Reflecting on My Two Cancer Triumphs on Father’s Day

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I feel most thankful on Father's Day, especially after being told I'd never be able to have children.

Keane with his grandchild. Photo credits: John Keane

Keane with his grandchild.

Photo credits: John Keane

It’s human nature, at certain times each year, to sit back and take stock of all we have, all we’ve done, and express gratitude — both inwardly and to our friends and loved ones — for the blessings we’ve received in life.

For some, that time might come at Christmas or Thanksgiving. Others might reflect most on New Year’s Eve or on their birthday. While I try to keep an attitude of gratitude through all these occasions, there’s no time I feel more thankful than on Father’s Day.

On Father’s Day, I so vividly see myself as a 20-year-old man in 1986, meeting and beating a stage 4 testicular cancer diagnosis. Facing my own mortality at such a young age, I was a human case study at Hackensack Meridian Health’s Hackensack University Medical Center (HUMC), receiving the most aggressive chemotherapy treatment ever administered at that time, under the treatment and guidance of oncologist Dr. Mark Pascal.

The triumph of beating such an aggressive cancer — in the moment — was bittersweet. My wife, Dina, and I already had fertility issues when I was told the cost of my testicular cancer and aggressive treatment all but guaranteed we’d never have children.

Such news, at any time, would be a major blow to a married couple, young and in love, with the burning desire to form a family in their new path together.

But in spite of such a discouraging prognosis, and against all the odds, Dina and I were blessed with dreams come true. We brought four beautiful children into this world over the next five years.

That would be enough to make me feel today — and forever —- grateful.

But now, fast-forward 30 years, to the 2016 holiday season. I own a successful business as an electrical contractor in Lyndhurst, New Jersey, living happily in the town where I was born and raised.

Earlier in the year, I had started experiencing chronic heartburn. I waved off the symptom by simply taking Tums at bedtime. I had gone on like this for nearly a year until one day where I can vividly recall experiencing dizziness and lethargy so powerful, so oppressive, I told my wife if I were to fall down, I didn’t think I’d be able to get back up.

Dina would end up taking me to HUMC again, for what I thought, at that time, was a heart problem.

Tests ensued. The first verdict I received was about the hemoglobin in my blood — the normal range for men being about 13 to 16 grams per deciliter — being down to 3.8 grams per deciliter.

Dr. Timothy Simpson, a cardiologist at HUMC, told me, “John, you’re bleeding out internally,” upon observing this test result. I was sent to see oncologist Dr. David Felig, who conducted a doppler endoscopy using the context of my symptoms and test results.

It was then he found a tumor in my esophagus, and I was diagnosed with stage 3B esophageal cancer. If that weren’t scary enough, Dina was told upon diagnosis that because of such aggressive chemotherapy and radiation at age 20, I had had a 1% (yes, 1%) chance of surviving the new cancer battle I was thrust into at age 52.

First began treatment with gastrointestinal oncologist Dr. Tracy Proverbs-Singh, who made me feel immediately as though I knew her forever. She saw me twice a day, every day, at first, and always kept me grounded and hopeful through informative, yet down-to-earth, consistent communication.

Then came surgery, performed beautifully by thoracic oncologist Dr. Nabil Rizk. Always proactive and one step ahead of my cancer, he and his team guided me through the surgery and oncology, and accepted my determination to recover in only eight days from an initial hospital stay he thought would be two weeks.

Spurring my dedication and determination was none other than Dr. Pascal — still at HUMC 30 years after my first bout with cancer — who took it upon himself to come see and encourage me every night after the surgery.

Then came the recovery, which was up to me.

As a man of faith, I kept positive through the hardest times in a really difficult recovery, where my biggest ask of God each day was to remain with my wife and children: “Let me see one grandchild; Dear God, let me live to see one grandchild.”

But once again, in spite of such a discouraging prognosis, and against all the odds, Dina and I relived dreams together we had as a young, married couple trying to form a family together.

My prayers and pleas were answered, and our family grew.

Keane with one of his grandchildren. Photo credits: John Keane.

Photo credits: John Keane

Today, I am cancer-free at age 59, and in addition to being a father of four, Dina and I are now the proud grandparents of six adorable, beautiful, happy and healthy children.

June is men’s health month, so awareness of testicular and esophageal cancers is so important. Although I was lucky and blessed to have survived both at such grave and advanced stages, I urge men to seek help immediately if they notice anything wrong.

And on Father’s Day in June, to an extent unlike any other day, I reflect and look back with gratitude on my large and loving family, which I was given against all odds.

This post was written and submitted by John Keane. The article reflects the views of Keane and not of CURE®. This is also not supposed to be intended as medical advice.

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