On August 28 from 3-10pm at Wisconsin Brewing Company Mandi and Adam are hosting an event called [CENSORED] Cancer. Join us for beer, live music, food, and community to celebrate life after cancer and support Gilda’s Club Madison. $20 suggested donation at the door. More details online at: https://censoredcancer.weebly.com/
“I’m grateful for you, cancer.” These are words that you just don’t often hear. Way more often it is F-cancer or fight cancer or beat cancer; as if it’s a battle to be won or lost.
Engrained deep in our lizard brains is a primal urge to fight or flee in the face of fear. For most of us, hearing the big 3, those three unforgettable words: “you have cancer” is like your worst phobia at 10,000 feet, smothered in pythons and crawling with tarantulas.
I heard the words on October 17, 2017. It was stage I pure seminoma, a type of testicular cancer. As soon as those words were uttered, it was a whirlwind. Within 48 hours of my diagnosis, I was groggily recovering from a radical left orchiectomy (for those who don’t speak medical jargon: removal of my left ball). Surgery went as smoothly as it could and I recovered quickly. The tumor was well-contained and my post-op CT scan was spotless – not a drop of cancer left. Emotionally, I chose to push my cancer diagnosis as far away from my conscious brain as possible. My body was different, but in my mind, I was free from cancer’s barbed hooks. Every three months I’d go back. I’d drink the fruit punch or lemonade flavored contrast. I’d fly through the scanner.
Every three months everything was fine.
Until it wasn’t.
Just over a year after I first heard those three words, in December of 2018, the cancer was back. And now worse: it had metastasized to my pelvis.
In that moment, I hated cancer. I wanted it gone. I was ready to fight.
They told me I needed chemotherapy. They told me it was going to be brutal.
They told me to prepare for nine weeks of the foulest chemo crush imaginable; for unmatched feelings of complete and utter wretchedness needed to cure this deadly disease.
They were right.
I was sicker than I have ever been. By the end of my chemo-chair sessions, I felt like a husky-shell of putrid-green emptiness looking for any way not to have to get into a moving vehicle. I couldn’t drive. I couldn’t be a doctor. I was too sick to be a great dad for our beautiful kids and I was too sick to be the partner Mandi deserved.
But then something amazing happened. I got my first glimpse of cancer’s gifts.
An entire community rallied around me. You brought me meals. You offered me rides. You came to my chemo sessions. You sent me packages and cards and hats for my balding head. Little pick-me-ups arrived arrived at my door or in my mailbox.
Most importantly, you took care of our children when I was too sick.
Everyone has been affected by cancer in some way. During those times, we need extra support. For me and Mandi and our family, the outpouring of support was incredible. Then we tapped into cancer’s best kept secret: Gilda’s Club Madison.
People kept telling us, “Go!”. I kept believing we didn’t need more support. We were fine. But we weren’t.
Then we finally went.
At my sickest and weakest point.
And wished that we’d gone way earlier.
We went to support groups and social events. We met people who were struggling on different but similar journeys. We laughed together; we cried together. Some of us went into remission. Some of us got sicker. Some of us died. We saw them. We saw their families. Despite the sadness, it was incredibly amazing. And Gilda’s was there every step of the way, helping people after they were slapped in the face by cancer. And Gilda’s will always be there. Even when no one else is.
Every service, every meal, every group: All. Free. Because of the support from our community, these services can happen. But we need your help!
In case you haven’t heard, I’m still cancer-free and loving remission! I still have follow up scans every few months. The lingering effects of chemotherapy have faded. I’m hitting my stride and have gotten back to my true passions.
Thinking back, the beginning of 2019 seems so surreal. I know I was there. I’ve see the pictures. But I wasn’t fully present. Between the brain-mushing chemo + debilitating nausea + bonus-brain-mushing anti-puking meds, it was impossible.
I rarely let myself go back to that place; I was there, but it didn’t feel like me. A hairless, weakened, nauseated Gepner on the outside, but the inside, the good stuff, the stuff that matters, the stuff that makes me, me had also started to melt away.
Thankfully though, the cancer melted too.
And I found a new favorite word: Remission.
Say it with me – “RE-mish-ON”.
And my good stuff came back.
Cancer will always walk beside me. Cancer will always be a part of me.
Cancer taught me to celebrate life. Cancer taught me to be ok with not being ok.
Cancer taught me to ask for help (Thanks Gilda’s!).
Cancer brought people into my life who I needed.
It helped me build relationships I will continue to cherish.
Cancer taught me to remember that not all of us are so lucky; that we should support our community when we can because sometimes those cancer cells divide too fast or don’t respond to treatment. Cancer taught me to stand up in the face of adversity. It showed me that I’m strong and that we all have the power to improve ourselves.
Cancer gave me perspective.
For these insights and my journey, I’m grateful for you, cancer.
Join Mandi and Adam for beer, food, live music, and community on August 28 from 3-10pm at Wisconsin Brewing Company. Our event is called [CENSORED] Cancer. Join us to celebrate life after cancer and support Gilda’s Club Madison. $20 suggested donation at the door. More details online at: https://censoredcancer.weebly.com/