My Story – Part III

Art’s Story Part III

I had had a remarkable past few months come Winter 2001. On January 20, a small gathering of family friends to help support some of the costs of my dealings with cancer morphed into a full size benefit gala, filled with hundreds of volunteers and thousands of participants, all coming to support me. To this day, people in Youngstown still talk about “The Benefit.” It was more than a benefit; it was reunion, from what I hear (I wasn’t even there!) that could never ever again be recreated. For Christmas, I received a quilt fashioned with squares designed by friends, family and co-workers from across the country. This very Web site grew to from friends and family to cult status. If I didn’t have someone’s picture on it who I knew, I was accosted. If I didn’t do an update when I promised, I was barraged with emails. The site had become a beast. A good beast.

February 2001. I was living at home in Ohio recovering from my stem cell transplant when I knew something was up. I’ve lived with Hodgkin’s Disease for a year now. I knew it well, like an old friend. I woke up one morning and had this pain in my upper back. It was a strange pain, not easily describable. Simply I could feel something wrong in my spine and it was causing the radiating feeling around the area. It was then I understood that the stem cell transplant hadn’t worked.

I didn’t necessarily want to admit it. Who would? As the weeks progressed new pains flared in my left leg and lower back. I hoped, we all hoped, it was a ruptured disk or some lower back problem. Then on April 7th, I felt it. I was waiting at the check out counter for the cashier to return my credit card when I casually ran my fingers up my jaw line and felt the lump at the end of the bone. That was no ordinary lump. That was a lymph node. The cancer was officially back, no doubt.

Knowing the cancer had returned and accepting that the cancer had returned were two entirely different things. Emotionally, it took time to accept. After all of that sickness, hospitalization, pain, frustration, we still had not killed it. On top of that, why? Why couldn’t I get on with my life? Why couldn’t I beat this thing? Why would I have to do all this over again? For weeks I wrestled with those questions trying to make sense of it all. I couldn’t; it simply was too much. I was miserable. I was in pain (and when I wasn’t, I was a zombie from the painkillers). I was depressed.

Now, I knew what I had to do. I had to make that choice- that difficult choice that I had made twice before. I had to accept the hand that had been dealt to me and use it to continue to play in the game of life.

So one day, after sleeping the whole Sunday before, I did. I consciously made the decision to move on and suck it up. From then on, I just deal with it. It’s part of my life. Sometimes, I even forget I have it. I have become so accustomed to pain and taking pills that I take them for granted. It’s part of life…for me.



I keep coming back to the theme of choice, but it so important. In every situation that appears in life, we have a choice to make. Echoing my strong belief is Professor Dumbledore, famed good wizard in the Harry Potter series. After Harry discovers that he and the evil Lord Vordemort share many of the same powers, Dumbledore exhorts Harry “It is our choices, Harry, that show who we truly are, far more than our abilities.” (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, page 333) The more I live, the more I see that this is true. We decide how to use the talents we are given. We decide how hard we work. We decide who are friends are. We decide what to make of our lives. We decide how to handle adversity. No matter what the psychological community says, it is not our parents’ fault. It is our fault. Our choices ultimately come down to us.


Having moved back home, I have had the opportunity to meet many new people. In the process, they know nothing about my situation or me. Typically people are on their best behavior around me, but new people, they don’t know any better. So anyway, I internally chuckle when I hear people lamenting to the point of death about the cold they are so desperately battling or that pesky wart that will not go away or not being able to play softball because of the hangnail on their toe or that person who is making their life miserable. I laugh for two reasons. 1. That used to be me. 2. Their problems are so miniscule compared to mine that they would be embarrassed if they knew whom they were talking to. That doesn’t mean that I don’t identify and empathize with them. It just means that my perspective on health and on life is so different that the little things that used to bother me don’t. Who cares if the newspaper is an hour late? Will getting upset over it do any good?

One of the amazing transformations that occurred before my very eyes was that of the city of New York. On September 10, New Yorkers were swearing at the subway for being late, cursing the deli man for putting too much mustard on the corn beef on rye, and complaining over the faltering NASDAQ. On September 11, New Yorkers were thankful for just being alive. For the whole next week (and I imagine still to this day), New York was as quiet and friendly as small town, Ohio. People were somber and respectful. Everyone was helping each other. Groups that hated each other one minute were comforting each other the next. Why? Perspective, perspective, perspective.

I believe there are two ways that we learn in life. The first is by practice and/or repetition (i.e. learning a new language, writing out the words over and over). The second is by a major life experience or test (i.e. when you were a little tyke, your mom said don’t touch the hot stove. You did and burned yourself. Consequently you never touched the hot stove again). Some of us have gained our perspective on life by that major life experience. Others have learned through simple practice. What will it take for you to have a new perspective on life?

Who is Ultimately In Charge?

I love reading the story of Lance Armstrong. He battles cancer. He beats it. He trains hard. He wins three straight Tour de France cycle races. But I do have a slight beef with his story. All of the pundits say, ìHis strong competitive spirit, his persevering spirit and his unrelenting will allowed him to beat cancer… Is that correct though? I don’t believe so. I know plenty of people who are as competitive, as persevering, and as unrelenting as Lance Armstrong who died from cancer. Why didn’t they survive? Were they not strong enough? Am I not strong enough? Am I not competitive enough? It’s hard for me to believe that. God is in charge. You can differ with me on the statement all you want, but it is what I believe. He heals who He wants, when he wants. He calls home who he wants, when He wants. For me, only He knows what will happen, and I am content with that. I will still be optimistic, I will still enjoy life, but I will also know who’s ultimately in charge.


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