Fighting Terminal Cancer with Positivity

My name is Richard Erdmann. I am a husband, father, retired elementary principal and, more recently, a terminally ill cancer patient.

It was in early August 2019 that I got my most recent personal identifier: cancer patient. That was the month that changed my and my family’s life path forever. What started as a simple appointment to determine the cause of my persistent heartburn symptoms turned into a life altering discovery that has led me on this new journey called cancer treatment.

After weeks of whirlwind appointments, tests, exams and procedures, my hopes of beating this disease took a major blow when three weeks later, my oncologist explained to me and my wife Michelle that I had stage 4 Esophageal Cancer. He told us that I had between three months to a year to live. He told us to start planning and preparing, to get my affairs in order.

Devastation. Doubt. Denial. Shock. And then tears.

These were our first emotions after hearing this devastating news. How could this be happening? I was, up until that point, a healthy 55 year old male who was just starting to enjoy the benefits of my retirement. Why was this happening to me? Why was this happening to us? Why now?

 

Staying Positive

Once you hear the words, “You have terminal cancer”, you really can’t think or focus on anything else. It completely consumes your thoughts and emotions. It quickly hijacks most of your waking hours. Your daily life quickly fills up with more appointments, tests, procedures and decisions on treatment. You spend the rest of your time thinking about what could have been. What important milestones will I miss?

Your mind keeps racing and you can’t help but allow negative thoughts and despair slowly creeps into your consciousness. You can feel defeated. You can feel helpless. You can feel hopelessness. It’s like the ground you are standing on suddenly opens up like a massive sinkhole and starts sucking you in. I could have easily spiralled into self pity and despair. Instead I chose to remain positive. I chose to claw myself up out of the sinkhole to stay positive for my family and for myself. Whatever the amount of time that I have left, I want to live it with as much joy and laughter as I can, surrounded by those that I love the most. I decided that I want to spread positivity!

Upon hearing the news of my diagnosis, many of my friends, colleagues and others were asking how I was doing, how I was feeling. It was great to have so many thoughtful questions, comments and genuine concerns expressed. It was most heartwarming but it soon became a bit overwhelming.

After careful reflection, and a suggestion from a colleague of mine, I decided that I would write a blog on my personal cancer journey. I had never really considered myself a writer and wasn’t really sure that it would serve its intended purposes. The blog was intended to keep my extended family, friends and acquaintances up to date on my cancer journey and secondly, it would hopefully allow me to express on paper some of my thoughts, feelings and emotions during my cancer journey. Some self-therapy! Finally, I hoped that it would give me the opportunity to share positivity and hopefulness despite my current situation.

One thing I have learned from starting this blog is that cancer touches most of us in different ways. I have had a number of people respond and share with me their own personal cancer journey. It seemed to resonate with so many of my readers. Some told stories of family members or close friends who are currently going through cancer treatment, are cancer survivors, or who lost their battle with cancer. Each of their experiences were unique but all had a common theme of struggle, support and love. Some of the stories were inspiring and hopeful, while others reminded us that, often, cancer doesn’t have a happy ending. I have found that the blog posts that touched on relationships, emotions and positivity were some of the most read and commented.

Cancer touches our heart and soul and provides us with examples of both triumph and tragedy.

I purposely choose to focus my blog on the positive. At the same time, I wanted to expose the real emotional tug of war that plays out in your head and heart. I do have moments of defeat, worry, anxiety and even depression. I do. I try to quickly pull myself out of these negative thoughts, as they are not helpful and don’t change my reality. I have had my pity party. I have tried to tuck it away and move on.

Emotional moments are not exclusive to me as I can see first hand the impact of my cancer treatments and prognosis has had, and is having, on my wife and children. It is so important to acknowledge and support them during this journey. Although they are not experiencing the physical symptoms of the disease, they are definitely dealing with the emotional aspects just as much as I am, or perhaps even more so. Each member of my family is dealing with this journey in their own personal way. From denial, to avoidance, to struggling, to maintain a work focus, to moments of melancholy, back to resilience and hope – all of us have emotions that are on a wild roller coaster ride.

I wish my family didn’t have this burden on their shoulders. Why do they have to deal with this? It doesn’t seem fair. We try to put on a brave face but behind the scenes it can be difficult. We know the facts of my cancer. We know that all of these treatments and therapies are to extend my life, not cure it. I can’t imagine dealing with this disease without my family. I love them all so dearly. Each of them gives me the strength and inspiration to continue to fight on! Really, we have no choice but to deal with this. I’m glad and thankful that I have my family by my side throughout this battle.

There are moments when you forget, even for a few minutes, that you have cancer. I cherish these moments. Sometimes they are brief, only lasting a minute or two. Other times they last for longer periods of time. These moments allow me to dream again, to focus on others, to smile, laugh, and to get back to my old life. Life goes on. It must go on. I am now six months into my cancer journey. I have completed my radiation, my chemotherapy and am now on maintenance therapy. My oncologist has been pleasantly surprised with my continued progress. I give credit to my family, friends, my medical team and my positive attitude for keeping me going.

I am hopeful that it will stay that way for a long time!

We are all Unsinkable if we stay positive. Stay positive everyone!