2 years ago when my sister called us from Charleston to say she was having a biopsy. It happened so quickly: breast cancer hit us like a wall. It was luckily very small, & she had surgery immediately to have her breast removed. It was a lot of long distance cheerleading, & at any turning point, we were down there for her -- lots of trips down for chemo & things like that. I’m lucky in my life that I’ve met some of the most amazing women who have survived breast cancer & are fighting it. One amazing group of women, the TaTa Queens, sent my sister a giant box filled with things for treatment, which was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. She just felt so immediately loved & cared for by so many people. The chemo hat -- a little pink stocking cap -- & a little pillow for her to put under her arm post-surgery, which was absolutely life saving. The most important element of it, I think, was the homemade ‘Dammit Doll.’ It gave her the opportunity to just take the doll in her hand & express her anger, frustrations & everything. Just damn it, damn it, damn it! It was incredible, the outpouring of love and care. They had also contacted me almost immediately, & were such a source of support & information. I love these women so much.

“My husband lost his mom in 2005 to lung cancer. It was devastating. He got a little upset the other day, because he said, ‘I don’t like this part of the healing process where you get to this point that you’re healing so much, you almost forget what your mom was like when you were an adult.’ He has all these memories of her from when he was a child, but said he felt guilt because he was forgetting what conversations were like with her as an adult. I looked at him & said, ‘That’s proof right there you shouldn’t feel guilty, because you are still feeling that pain. You shouldn’t feel guilt for that, because when it does resurface, just let it come. It’s OK to be OK with it. You’ll NEVER, ever forget your mom, EVER.' Just because you’re at a healing point where it’s time to let some of that go, it’s NOT wrong. It’ll never just go away completely.

“It’s such a hard process to treat cancer & survive it that you have to celebrate every change, every turning point, every time you have a memory or experience something new as a survivor. It’s so important to always do that. I’m a survivor in that I survived all of these people that I know who are gone; & then I’m a survivor in the fact that my uncle, both my aunts, my sister, & two of my second cousins have all personally battled breast cancer themselves & also survived.

“So I have all of these people who are connected to me -- my cousins, my uncles, my grandfather, two cousins on dad’s side, two cousins on mom’s side, my mom’s sister, who has been through liver cancer -- I look at that family tree & see so many types all around it. It confuses you, because it’s like, ‘Well, which one am I gonna get?’ It scares the bejesus out of you, but you can’t live your life constantly concerned you’ll get cancer. You have to go on, try to find the most positive thing you can focus on, & focus on that stuff. What matters is the quality of life. Yes, I have breast exams, & yes, I wish there was a way to do more testing. You can do tests to see if you are predisposed, but if you look at your family tree & see it so much, you know that already. Geographically -- like if I look at my hometown -- sometimes I think, ‘How many people have some sort of cancer caused by the environment? What were we exposed to? What’s in the water there? What’s under the ground there? What’ve I been walking in? Those thoughts happen, & we just have to try to know that we are ALL going to die of something, & so we cannot live our lives afraid.

“You CAN survive. You CAN beat it. You have to believe, & early detection is the most important thing, I think. Even if you’re a survivor, you just have to carry on, & you have to connect to people; let everyone know that they aren’t alone. You have to appreciate the time that you had with those that you have lost. The worst part is the process. Every day once the diagnosis happens, it’s so hard...either the inevitable happens, or the day happens where they say, ‘You are cancer free.’ There is relief both ways. You can’t feel guilty about someone passing away. My grandfather was so sick, & we loved him so much; but he felt so bad that it was almost a relief for us when he could let go. It’s so heart wrenching to watch that pain, & that hunger for life where they want to live so badly, but it just hurts so much & feels so bad. When they don’t want to let go, because they are worried about us, it’s like, ‘We’ll be fine. We’ll miss you like crazy, but it’s OK to just let go.’

“Sometimes I think you don’t have a zeal for life until you’ve watched someone’s life taken away from them. Sometimes we just need to look at each other & cry, & get that emotion out. We are survivors, & we have to carry on with our lives. We can’t let it drag us down. We have to remember that those with cancer fight so hard for US. A lot of times, it’s not so much for them. The human spirit is such a beautiful thing.”
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Photos by Jose Zurita. Interview by Emily Price. #survivorspark

 


Deb Osborne // Executive Director at Susan G. Komen MTM // former educator // Tarheels fan // lover of Yorkies (especially her two little ones, Henry & Harley) // Inductee of the York County Athletic Hall of Fame

Photo by Jose Zurita. Interview by Amy Doser. #survivorspark

“I tell women (& men) every day that cancer is not a death sentence.

