To the first nurse on my cancer journey, thank you

Dear Bonnie,

You don’t know me, although we met once, two years ago today. (Well, it was two years ago today when I wrote this; due to some medical-related travel, it’s now two years and a week!) It was a lovely South Florida summer Sunday evening, the kind that makes us appreciate living in Fort Lauderdale. Unfortunately for you, you were stuck at work that night, in the Broward General ER. Fortunately for me, you were stuck at work that night, in the Broward General ER.

I am sure you get all kinds of craziness over the weekend at a hospital. When some young(ish) guy comes in complaining of spiking fevers and a bit of nausea, it’s probably pretty easy to attribute that to any number of external factors, run some routine tests, and send him on his way. I arrived late Sunday afternoon with some reading material and my laptop, ready for a once-over and prescription for whatever bug I caught. I certainly didn’t expect what happened next.

Rumor has it you insisted that Dr. Matt Ferenc take a closer look at the chest x-rays and blood work. It’s a damn good thing he did, too, because his words to me, still crystal clear 24 months later, turned out to be dishearteningly accurate: “With the scan results and your history of cancer, I think you may have a recurrence of your melanoma. I need to admit you to the hospital.” Melanoma had not only returned, it had spread – to my lungs, liver, spleen, and abdomen.

That evening began a two-year (and counting) journey to regain health, to find hope, and to stay strong.  Four weeks prior to our chance encounter, I had one of the three happiest days of my life just a few floors away, watching the birth of our little boy Tommy. A month later, our new family of four got a different type of delivery, news that brought tears of fear, sadness, and uncertainty instead of the newborn cries for comfort, love, and life. As one oncologist told us back then, he would be surprised if I were here in two years.

Well, it is two years, and not only am I here, but I feel great. While I am not out of the woods, and I leave for Houston tomorrow for surgery on one pesky tumor, overall my health has gotten much better since that initial diagnosis. I have watched my son go from infant to toddler to a little two-year-old man, complete with his father’s stubborn streak and mother’s adorable smile. I’ve seen my daughter grow into a beautiful little girl who headed off to her first day of Catholic school Monday morning (where HER stubborn streak will, I am sure, be adjusted accordingly). These twenty-four months haven’t always been easy, but they were life I may not have had if my progressing disease was not identified in time.

Thank you. Not for doing your job, but for doing it exceptionally well, at least in my case. There must be plenty of heartbreak that comes into an emergency room, so I hope one cautiously optimistic success story buoys you just a bit when you walk through the ER doors for “another day at the office.” For Jen, for Josie, for Tommy, and for me, thank you for the precious family time we’ve had the past two years. It’s a priceless gift that no “thank you” could ever adequately do justice. The difference you made in giving us that time, and hopefully much more of it to come, could never be overstated.

With gratitude and love,
T.J. Sharpe



T.J. Sharpe shares his fight against Stage 4 Melanoma in the Patient #1 blog. Read more »