SACO – When Ken Janson came to me and told me he had written a draft of a memoir that he hoped to publish about his experiences as a cancer fundraiser for 20 years and then as a cancer patient, I was especially intrigued about the focus of the book and his intended audience.
I remember telling him that he might be surprised by the way people would connect with his journey and the way he battled the disease that nearly took his life. At that time, his book was still a bit of a dream and he really wanted to see if he would be able to create something tangible and meaningful.
Now, fast forward almost 18 months. Ken and I have become close friends and his book is on the shelves at local bookstores and available online. He’s made it. He’s a published author.
Ken has had a chance to speak a few times as a writer and he has made some media appearances. After one such event, he came to me and shared the following story. It reminded me once again about the power stories have in our lives and how surprisingly connected we all are.
I dialed David’s number, having never met him after my brother said he would like to talk to me. David had just read my book about my journey with esophageal cancer.
The book, sent to David by my brother’s Florida golfing buddy, had been received and read in a couple of days, I was told. David’s text message to his friend relayed to me via my brother, said simply: Please ask Ken if we can talk.
The conversation flowed easily between us like we were long-lost, friends. Our experiences were similar despite the 15-year age difference. David, in South Carolina, is 80 and I, here in Maine, just turned 65 the prior month.
When David first answered the phone, I introduced myself. Since I knew he had read about my story, I decided I would talk less, listen more, and hear his story. David described that “we had followed parallel paths,” and as he spoke I could not argue with his assessment.
Swallowing difficulties mandated an upper endoscopy procedure, leading to the discovery of a cancerous tumor in the esophagus. Treatment included weeks of daily radiation, multiple chemotherapy infusions, followed by rest and, finally, surgery. Recovery included tube feeding–nothing could be consumed orally for weeks while healing took place.
Our thoracic surgeons, David’s in South Carolina, mine in Boston, had fashioned a new esophagus for each of us using what had been our respective stomachs. We were advised of two major lifestyle changes: small meals five or six times a day and sleeping at an incline. The lack of a stomach for storage space, and no longer having a sphincter back-flow valve, required these modifications.
“Not too bad, considering the alternative,” David said, echoing the exact sentiment I had felt when I learned of the life changes.
Then he spoke words that reinforced one of the messages I hoped to convey in my book, and did so with a simple anecdote:
“I ran a surveying business in Vermont and worked until the age of 75 before retiring to Myrtle Beach. Every day I cut brush, trudged through woods, lugged equipment, and did my work. I was in pretty good shape. When my doctors started discussing the rigors of cancer treatment and surgery, they said that usually a 79-year-old (at the time) might not be a good candidate. But given my otherwise good health, there was no hesitation.”
“Bingo. You just made my day,” I said.
I recalled my surgeon’s advice when he checked in on me during his first post-surgery visit: “Everything that ails you right now can be fixed by walking.”
Walking had been one of my daily passions prior to my diagnosis. Like David, I had been in pretty good shape before my illness. All through treatment I continued my daily walks. So, the nurses had me up doing a lap around the hospital corridor the first day after surgery. After that, walking as healing therapy was, again, a daily ritual, both in the hospital and later at home during my recovery process.
I mentioned the closing theme of my book: Know your body; feed your body; move your body. David agreed wholeheartedly, told me he is feeling great and like this so much that had just played a round of golf with friends.
We both thanked God for our families and support systems that got us through our journeys, and for all the medical advances, doctors, nurses, and technicians that wage a daily war against cancer. We both know we were lucky to be diagnosed early.
Before disconnecting, I told David that my wife and I get to the southern coast of North Carolina frequently to visit family.
“We are not that far away from Myrtle Beach, maybe we can get down there and meet in person.”
“That would be great, I would enjoy that,” David replied and we said goodbye.
I plan to make that trip happen. I would like to meet my long-lost friend.
See you on the roads and stay tuned – as always, if I think it’s interesting, I’ll write about it.
Thanks again for reading my stories and as always, you may purchase my novel, Homecoming: A Soldier’s Story of Loyalty, Courage, and Redemption at your local, independent bookstore or online: DavidArenstam.com, BrysonTaylorPublishing.com, or Amazon.com
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