“I was diagnosed with Stage 3.5 breast cancer in September of 2008. I felt a lump in my breast in April of that year, but did not go to the doctor until September. In fact, up until that point I had not had a mammogram in 10 years. The doctor felt the lump, & said in the office that he thought it was cancer, so he immediately sent me to get an ultrasound -- & yes, it was cancer.

“One specific memory I have of dealing with cancer was when I was sitting in the waiting room after the doctor told me I had it -- I was in shock as I waited for the nurse to schedule the ultrasound. I was really trying to stay strong.

“Another vivid memory I have was when I told the oncologist I didn’t want to have chemo. I had watched a dear friend die from breast cancer, & I saw how horribly the chemo had affected her. I was petrified. My family eventually talked me into it, & I had chemo, radiation, & a double mastectomy.

“I will never sugarcoat my experience. There were dark, dark days. Chemo is horrible, but you see that small light at the end of the tunnel. Every day was a rollercoaster – both bad days & good days.

“I have always appreciated my friends & family. My support system was amazing. I had my family & my ‘Mann Family’ (from JL Mann High School). I had a couple cancer survivors who were a huge impact upon me as well: Catherine Ann Jeter, & Laura Ann Ellison & her husband, Dr. Travis Ellison. Catherine Ann taught me that you have to have a sense of humor. You have to laugh when you can! The Ellisons paid me short visits on Sunday evenings for weeks while I was sick. They taught me the value of simply giving time to someone who is going through an illness.

"Breast cancer made me more aware & more sensitive to the sufferings of everyday people. I learned who was important & what was important. I learned to say ‘I love you’ more than anyone!

"To me survivorship means ‘giving back.’ My favorite quote is, ‘Giving is the price you pay for living.’ The JL Mann community had a race team at the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure -- I attended & was overwhelmed at the event. As soon as I was better, I volunteered at the Cancer Center; then became the race director for the Susan G. Komen Race; & now I’m the Executive Director for the Susan G. Komen Mountains to Midlands Race."

 

 

Kristen Carlton (43 y/o) // wife & mother // former elementary school teacher// Lung Force Hero // advocate & volunteer for the American Lung Association & Cancer Society of Greenville County // survivor of lung cancer (diagnosed August 2013; currently in remission)
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  Photo by Jose Zurita. Interview by Amy Doser. #survivorspark

“The best thing you can do for somebody that’s going through cancer is to just tell them that you’re there for them, & do something without asking.

“In 2012, I got kidney stones for the first time. The stone was large enough where they were going to have to do lithotripsy to break it up, so they did the CT to find it. Then urologist says, ‘The radiologist noted in your CT that they got just the bottom part of your lung, & there’s a spot there. We’ll check you in 3 months.’ Three months later, it was still there. She said I needed to go see a lung specialist.

“Like most people, cancer wasn’t on my radar. I didn’t smoke. I didn’t have the risk factors. I wasn’t coughing. I wasn’t sick. Something just told me that I needed a second opinion. So in the summer of 2013, I saw another lung specialist, & he said the same thing -- I just didn’t fit the demographic…but I was home for about three days, & then I got the call that said, ‘You need to have this out within the next two weeks.’ They took me in for surgery at Emory University Hospital on August 14, 2013.

“I lost half of my lung, & it was rough. Having part of your lung removed -- they told me it would be tough, & it WAS TOUGH! Just the pain -- just even trying to breathe… I remember yawning hurt terribly. Sneezing was excruciating, & so was taking deep breaths.

“I went back for another check-up in February 2014. They found a second mass in the same area, & they wanted to watch it…by May of 2014, they believed that it was just scar tissue. So they consider me in remission four years in August.

“Thirteen weeks after my surgery, I did a half marathon. I also got involved with LUNG FORCE, which is a division of the American Lung Association. Last year I was asked to go to Capitol Hill as the representative for SC!

"I’d love to be the person to change the world -- to say this is why no one else gets lung cancer. But then it seems so much more like an uphill battle. I have to focus on ONE person. How can I make that one person feel better, or help guide them through this process? I can’t cure cancer, as much as I’d want to.

