The Time I Almost Lost Hope

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The highs, lows and a courageous decision that changed everything.

cartoon drawing of cancer survivor and blogger, Steve Rubin

The wind was brushing against my face. Helmet on, of course, as I adjusted to life in the bike lanes of Manhattan— which I quickly learned can be intense. People are nuts in this city; delivery bikes flying past like kamikaze pilots on their silent electric bikes, others racing towards you from the wrong direction… you really have to stay locked in at all times.

But the exhilaration of cruising freely around New York City on a sunny afternoon made it worth it. I felt liberated after almost two years of treating cancer either at the hospital or my apartment.

I was en route to the local AMC to break the week up with a movie. That was the first time I felt the pain; sharp, and shooting through my lower left side. I thought maybe I’d tweaked a muscle, but felt it again later that night in bed.

An MRI soon confirmed my worst fears. Another tumor, this time in my left hip.

Bone cancer had already surfaced in my right femur and then both lungs multiple times. It wasn’t too long ago I had been given a less than 10% survival rate.

This, however, was my first setback after dramatically overhauling my lifestyle based around healing. For almost a year, I had been as disciplined as one can be: super clean and nutritious diet, supplementation, all kinds of IV and alternative therapies; every move designed to promote internal conditions that supercharged my immune system and make life difficult for disease to exist.

It really seemed to be working too. I felt more energized than ever; skin looking better, eyes brighter.

Which is why this recurrence felt even more devastating. In the back of my mind, I knew I had left nothing on the table. And wasn’t that how it’s supposed to go in life? You go ALL IN on a pursuit, put yourself in position to gain every edge possible and then luck is supposed to present itself?

Depression doesn’t begin to describe my reaction to the news. The pressure of fighting cancer… I hated it all so much. I was so resentful. To be tested every single day. No breaks. Just more to prove. More to do.

My sister and brother-in-law came by to support my wife, Kori, and I. We threw on a movie, something mindless because I wanted total escape.

That’s when Kori took a calculated risk. She saw my state of despair and asked if I wanted any tequila to soften the blow. A month ago, this would’ve been sacrilege. I was in superhero healing mode — alcohol was out. But on this night, that Steve had met it’s kryptonite.

I was beyond scared of what might happen next. Beyond exhausted.

“Sure, why not.” I said.

She poured out a glass, hoping I’d have at least a moment of reprieve.

I took a sip, and it was pretty good. Took the edge off for a minute.

Then, I felt the alcohol flowing through my veins— such a foreign feeling after my body had been so clean for so long. And I just couldn’t enjoy it. In the back of my mind, despite this latest setback; despite the daunting survival rate; despite the writing apparently on the wall… something within refused to let down.

I still believed in my healing strategy. The idea of it. Even if from the outside, doctors may have questioned if I was in denial.

After that first sip, I placed my glass dismissively on the table. A symbolic moment. It wasn’t like one glass of alcohol was going to make or break anything, but drinking here would’ve represented a departure from my commitment to giving healing everything I’ve got. That commitment, I believed, not only gave me the best chance at success, it also prevented me from having regrets.

I had been knocked down multiple times already and gotten back to my feet. This latest hit may have felt like a knockout blow, but I was even more scared of giving up. I looked at my wife, sister and brother-in-law. My dog Penny Lane. I thought about my parents.

I didn’t know what I would do next. But I summoned the courage to have at it another day and accept what the universe had in store for me— which turned out to be hip replacement surgery shortly afterwards. Then, despite the paralyzing fear and uncertainty, I carried on with my healing approach. Taking everything one day at a time, while earning my health the best that I could and waiting for my miracle.

Seasons would change. Years would pass. Scans would come and go… All, while I would overcame the statistics without any more recurrences.

I’m glad I put down the glass.

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