I woke up this morning

February 13, 2022

One of the best lines in all of country music goes, “Well I woke up Sunday morning with no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt.”

Today’s Sunday morning was for me much simpler. I woke up this morning. 

Of course, so did you. But in my case it’s really quite a surprise that I woke up. The odds as of five years ago were strongly against this happening. 

Five years ago today (which was a Monday) I woke up with a colonoscopy scheduled for midday. I had expected to hear that I needed to be more careful about my diet, or maybe I had some modest amount of diverticulitis or colitis to deal with. Instead, seconds into the procedure it was obvious that I had colon cancer. (Being a person not at that time a fan of anesthetics, I had my colonoscopy done without anesthesia. I knew what was up right away). Later that week I would find out that not only did I have colon cancer, but I also had multiple metastases in my liver. The statistics were bad: 20% chance of living 5 years, 5% chance of living 5 years and being cancer free.

I am today very much alive. Last summer I won my age group in half of the races I ran (3 out of 6, at distances from 5K to 10 miles). Yesterday my wife and I attended an opera performance at IU. Today we’ll see a play in Indianapolis and then I will do a 5-mile run sometime before I call it a day. Tomorrow I will fix my wife duck breast in port/cherry sauce for dinner for Valentine’s day. And between five years ago and today I have led a support group for people dealing with serious diseases, given talks and published papers about how computing centers can better support biomedical research, given talks about the importance of managing one’s own health particularly as regards colon cancer, and successfully retired from IU with a graceful handoff of my former leadership responsibilities. AND I have been able to give my wife quality time together in retirement that we would not otherwise have had.

My wife’s insistence that I go to the Simon Cancer Center, and the excellent care I received there, is quite simply the reason I am alive today. I am ever so grateful to SCC and all of the doctors, nurses, technicians, and volunteers who have helped me. I am grateful to friends, family, and my faith community. And I am ever so grateful and always in love with my wife Marion, who is the reason I am alive and the person who makes being alive most meaningful to me.

Early on in my treatment on of my Doctors said to me “I expect we will still be having this conversation in five years.” I was not so optimistic at the time. Indeed, my thinking was that if SCC could buy me two decent years, I would die satisfied. But as that doctor put it, “someone has to be in the tail of the curve. It might as well be you.” I remain in the tail of the survivorship curve and plan to remain doing that as long as the expertise of the SCC enable that and the universe wills it. 

In the past five years I have learned a great deal, received help from many people far and near, and hopefully done enough good to justify the effort that my caregivers have put into keeping me alive. I hope that whatever purpose God has for keeping me on earth has been reasonably well fulfilled in this time. These five years have been a blessing to me and I hope and pray that I have been a blessing to others.

In that time I have run across three resources in particular that have been helpful to me (besides of course the Bible):

  • Your Best Year Ever – by Michael S. Hyatt
  • To Bless the Space Between Us – by John O’Donohue
  • Now That I Have Cancer, I am whole – by John McFarland

Each of these books remains critical to me as I continue this journey. I recommend all of them to anyone suffering from any serious disease. (John McFarland’s book is a lot about cancer but contains a lot that is applicable to dealing with any serious disease).

So to you and everyone else who has helped me along in the last five years: Thank you. And keep at it please. I’m going to need your help in the next five.