“Everyone looks at the person going through it, & they don’t necessarily look at those around the person -- what those people are also going through themselves. It changed our family dynamic in that we don’t take things for granted. We don’t get so upset about little things. It also strengthened my faith incredibly.

“My biggest thing that I’ve gotten out of this whole experience is to be that example to my children. When they get upset about something, or something is hard, or something goes wrong, I say, ‘It could be so much worse! You can overcome! Look what our family was able to overcome! When something goes wrong, you don’t just fall in the hole & dwell on it -- you rise above it, & you push on, & you do for someone else. THAT’S what life is about!”

 

NANCY WELCH (75 y/o) // mother & grandmother // philanthropist & supporter of the Park // woman of many talents // published author of cookbooks, fiction & articles // public speaker // EdD & MPA degree holder from Clemson University // currently surviving colorectal cancer (diagnosed '11; left us September 27, 2018)
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Read more from the Survivor Series @bit.ly/CSPSurvivorSeries. Photo by Jose Zurita. Interview by Amy Doser. #survivorspark

“I’m enjoying retirement, doing great, & then BAM! In January 2011, I have a colonoscopy. I have three polyps & one is malignant. That started my cancer.

“People say, ‘What do you do?’ I say, ‘I do nothing but cancer. I’m just doing cancer.' That’s what I work at every day.

“You know, it’s funny when people don’t know about getting on & off the chemo & radiation & all of that. They sort of think, ‘Well you have a break,’ & yeah -- you have a break…But you know it’s still coming, & it’s like the sooner I can get back on, the sooner I can get off of it. It’s just THAT hanging over you -- & you know that you gotta do it, so you just want to go ahead & do it! This is probably how I’ll be for the rest of my life: off & on chemo forever. I mean people live with heart disease, diabetes, & other things…you just have to deal with it.

“The hardest thing for me, because I’ve always been a person of my word, is to commit to something & not be able to do it. That breaks my heart, & I’ve just gotten to where I try not to commit to too many things. I realized that I’m just committed to fewer & fewer things, because it breaks my heart to back out on someone.

“I wished I could have journaled every day throughout this whole process, but I got to the point that every day that I was writing, I was consumed with the cancer. The journaling made the cancer much more a part of me than what I wanted, so I just quit writing it.

“One of the first big things I was involved with was when Greenville High & J.L. Mann did their Spirit Week: when we went over there & went out on the field in our colors, & I was in my blue for colorectal cancer, & we all went down on the field to get the check. It was something ELSE to go out there & get that check, & to see all of those young people who had raised money for the Park!

"You are a Survivor, regardless of your state of cancer: cured, remission, cancer free, going through treatment -- if you are still living, then you are a Survivor. It’s a hard concept to get my head around. I’d rather be a Survivor without it being a part of me currently, but it’s not realistic to say that I can’t be a Survivor until I’ve beaten this thing. I may never beat it, but I’ll always be a Survivor.

“I have cancer, but I don’t want cancer to define me. It’s not who I am. It’s a disease that I have. I try to put that on the backburner. I try not to make a big deal about it. I certainly don’t mind talking about cancer, though. I want people to pray for me! I have people continuing to pray for me, & I know that’s why I’m able to do things as well as I can.” 

 

JAY MOTLEY // father to Lilla (also pictured) // husband & survivor of Lindsey Bates Motley, who passed to colon cancer Feb. 23, 2016 // TOM BATES // “Poppy” to Lilla // father & survivor of Lindsey // photographed here on the Park’s Leap of Faith Overlook, dedicated in remembrance of Lindsey
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Read more from the Survivor Series @bit.ly/CSPSurvivorSeries. Photo by Jose Zurita. Interviews by Emily Price. #survivorspark 

This week, we revisit a family that has been featured in our Survivor Series before. Last year we profiled Lindsey Bates Motley, who at the time was fighting colon cancer. This past Thursday, Feb. 23, was the first anniversary of her death, so we checked in to see how some of her survivors were doing.

JAY: “Everything is going really well, actually. Lilla is doing well. She is in school, & we still talk about Lindsey a lot. She brings her up, & we still have pictures around the house, so we talk about her a lot. Things come up all the time -- she’ll say, ‘I remember this & this with mommy,’ or something like that. One of the things I was most worried about was Lilla, & how she would adjust. How it would effect her. From all that I can tell, it seems that she is doing really well.

