By Luke Tripodi
My story starts off the same way so many others' do. It starts with a diagnosis. The shock, sadness, and fear of the unknown. Then comes selecting a doctor, a hospital and a treatment plan. And finally your treatment either works or it doesn't...or it does but then the cancer comes back so really it didn't work, and then you think it worked but the cancer comes back again so really it didn't work...
I could write about my experience outlining every detail from the first time the "C" word was uttered to my most recent annual CT scan. I could tell you how initially I had a tumor in my leg, after treatment was clean for 3 years then it came back in my lung and after 3 thoracotomy surgeries and some chemotherapy we finally just yanked that bad boy (left lung) outta there. I could talk about life with one lung and how I don't really remember what it's like to have two, so the impact has seemed to be relatively immaterial. There are a lot of stories I could share (and would be happy to in the future if it would help someone out) but today I want to focus on one thing. My family.
Family can come in many different forms. It can be the two people that raised you and siblings, it can be close friends, grandparents, aunts, uncles or all of the above. In my journey with cancer it was my mom, dad, two brothers, sister, grandma, grandpa and uncle. Each one of these people were there for me, some at different phases, others at every turn.
I remember one doctor's appointment toward the beginning of this journey where they had to bring extra chairs into that little room because my mom and dad and uncle and grandfather were there. I remember thinking 'oh geeze, this probably looks a little strange' but shortly after I remember thinking how blessed and fortunate I was that the people there by my side, my family, couldn't fit in the doctor's office.
After I had my lung removed it was the worst three months of my life. Recovering from that invasive of a surgery was by far the hardest thing I've ever had to do. But I remember my parents being right there every step of the way. I fell into a dark place during that time, convinced I would never feel better, but my parents were always there reassuring me that I would recover. Sometimes having to force me to eat because I just didn't have an appetite, ever. My parents single handedly (albeit with the help of other family members at time) nursed me back to health, both physically and mentally. I had been through so many surgeries that ultimately didn't take that I was running low on will and drive. But as they had done so many times throughout my life, they re-lit that fire inside of me and helped me get my mind right.
I met an amazing girl one day, quickly fell in love and a few years later I married her. I remember the first time she came with me to my check-up which typically involved some blood tests and a CT scan. Anyone on these monthly, quarterly or annual check-ups understands that this is a very anxious time. You essentially begin to live your life in segments; not knowing what the next segment will look like after you get the results. I could tell she was scared to death. We weren't married yet and I'm sure she had to be thinking, 'what did I get myself into?!', but she was there. Despite her fears, she was there. When I shared the positive results with her she cried in relief. It's quite a thing to be told you have cancer and start that journey, but it's a whole other level of courage to voluntarily join someone on that journey. High risk, but hopefully high reward too.
These are just a few memories that stick out and highlight how important my family was, and is, in my journey with cancer. We have been very blessed as I celebrated my 8th year of cancer free life this year. I sometimes wonder why I survived when so many do not. Maybe I'll never know for sure, but I try to live my life with purpose and use my journey to help others. I hope to write again and share other experiences, stories, laughs and tears, but for now I thought it was most important to write about the people in my life responsible for my survival. Yes, I had very talented doctors, surgeons, etc. who played an enormous role in my health today, but it was my family who was there everyday that I will be forever indebted to.
Thank you, Luke, for sharing your story and we look forward to having you post again in the future! For more personal stories like Luke's please review the Oncofertility Consortium Blog.