Two years ago this week, I was laying in my hospital bed after undergoing surgery. I had gone in to remove a single, small mass on my small intestine. This was supposed to be an easy laparoscopic surgery with a quick recovery. However, when I woke up in the recovery room, I could tell it had been a much bigger surgery than anticipated.
As my eyes were just starting to open, I could tell that a nurse was standing next to me and I asked her, "That wasn't laparoscopic, was it?" She answered with a soft, "No, Mr. Douglas. It wasn't." I replied back with, "How big is my incision?" She said, "It's about a foot long." Under heavy sedation, I fell back asleep.
A short while later I arrived in my room with my family and a few friends waiting for me. As they set my bed in place, my wife was on my left. I rolled my head over and looked at her. She looked back and told me, "They removed 15 tumors from you today and they are pretty sure it is cancer." The next several minutes are a blur to me. I believe I just laid their silently for several minutes and pondered what I was about to go through. I know for certain though, there was no big reaction. No crying. I think it could best be described as a quiet determination and surprisingly, peace.
For you to understand how cancer might have saved my life though, we have to look at what my life was prior to that surgery.
I worked...a lot. I didn't take care of myself. I ate crap. I didn't exercise. I had blown up to just above 300 pounds. I would eat Tums all day long - sometimes 4-5 at a time just to try to relieve some of the heartburn and stress that was going on inside. I couldn't stand or walk for long before I was winded or my back and knees would be killing me. At the rate that I was going, a heart attack was a certainty at some point. My priorities at that time were wealth, success, recognition, advancing in my career, and I gave whatever left over time to my family. I was dying a slow but certain death. But then came cancer.
On August 24, 2011, my surgeon walked into my room and told me that my pathology reports had come back and that I did have cancer. He removed 15 cancerous tumors all from my small intestine in my previous surgery. Then he tells me, he missed one other and that I needed to have the same surgery again. I went home for a few days, had some other tests run, and then went back to the hospital to have my second surgery. It didn't go well. After removing another section of my small intestine, and trying to put the two open ends back together, it didn't seal. Only no one knew that for several days. I could tell that something was wrong as soon as I woke up. I had 104 fever for several days. The bed would shake non-stop because I was so cold. I didn't want visitors. I didn't want the lights on. I didn't want anyone to talk to me or touch me. I just wanted to lay there and be left alone in the dark.
I don't know if you have ever found yourself in a situation where you are living in a dark and painful place, but it shows you quickly who you are and what you are made of. I hurt so bad. I was dealing with this new diagnosis. It was just a dark, dark time for me. I was still fighting and confident that I was going to overcome this, but it was going to have to be my way and not with people telling me every little thing that I should be doing or thinking or acting. This was my battle to fight in the way that I needed to fight it.
Unbelievably, I was able to go home about a week after my second surgery. I hadn't had anything to eat or drink - only what the IVs had been pumping into me. When I got home, I still knew that something wasn't right. I still had fever. I still hurt badly. I was so very weak. My wife took me back to the surgeon's office and I told him what was going on. He had a small examination table in his office that I laid on. He opened up my incision as I was lying there...no pain killers, just opened me up. I could see my insides. He placed a lot of bandages inside the wound and then had me hold myself together. He then sent me to the hospital next door for a CT Scan. Moments after the scan ended, he was with me and told me that I would be having an urgent surgery right then. He informed me that I was septic because the small intestine never sealed and that my body had been leaking toxic fluids into my system for 9 days. I had to have surgery or I would die.
After having a friend rush my daughter to the hospital, kissing her and telling her that I love her, I was rolled into my 3rd surgery in 6 weeks. The leak was fixed and I felt better instantly, but it would still be a long road back to gaining my strength and appetite again.
I lost 80 pounds during this process....50 of that in 1 month. For months I couldn't walk from my bedroom to my living room. I went from XXXL clothes to XL. I had to buy all new clothes as everything just fell off of me.
Relay for Life is a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society and they were having their event a few blocks from my house. It had been 3-4 months now and I was able to get up and around some now, so I decided to go. My daughter put together a team to walk all night and had people pledge money for their accomplishments. As part of the opening ceremony, they have cancer survivors walk a victory lap. I wasn't sure if I could do it, but wanted to try. So I did. Then they have a caregiver's lap for those who have taken care of the cancer patient in their life. My wife walked that one and I walked another lap with her. Then I walked a 3rd lap. As my daughter was walking with me, I turned to her and said, "I want to see if I can run a lap." So, we ran a full lap together. Now, we didn't set any records. People walking were going faster than my "running," but it was a big accomplishment. Before the night ended, I had walked 6 miles. What a huge turnaround and accomplishment!
I started going to the track a few times a week after that and began running and walking more. My goal was that I would run a 5K before the end of 2012. On the week before Christmas, that goal was accomplished as I ran my first 5K. I ran another in June of 2013. I have another one scheduled next month to run in as well. I began coaching basketball for an AAU program of high school girls, my daughter is one of them. I am so incredibly active now compared to my life before cancer. Losing the weight through the battle with cancer gave me the opportunity to hit "reset" and start living an active life again. It saved my life!
On August 23, 2011 - my priorities were money, possessions, and prestige. On August 24, 2011, my priorities were faith, family and friends. Cancer changed my life and refocused me on the things that truly matter. It gave me the chance to live, to enjoy life, and to invest heavily into my family and friends. Did it suck to have cancer? Absolutely! I still battle remaining issues from my surgeries. I get sick 20-25 times per day, every day. It's not fun, but I am still in a better place today than I was before my diagnosis.
On May 1, 2012, I was declared "cancer free." I was fortunate to only have cancer for a short time compared to so many others who battle it for years. I've lost people very dear to me who battled it and it overcame them. At times I feel guilty that lived through it when others didn't. There is no pride or ego that goes along with defeating this disease, just humble thankfulness.