Life and how to write one great song: My cancer journey

Life has a strange way of sneaking up on us. Laura finished her Masters in Social Work back in December. Laura had to do a full semester of an unpaid practicum at the Children’s Bureau. I carried her through her degree and so we agreed, I’d quit my job at the Rotary Club of Indianapolis to pursue the final semester of my degree.

We don’t know for sure when or where the symptoms started because given the past couple of semesters with Laura and I both subsequently out of a job for a period of time and a self-inflicted psychotic semester it would seem only natural that there would be a certain amount of stress, headaches, and exhaustion.

The week before Memorial Day, I felt like I had strep throat, scratchy itchy throat with an enlarged lymph node. We already had plans to spend the weekend with Laura’s family and I wanted to get checked out before we went in case I was contagious.  So we went to the local MedCheck/UrgentCare facility. The MedCheck doctor determined that my lymph node was a bit more enlarged than normal and ordered a CT scan and determined that I had a goiter. Odd, but, alright. I was told to follow up with my family doctor who scheduled an appointment for the next Friday and asked that I get an ultrasound done before the appointment.

We had a great weekend with Laura’s family. I couldn’t ask for better in-laws. We always have a great time, eating, drinking, playing games, it’s the perfect picture of how family should be and I love them for it. In fact, I wish we could go back to that weekend, play some more Dominion, drink a few more Blue Moons, and eat a few more chips and pretend none of this ever happened.

Laura and I left early to give us a little downtime before we started back to our normal routines on Tuesday. We had a good night together, on Tuesday, I had a scheduled interview and landed the job, I started that job the very next day too.

Tuesday night, however, I had a rather painful headache and took some medicine. We don’t know for certain that the medicine or anything I did that night exacerbated the situation. Within about 15 minutes of taking that pill, my neck swelled and I started having difficulty breathing and when I started talking with a higher pitch than Laura (it was quite amusing from my perspective) she made me go to the emergency room. They assumed it was an allergic reaction and sent me home for the night.

Wednesday morning, I went to an eye appointment and the ultrasound and off to work.  I wish that the ultrasound tech had made some sort of indication of what he’d seen while running his scan. I worked late that night to make up for missing part of my first morning, but hey, I was trying to make a good impression on my new employers.

The days after Wednesday really just blur for me. I tried to balance learning a new job, repeated tests, phone calls, appointments, etc. It’s all dizzying in my head. I just remember getting a phone call from a doctor to tell me that he was referring my case to an oncologist and that I should get a bag together because I was going to be admitted to the hospital very quickly. It ended up being Sunday before I was admitted due to a scary set of headaches involving loss of vision on the right side.

I’ve been in the hospital ever since. It’s been something like 3 weeks, I’ve been scanned, prodded, loaded with chemo and as I suffer through some of the worst feelings I’ve ever had in my life, I’ve also been given a chance to see my world in a whole new light.

Laura, as you may now know, means more to me than anything in this world. As I watch her cry, be terrified and suffer in the wake of this thing, my heart wretches in pain for her.  I will make it, I’m going to survive this, and we are good to go. I used to tell Laura that I had a deal with God to live forever. Now I get to remind Laura that having that deal doesn’t necessarily show all the things you can live through and grow beyond.

Laura’s maternal grandma used to have a comment about being aware of what to pray for was simply a matter of knowing how to pray without strings attached. A woman prayed that her son would come back to church only to have him arrive in a coffin. I liked the simple notion behind it. You cannot expect God to do all the work and then be mad at him because you made no effort to be specific with it to. You have to carefully guide and create the fortune behind you.

Because that’s what I have, a small fortune in family, a garden grove full of friends, and some of the best times you’ll ever have, all because of this little journey. I welcome the road.


  1. Greg Albright

    Don, this is wonderful writing – inspiring and beautiful. Please do know that your “garden grove” of friends are with you every step of the way.

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