Tuesday, November 3, 2009

If You Are a Pheonix

Today I have a serious story to tell you. I got some great news and I’m excited to share :)

Pic: My dad, my baby sister Nikki and me, taken on a cruise a couple of months after his diagnosis


In 2005 my father was overweight, had high cholesterol, and many of the other typical health concerns that men face in their 50’s. I was graduating from New School University and my family came to NYC for the event. My dad showed up with a large lump on his neck, no big deal. He had gone to get it checked out the day before and the doctor said it looked like a swollen lymphnode. They did some testing anyway. We weren’t concerned.

After graduation I went to visit my family in MA for a couple of weeks before I started a new job. When I visit my family I try to do as much as I can with them, so when my dad said he had an appointment for lab test results I decided to go with him. On the way there I jokingly said to him, “what will you do if they tell you you have cancer?” (always with the dark humor) and my dad responded, “what will YOU do?” Neither one of us thought it would actually happen.

When they called him from the waiting room he said, “Are you staying here or coming? For moral support…” I laughed with him as I followed him into the exam room. I don’t remember much up until the doctor said, “Well Jim, I’m afraid I have some difficult news for you. Your lab results show that you have cancer.” This is the part I remember clearly, I didn’t really HEAR what the doctor had said. I heard it by watching my father. I watched the color drain from his face the way it happens in cartoons. I watched my strong, brave, indestructible father faint in front of me. It was at that point that I became the adult. I was strong, brave and indestructible. I was scared out of my mind. I held him and then I called my mom at work to tell her that our lives were about to change. “Come home”.

From that day EVERYTHING changed. I was living in NYC and driving to Boston every weekend (and any other chance I got). My dad quickly went from bad to worse. He had stage-4 throat cancer and we had no idea what was going to happen. With chemo and radiation he lost energy, weight, and he lost his ability to swallow food. He had to get his calories through a g-tube. He couldn’t do much more than lie on the couch and sleep. He was SO scared for his life and he couldn’t hide it from his four girls or his loving wife. Sometimes we would see his sense of humor sneak through… like when friends would come over and he would make jokes about “having lunch” through his tube, offering some to everyone. I have so many scary memories from that time. The scariest part was that I couldn’t find my dad, but I knew he was in there somewhere.

At the same time I was applying to grad schools. But I just couldn’t focus on completing the applications. I was about to give up when my mom told me she knew of a holistic nutritionist and she thought I’d be really good at doing something like that. I agreed with her and did some searching. I found IIN and everything fell into place. I started school immediately, with a mission to help my dad. I shared everything I learned with my family. I took over his diet. When I wasn’t able to be there I told my mom what to feed him. He was very limited because he had an incredibly difficult time swallowing food but we found certain foods that worked really well for him. Nutritionally we built him back up. We were also keeping his swallowing muscles strong so that he wouldn’t have to live with a g-tube forever.

He started to recover. His chemo and radiation ended and to celebrate he decided to train for the inaugural NYC Half-Marathon and race it with me. He was amazing. He was running/walking 14 miles at a time. He was eating healthy food and he was back to being himself. Throughout this journey it was unlikely for him to pull through his sickness, yet he did. He fought and he won.

Pic: My healthy dad and his healthy lunch last Sunday


A couple of weeks ago I got some fabulous news… my dad got his CT scan results back. He is now CANCER FREE for 3 years!!! He's healthier than he has ever been. In fact, he’s just as passionate about eating well as I am. He’s even inspired other people in his life to take control of their health. In a conversation with him recently he said, “Christine, if I could go back and change anything I WOULDN’T. Cancer is the best thing that ever happened to me.” I agree. Completely. And with my whole heart. I have my dad back… better than new.

For the past several years I have kept this idea at my core. I was having a conversation with my boyfriend about this last night. He actually brought up the topic in reference to his own journey over the past year. You can look at anything terrible or scary that has ever happened and then place your finger on exactly why you should be grateful for it. I try to imagine where I would be without the challenges that I’ve had to face and the events that have molded me. I can appreciate the lessons I’ve learned along the way and the strength I have earned. It’s when you think you’ve been burnt to the ground, or that the rug was pulled out from underneath you… you’ll never get up again. But you have a choice. You can fight. You can pick yourself up. You can learn and grow and take risks and then, suddenly, you might find that you’ve become better than new. That’s when you can look back at your life as it was and recognize that without the bad things, not only would the good things not exist in contrast, but you might lack the ability to recognize or appreciate them anyway.

You wouldn’t change anything. The bad things can be the best things that ever happened.

"god help you if you are a pheonix and you dare to rise up from the ash, a thousand eyes will smolder with jealousy while you are just flying past" -Ani Difranco

Pic: Me and my dad enjoying an ice cream at Old Orchard Beach


Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this story! :)

Colin Hayes said...

Amazing story. Brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for sharing it!

Anonymous said...

WOW! Amazing... thank you Christine for taking the time to share.

Sherri said...

thank you for sharing this - I agree, you can't understand true joy without knowing anguish. I'm so very glad your Dad is free

Shelley said...

Miracles do happen, thanks for sharing!

HolisticGuru said...

Thank you for the kind words everyone :)

I'm also going to add some comments I've gotten on twitter so my dad can see them too:

"Great story...health is the only thing you have folks."

"THANK YOU for sharing that!You have no idea how much I needed to read each word of that blog post!And congrats to your daddy:)"

"great post. So happy to hear dad is cancer free! It's a scary thing when a parent is ill. My dad's stroke was a nightmare."

"Ur blog post is very touching. The last part (about not changing) is right on. We go thru hard things but come out much better."

"That's an AWESOME post! Brought tears to my eyes!!! I'm so happy for you and your family. It's wonderful that he's helping others. :)"

Austin said...

Fantastic news Christine. I had heard you talk about this recently in your interview with Ironmanbobby.. and am so happy to hear that its worked out so well.
I work in the field of oncology and diagnostics and have done for years now and it always makes me so happy to hear of people beating cancer.

*high five* to your dad and *high five* to you for being so supportive and for learning to be the holistic guru that you are :D

HolisticGuru said...

Awww. Thanks Austin! I didn't know you worked in oncology and diagnostics. "high five" to you for that as well.

Sheila said...

Great story. Thank you for sharing this difficult journey.

Jamie said...

Wow guru. Send my congrats to your dad. That is a huge anniversary.

It helps put a LOT of things in perspective for me.