“When I knew Lindsey was sick & I might need some guidance on the best ways to talk to Lilla about it, I did a little research on the internet. I found a place out in Portland called the Dougy Center that specializes in children who have lost family members. They had a lot of information on their site about grieving for kids. They actually had a handout sheet, & I looked that over, & I thought that the way they talked about it & their method was a great little tip sheet. I took it to her school & showed it to her teachers, & said this is what I am going to be doing at home, & giving to the aunts, uncles & grandparents. It said things like, speak openly & honestly about death. Don’t hide it, because the children, of course, would be asking. I just say, ‘Mommy had cancer. She was really sick. The cancer made her body quit working, so she died.’ You should make it honest & open, & not make it confusing. They suggested calling it what it was – cancer – and not just saying, ‘Mommy got sick,’ because then the kids would get worried that any time they got sick, or a family member did, that they would die, too.

“I definitely see a lot of Lindsey coming out in her. I think she starts to look more like her every day as she gets older. In a lot of ways, she has the same temperament. It’ll be interesting as she ages how much of Lindsey comes out in her.

“Honestly, for me, I think the most interesting thing from the past year was the surprise…I thought the first few months would be the hardest part. Like right when she died, your world would be turned upside down, there would be all of this stuff to take care of. That was certainly hard, too – but it’s surprising that it gets a little harder I think, the further out you get. I don’t think I expected that. The last few months have probably been harder than it was right when she passed away. I think as time goes on, you just start to miss them more. Right when they pass away they were just there recently. You don’t have that longing – I think that was something I didn’t anticipate going into it, and that would be good for other people to know. To not be surprised & be caught off guard if it gets harder, or if you start to miss them more further out. The grief comes in waves; it ebbs & flows. A wave might come; you have to deal with some sadness or grief; & then it gets better.

“I am still figuring it out myself as I go along. It’s hard, there’s no other way to say it. You can’t really sugarcoat that having a child, losing your spouse, & then trying to put it all back together & still work, figure out about dating again, & all kinds of stuff like that is a challenge. But, you know, you figure it out!”

TOM: “ ‘The next right thing’ was one of Lindsey’s sayings. She always said, ‘All you can do is the next right thing,’ & that’s what she did until she couldn’t do that anymore. We live by doing the next right thing. What has gotten us through this is faith. It’s by faith & not by sight that we know, & that you have to think about this in an eternal sense. I think we’re a blip on the radar. I am at peace with all of that. This isn’t the end. I think wonderful thoughts like, Lindsey’s with my mother, who she never met, & others!

“I lost my mother when I was 10 to ovarian cancer. So I remember as a little boy – that was 52 years ago – riding in the family car from the funeral to the cemetery, & I just saw that life kept on going on. I saw garbage men picking up garbage. I saw kids laughing & playing. I remember seeing all that & thinking, ‘Don’t you know what just happened to me?’ But you know, life goes on. I know I will see Lindsey again. I think in terms of eternity, not just here & now. There I was as a child, watching my mother go, & then there I was as a father watching my child go. I think sometimes maybe this was all preparation. Nothing takes the sting away – grief is like learning another language that we are still trying to learn, & there’s not a Rosetta Stone for this. You’ve got to live & breathe it.

“The first anniversary of Lindsey’s death was a tough day & a good day at the same time. It certainly was a different day. It was a day of remembrance & reflection. How wonderful she was, how many people she touched, how courageous & brave she was. It’s sad. It’s happy. It’s every emotion that you have. There were tears, & there was laughter. It’s kind of like the funeral again – seeing and hearing from people you haven’t seen or heard from in a long time. Their remembrances of her, & how they were affected not just by her death, but just by knowing her.

“I am just so proud of our family. Everyone is doing so well. Everybody has a piece of Lindsey in them, & that’s what’s great. I can tell you from a ‘Poppy’ point of view that it’s amazing how well Lilla is doing. What I follow is Jay’s parenting of her. He does an unbelievably exceptional job. He doesn’t hide things from her. He is very forthright about it. He does it in the right way. He keeps Lindsey as part of Lilla’s life, so that she will always know who Lindsey is. That’s the part that I love. Lilla has a good life. She doesn’t have Lindsey – none of us do – but she certainly has a lot of caring & loving people that are around her all the time.

“I think Lilla is a gift that Lindsey left us. Lilla was part of this terrible disease with her mother & is the end product of a very hard fight. I think she’s kind of a parting gift for us.”

