On Living Life and Filling the Voids of Cancer

My family put off future plans because of my cancer, but now I’ve decided to take risks and do what we always hoped to accomplish.

When I was diagnosed with stage 3b colorectal cancer four years ago, my life completely came to a standstill. That one sentence said to me by my GI doctor that day was one of the shortest ones I had ever heard but had left the biggest impact on my life.

“You have cancer.”

When you are suddenly diagnosed with cancer in the middle age of life, it kind of marks your life into “before” and “after” cancer categories. There are a lot of spaces that are taken over in your mind because of cancer.

My family had plans for the future before I was diagnosed with cancer and quickly put everything on hold, which I hated to do to them.

The guilt of becoming a cancer patient creeps in slowly. These "cancer voids" are no longer just impacting your life, but the people that you love.

At a time when my wife and I should have been enjoying all our teenagers’ extracurricular activities, home renovations and planning future family vacations, I was left working with my care partner and medical team on exactly how I’m supposed to survive cancer.

We all felt those voids creeping in on us all together.

I think when you spend months going to treatments, followed by years of appointments and various scans to make sure the cancer is not recurring, it can be so mentally exhausting to the point you just can’t get your head above water.

Then slowly you can find a break in the tide that opens your life to leave those voids that cancer has created. I felt, at times, that we lived in limbo as we waited in those spaces or voids between follow ups and scans appointments. Those periods would spread out even longer and filling those voids would become longer. As a patient, it made me feel guilty for what I was putting my family and friends through.

I have spent the last couple of years filling those voids of time by supporting various cancer organizations and sharing my story of survivorship when given the opportunity. Much of my focus has been trying to support other men whoare dealing with a cancer diagnosis. Most of the time, it's just being a listening ear, giving them a place to vent or advocating for them — something that I probably burdened my wife with when I went through treatment.

A couple of months ago, I went to a men’s cancer survivors retreat called “The Gathering of Wolves” with the members of a Facebook group called “The Howling Place,” which is a part of the Man Up to Cancer platform created by my friend, Trevor Maxwell, a stage 4 colorectal cancer survivor.

I am the lead administrator for the Facebook group, which is one of the ways I have filled some of those cancer voids.

The Gathering of the Wolves event was the first time I had met many of the cancer survivors of the group. Some of them I had spent much time over the last couple of years supporting their journeys, which none of us ever expected to be a part of together.

Being around that group of men during the retreat inspired me to break through those voids and start to live life again.

I started looking at a few of the things that my family had put off because of my cancer diagnosis, including building a new deck behind our home. My wife and I decided to put it off when I was diagnosed because we did not know where my cancer might lead us and it probably wasn't the best financial decision for us at the time. I would lay on the couch and feel totally guilty that I couldn't get that done for the family.

Then when I did survive cancer, I worried that the cancer might recur, and we would need that money in case I couldn’t work if I had to go back into treatment.

But now, since I am almost five years cancer free, we decided to build the new deck.

Sometimes as a cancer survivor you must take risks and hope for the best. Building the new deck was a risk worth taking because I was no longer allowing those voids that cancer caused to control my life or that of my family.

A couple of weeks ago, our family had our first dinner on our new deck. I was no longer just a cancer survivor, but a grill master. I was finally able to give back to my family what cancer tried to take from us.

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