Friday, August 29, 2014
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Finding a balance between life as a cancer patient and life as a husband, father

When I signed up to do this blog - and even before, when I was posting to Facebook - I wanted to keep a few things consistent, namely the blog should accurately reflect how I feel - the ups, the downs, the doubts and uncertainties, all of it.

Finding a balance between life as a cancer patient and life as a husband, father

Chad, Aimee and their daughter.
Chad, Aimee and their daughter.

The last few blog posts weren’t exactly full of positive energy.  When I signed up to do this blog – and even before, when I was posting to Facebook – I wanted to keep a few things consistent.  The blog should be relevant to what is going on in my treatment.  The blog should keep a conversational tone; the last thing anyone wants to read is a monologue on what my life is, so I have tried to keep this how I would talk and describe things to a friend on the phone or hanging out on our sofa.  And the blog should accurately reflect how I feel – the ups, the downs, the doubts and uncertainties, all of it.

The last week or two can generally be classified as “down”; aside from the disappointing TIL results, we just learned about one family friend’s battle with cancer that was lost, and another who is clinging to the hope of a miracle while his melanoma progressed severely enough that hospice is now involved.  Hearing of others’ setbacks has an immediate negative reaction in most cases, especially ones that hit so close to home.  The second feeling, though, is the one that usually overrides that negativity – more resolve.  Dammit, there are enough people struggling and losing this battle; I NEED to be the one who shows that cancer isn’t a death sentence.

Speaking of the battles of “strangers” - it’s funny how someone you never met can influence your life and how you handle things.  I have heard sentiments like that from some of you, and hope these posts have touched at least a handful of readers in some small way.  Not coincidentally, someone in a similar situation as mine had that effect on my battle and these entries.  

I mentioned Chad in a post a few weeks back, a Major in the US Army who served alongside my friend Sara’s husband.   Chad’s wife Aimee and Sara became close during deployments; after he and I were both diagnosed with our melanomas, she connected us through Facebook.  Long story somewhat short (it never really is a short story when I tell it), Chad’s melanoma progression has worsened as I have gone through the last six months of treatments.  A recent once-in-a-lifetime family trip to Hawaii ended with Chad in the ICE in Honolulu and nearly not making it home.  Jen and I have been following Chad through Aimee, who has befriended and supported both of us despite never having met Jen or I, and having to take care of a terminally ill husband and a beautiful little four-year-old girl. 

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Chad and Aimee’s trip ended the same weekend we got the “it doesn’t appear to have worked” diagnosis from Moffitt, and Jen and I both admitted this contributed to pushing us down a little bit lower.  It is very easy to project their situation onto our own; even if it isn’t an apples to apples comparison, hearing their setback certainly made both of us think “that could be us one day.”  The good news is that Chad is doing well and has rebounded somewhat, but his treatments have stopped and pain is being managed.  The better news is that they continue to make memories and live together as a family at home and share special moments.

So why, when starting this blog talking about the lack of positive energy, do I bring up a story that can universally be qualified as sad?  A couple of reasons jump out.  One, I wanted to briefly share their journey and how it has influenced our attitude and this blog – Aimee’s posts, both on Facebook and on her own personal blog, have sort of served as a guideline for how to deal with cancer with strength, humor, and grace.  Her descriptions of how “the Major” handles his struggles have increased that aforementioned resolve.  She and Jen have traded messages and encouragement.  At a point in their lives when time is most precious of all, they have taken some of theirs to help us use ours to its fullest.

The second reason is that you don’t always know how you are influencing lives by the way you live your own.  A lot of friends (and quite a few people I haven’t met yet) have reached out to tell me this story is inspiring them.  I didn’t voluntarily sign up for Stage 4 Melanoma to be a public advocate, but was lucky enough to have this forum and wanted to use it to help others, a goal from my first few days in the hospital.  I would not be able to battle this as much as I have done without the support of many, including those who barely or don’t even know me.  That kindness just makes me realize that I have an opportunity few get, to reach a wide audience and do something that can make them better people, and our world a better place. That influence is something I am thankful for, and something Chad and Aimee have unknowingly given us the last several months.  It is something I hope many of you take away from this. 

Finally, the last reason is to blatantly plagiarize Aimee’s blog – OK, not plagiarize; she gave me permission to share – and let you see how she and Chad cope with life today.  It helped me realize I need to return balance to our lives, and while the focus must remain on beating cancer, it cannot be EVERYTHING our lives are about.  I need – check that, WE need – to keep a good balance of physical, mental, and emotional well-being to truly be “healthy” (stay tuned for a more in-depth post on this soon).

From Aimee’s latest blog update:

He still loves talking about current affairs and the military. He is a history buff and is so knowledgeable about the Civil War. We aren't cancer experts. We aren't researchers. We don't sit around and talk cancer. Who wants to do that? It hurts me to think this is all people think of my husband now. A man with a horrible disease that may ultimately kill him. How awful must he feel to think that's all people will remember?

Last night he asked me "What have I really done with my life?" which tells me he is forgetting all of the ways he has touched peoples' lives. He is focusing on the cancer. This is not what anyone would want for themselves or their loved ones. So I beg of you, call, write, visit - PLEASE! We love you all and welcome you into our home. But PLEASE know there is a living, breathing soul here. He loves and lives and jokes and is still "W". Don't write him off. Don't focus on pity or despair. Remind him of the person he is. Remind me that you are as happy to have wonderful memories of him as I am.

Chad, you have done countless things with your career, life, and family – including showing the Sharpes how to hang tough as we face a similar battle.  You and Aimee have done a great job sharing your strength and love for your family.  Know that anyone who looks at this blog and my fight as inspirational is also viewing yours with the same admiration.  Those I influence here are reading about hope and survival partially because your story helped install those qualities early on in my battle.

Thanks Major.

T.J. Sharpe
About this blog
T.J. Sharpe is sharing his fight against Stage 4 Melanoma. A South Jersey native and Bishop Eustace graduate, he currently lives in Fort Lauderdale, FL with his wife Jennifer and children Josie and Tommy. He was Patient #1 in a clinical trial at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa as the first person worldwide to use this sequence of treatments to fight melanoma, and is currently in a second clinical trial at Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale receiving Merck’s anti-PD-1 drug Lambrolizumab

The Patient #1 blog will update the progress of T.J.'s fight against cancer, and also touch on many cancer-related topics.

Follow T.J. on Twitter and Facebook. Reach T.J. at Patient1@tjsharpe.com.

T.J. Sharpe
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