 

Spiro Goulakos (27 y/o) // defenseman for the AHL’s Hartford Wolfpack (called up from the ECHL Swamp Rabbits the day after this interview!!!) // Colgate University alum (‘15) & former hockey team captain // Montreal native // survivor of Stage IIA Hodgkins Lymphoma; diagnosed @ 22 y/o, 6 years after 72 y/o grandfather passed to pancreatic cancer
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Read more from the Survivor Series @ bit.ly/CSPSurvivorSeries. Photos by Jose Zurita. Interview by Emily Price. #survivorspark

“The cancer happened during my sophomore year [at Colgate]. It was Stage IIA Hodgkins Lymphoma. Then when I broke my ankle as a senior two seasons later, it was really a tough pill to swallow. I think it set me back in my career aspirations a little bit; the opportunities I think I would’ve gotten, had I stayed healthy. Had I been able to showcase myself a bit more, it might’ve set me up a little better. I always wanted to play hockey professionally.

“The cancer was like a watermelon, apparently, in my chest. I think [the mass] was about 12” x 4”. I didn’t feel any symptoms, which is why we found it when we did, at a physical at home in Montreal. There was just shortness of breath -- but it wasn’t that alarming, like something was wrong -- it was just kind of like, ‘Well I’m not in as good of shape as I should be’ or whatever. But looking back, yeah. My breathing was off.

“At the time, my sister Constance, who is 6 years older, came to visit me at school. We are very close. We went to grab coffee, & she was basically like, ‘Look, I’m not going to sugarcoat this for you. You have cancer.’ I mean, I knew there was an issue. I didn’t know exactly what it was, but she confirmed it -- what was to come. She was just practical, like, ‘There’s a 95 percent chance that it’s this.’

“The hardest part of being diagnosed was thinking, ‘I have to put my life on hold for 6 months.’ Not being a part of the hockey team, or the Colgate community especially, for 6 months. Especially that senior class -- not getting to hang out with them, & play hockey with them, & strengthen those bonds. So originally to think I wasn’t going to get to experience all that -- LIVE all that -- I wasn’t as concerned with the chemo. It was the FOMO: the fear of missing out on your life. I was really close with that group in particular.

“When I broke the news to the team, it was a shock to everyone. You don’t really expect to hear that from one of your teammates & friends, especially at that age, so they were all shocked. There were a few tears. When I broke the news, I was like, ‘I’m done for the year, & I’ll see you when I see you.’ They were all extremely supportive, but it was unchartered territory for everyone.

“I did 12 chemo sessions back home in Montreal -- every 2 weeks for 6 months. The first one I did was during winter break, so we were out of school. After that I said, ‘OK, I took that pretty well. If i can continue to feel this way, I might as well try & continue with academics. If I can play hockey, all the better.’ The doctors were all OK with that, seeing how I responded to the first treatment. I dropped a class, but I took 3 others, & I got to play hockey. I just missed every second weekend, because I had to go home & do a treatment; I missed a few classes as well. That went on for a semester.

“I think everyone expects me to say that year with the chemo was the hardest, but to be honest, I think it was breaking my ankle at the end of the year my senior season. Missing out on going to the tournament for a second time...We had a really good team, & injuries cost us a shot at the National Championship. As soon as I was able to put on a skate that year, I was like, ‘Hey, I am ready to play!’ I knew it was my last kick at the can in college.

“But the chemo also took me longer to recover from than even I expected. Going through my junior year, they would give me a day off in the middle of the week to get extra rest. My energy levels weren’t quite there, especially with going to class & practice. Gradually I got in better shape, but not close to the shape I was in prior to being diagnosed. Then senior year, I felt way better than before; I had gone through a healthy, full summer of training. Then after another full summer of training, going into my first pro season, I felt the best I had in 3 years...It really takes a while to flush that stuff out of your system. Nobody really knows how long.

“So then last year, I signed with Rochester in the AHL on a 2-way contract, but ended up playing most of my year in the ECHL, which is equivalent to the Swamp Rabbits. This year I thought it would be a good idea again to sign another 2-way contract with a different organization, so I did that. So far I have been down here [with the SR] the whole year, which is kind of frustrating. I think I deserve an opportunity at the next level, & I think a lot of people would agree with that...but, I mean, it’s the nature of the business. It is what it is.

