Eight years ago I was still in my thirties and didn’t have cancer. I still had long, straight, hair that hung past my shoulders. It had very little gray in it.
Eight years ago I was dating this amazing woman, Carey, and had been for eight months. I was head over heels in love with her, and I was pretty sure she felt the same about me. She, and her daughter, had just moved in with me; and with my sons, we were a family of five.
Eight years ago all my children still lived at home. Matthew was in high school. Christopher was in middle school. Ashlee was in middle school. Matthew was sneaking my liquor out of the house to share with his friends. Christopher was writing phishing code to steal people’s passwords. Ashlee was straightening her hair and beginning to realize she loved cosmetology.
Eight years ago, my mom was still alive and chatting with me on that fateful day. Carey and I had a dinner date to celebrate a friend’s birthday. After a long day at work, we rushed the kids over to my mom’s house so we could be about the evening. I showered there to wash the stink of the day from my body while Carey touched up her makeup in the mirror.
I walked out of the bathroom. My mom was sitting in her customary spot at the kitchen counter. My brother was lurking somewhere in the room and his kids were streaming in and out of the house as we dressed.
Carey noticed my turned up shirt collar and brushed my hair out of the way to fix it.
“Hmmm,” she said.
I turned to her. “What?”
“You have a lump on your neck.”
I reached up, “A lump?”
Sure enough, on the left side of my neck was a squishy lump, about the size of a pair of golf balls. It didn’t hurt to the touch, but I could feel its distinct mixture of hardness and squishiness – a contradiction that made sense as I felt it.
“I have had a sore throat for a couple of weeks,” I said as I felt the lump. “But it wasn’t a bad one.”
Carey nodded, “It looks like a swollen lymph node.”
“Let me see,” said my mom from across the room.
I walked over to her, brushed my hair aside, and bared my neck at my mother. She felt it with gentle fingers, a worry line creasing her brow. She hated it when any of her children, or grandchildren, were sick.
“I don’t know, Ronnie,” she said. “I suppose it could be a swollen lymph node. But it’s bigger than any I have ever seen.”
When my mom got worried, I got worried. She’d seen her kids and grandkids suffer from broken bones, horrific illnesses, needles in the knees, and other childhood tragedies. It took a lot to worry her.
“If it doesn’t go away I’ll see a doctor,” I promised. I put on a brave face and smiled. Carey and I had a dinner to get to. Inwardly, I had warning bells going off in my head.
The lump was huge. And it had appeared out of nowhere. It was so large I was sure I would have noticed it had it popped up even a day earlier. This was strange, and frightening.
I sat through dinner, celebrating Premila’s birthday, eating fondue, and joking with the entire table. But those warning bells in my mind were almost drowning out the conversation. Carey knew it, and gave me concerned looks all through dinner. I felt bad causing her to worry for me during her friend’s party, so I waved her off with a wan smile.
The lump didn’t go away. I named it Lenny. Lenny the Lymph Node. Lenny scared me, and had to go. Two days later I was in a whirlwind tour of local Orlando doctor offices. Three days after that, my doctors uttered the words that changed my life forever; “Mr. Sparks, you have cancer.”
Eight years ago, on August 27th, cancer took over my life. And that of my family. We all fought. We all cried. None of us gave up or quit fighting. I had amazing doctors, nurses, and professional caregivers who used the cutting edge of science to find, and eliminate, my cancer.
Eight years ago, surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation ravaged my body. But I survived.
You can read my cancer journey, I blogged much of it, at BinaryBiker.com.
Eight years ago, I could not see a future for myself that stretched to this day. And now here I am. Alive. Unbowed. Unbeaten. My family is stronger. Our lives are more precious because we’ve seen how easy it is for that life to get threatened. We lost innocence, but we gained perspective and depth of love.
Eight years ago cancer tried to take my world. How fitting that today, exactly eight years later, I’m packing my bags with Carey – tomorrow we fly to Europe. I’m not done seeing this world just yet.
Thank you all for reading this ramble. I’m just happy to be here and ramble at you. Happy Eighth Cancerversary to me!