My story is truly about the little family that could. In 2002, I felt I had it all: a loving partner, a new job offer, and plans to start a family. Upon my return from a business trip in May, that feeling shifted as a large lump appeared on the side of my neck. Several doctor visits, tests, and sleepless nights later, I received a phone call on the way to a meeting from a doctor. He asked me to pull the car over. He told me I had cancer. Everything stopped. There would be no new job (I needed to retain health coverage without a preexisting condition), there would be no family planning, but thankfully through it all I had my loving partner, Kelley.
I was diagnosed with Stage IIB Hodgkin lymphoma and immediately referred to an oncologist. Kelley asked me what an oncologist was; I told her it was a cancer doctor, and we both broke down. My oncologist told me my cancer was curable. She shared with me the treatment plan; she made me feel hopeful. A few weeks later, I began ABVD chemotherapy. Every two weeks, I sat in a crowded infusion room with other cancer patients armed with a portable DVD player, rented movies, and anxiety. Each infusion lasted for hours, and as the weeks went on, the side effects increased. I had nausea every morning, constantly ate crackers and candy to rid my mouth of the metallic taste of chemotherapy, was so very tired, and started losing my hair. Eventually, Kelley shaved my head. After six months and twelve treatment visits, I was done and referred to a radiation oncologist for follow-up treatment.
I definitely felt beaten down by the time I started radiation. There were measurements taken, blue dot tattoos applied to my neck and chest, and a mesh mask laid over my face. Every weekday, I visited the clinic to receive head, neck, and chest radiation treatments. I had chemo brain and continued to feel tired. During the fifth week, I received a call from my oncologist while sitting in the radiation clinic waiting room. My scans showed I was in remission; I no longer had cancer. My first call was to Kelley, and we laughed and cried and could not believe it was over.
It took a long time for me to stop thinking about cancer every second of every day, but in the months following treatment, Kelley and I did start talking about other things. I took on a new appreciation for life and a new mantra, “Every Day is a Gift.” I started looking at my new normal and taking leaps of faith. The first was to start a foster care nonprofit organization with a business partner and to leave my steady work income. The second was to begin planning for the family Kelley and I dreamed of again.
Three years after completing treatment and with the help of fertility treatment, Kelley and I welcomed Connor, our beautiful son, into our family. He was truly my post-cancer miracle baby, and we have enjoyed every moment we share with him. I wanted to enjoy all of those moments so I left the nonprofit organization I helped start to be a stay-at-home mom to Connor. I celebrated the gift of every day with him. Another incredible highlight in my survivorship was marrying Kelley on the beach in Carmel, CA where we celebrated our lifelong commitment with our son.
As Connor grew and I considered future work options, I truly knew in my heart there was only one place I should be. I had volunteered as a fundraiser with Team in Training for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) and in support of Light The Night at the walk events. My passion drove me to apply for a job at LLS.
I am happy that LLS welcomed me as a Patient & Community Outreach Manager so that I could help patients who went through experiences similar to mine every day. I have now taken a role in our Education & Services department, managing our online LLS Community for patients, caregivers, and healthcare professionals. One of my goals is to ensure all of our support is inclusive to LGBTQIA+ families like mine. LLS is in my blood, and my entire family is a part of the LLS family. Every day truly is a gift with my wife and child by my side.