“My dad has this way of firing me up. For example, when we’d be in the hospital, he would say things like, ‘Your situation isn’t so bad, see? You could be that kid with one leg. You could be that guy with the oxygen tank.’ Which I guess is a weird way to talk to a cancer patient, but it gives you perspective. Like, ‘Look, Spiro, you still have a fighting chance.’”

 

 

Amy Doser // new Survivor Series co-editor & CSP volunteer // wife to Dave // stay-at-home mom to David Brian (named after his late uncle) & Henry Bruce (both pictured) // consultant to Beautycounter // writer & book lover // avid runner (ran a ½ marathon with Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training in SF) // Clemson grad // survivor of brother Brian (passed to leukemia in ’07)

Photo by Jose Zurita. #survivorspark

“As a stay at home mom, I’ve looked for volunteer opportunities with organizations of which I could be passionate. I left the corporate world to be full time with my kids, but I always felt like there was more and if I was going to take away time from my boys, then it had to be something really worthwhile. Kay Roper [CSP Executive Director] spoke about the Park on the 9th anniversary of the death of my younger brother to leukemia. I took it as a sign from God that this is where I was needed.

“My younger brother had been under the weather for quite some time. He’d been to doctors for nearly a month as they tried to determine what was wrong with him. A few years earlier, he’d been hit by a drunk driver, & subsequently his spleen had to be removed. We were told that because the spleen was gone, determining that his illness was leukemia was a bit difficult.

“My two most specific memories both come from when Brian was first diagnosed & then when it came out of remission. First let me preface this by saying, my brother was younger by 6 years. I was always very protective of him; he was like my own little baby. When he was diagnosed, he had just turned 23 years old. He was admitted into the hospital on Thursday, & on Friday, my parents wanted to go see all of our family face-to-face & to tell them about Brian; so I stayed at the hospital with him. That afternoon, he leaned forward on the bed; his IVs dangling from a port; the IV tree obnoxiously taunting him; & said, ‘I don’t want to die.’ I did the big sister approach, & pushing back my own tears told him he wasn’t going to die -- that people beat this all the time, & he would too.

“Flash forward 2 1/2 years to Jan. 3, ’07 -- when we had been told that the leukemia was back, & he had 3-6 months to live. My parents had left the room, so it was just the two of us. I started crying & asked Brian what I was supposed to do without him, & that I didn’t want him to die. He put his arms around me -- instantly becoming the older sibling -- & said, ‘You’re going to keep living, & you’ll do it for me.’ I think these two memories stand out because they show how much he had grown spiritually in his years fighting leukemia. He ended up dying 29 days later -- not even making it a month after the leukemia came out of remission.

“Cancer isn’t just about the radiation & chemo treatments. There’s so much more to it. We all became more educated; we found out there were burdens in life we could easily shoulder. We all experienced a lot of change, a lot of heartbreak, & a lot of laughs during the 2 ½ years Brian bravely fought this disease. I try not to have regrets in life or spend my days thinking, ‘What if?’ We fought this battle together as a family, because I believe it’s what God felt we needed. My parents & I came out of it broken but able to piece our lives back together. Almost 10 years later, I still have my days of just sitting in my room and crying my eyes out. There’s a piece of my heart that’s gone, & I still have my days of asking God, ‘Why?’ But in the end, I’m grateful not necessarily for the experience of cancer in my brother’s life, but for the way I came out of it & what I learned from it. I’d spent my entire life looking into the future & not living in the moment. I stopped & breathed more often, took in the wonders of God, & even found out new things about my brother.

“I would like to think that watching how well my brother handled all of his treatments -- & suffer with grace & dignity -- has encouraged me to be strong in life, to never give up, to always fight. My mother taught me how to be strong for her child. You know, in the 2 ½ years Brian went through this, he NEVER saw her cry. She saved that for me, my dad or her friends. As a mother, I’m still in awe of her strength as to how well she kept everything together for my brother’s sake.

“I never really considered myself a survivor until I met Kay. For me, a survivor was always someone who was diagnosed with cancer & then beat it -- not the people surrounding that person. Then I recall my brother’s words to me that day when we were told his leukemia was back: ‘You’re going to keep living, & you’ll do it for me.’ When I have my days that are bad, I think about how worse his days were at times, & how well he handled those days. Everything that I do in my life, no matter how minute it may seem, I always think, ‘How would Brian handle this? Would he be proud of me?’”

 


 

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