I didn’t think too much of it at first because I used to get cysts from time to time and thought it was another one. As it happened, I had a doctor’s appointment previously scheduled, and I mentioned the cyst to him as an afterthought. He wasn’t too concerned and gave me some antibiotics to calm it down. After it didn’t go away, he scheduled me for a CT scan.
Back then I used to be a doom-and-gloom kind of guy. I immediately thought the worst: cancer. When he called and told me that it was Stage 2 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, I was completely beside myself. I called my parents and bawled. I thought, “Is this the end?”
It wasn’t the end. I did chemo for four months, which wasn’t too bad because my body was strong and in shape, and radiation, which was miserable. It was a thousand times worse than strep throat.
When I found out I had cancer, I didn’t know anybody who had it except a childhood friend. Rather than keeping it bottled up, I broadcast the news to my friends and family. I wanted to talk about it because I needed support; I needed people to be with me through my journey.
All of my relationships were strengthened—people came out of the woodwork to support me through treatment. I still have people check in to see how I’m doing; it was all very positive.
My girlfriend—now my wife—offered the most amazing support of all from day one. And her patience was really put to the test through my treatments, which took their toll—physically, emotionally and mentally. We lived in separate apartments, but she was over at my place daily, making dinner, always making sure I was comfortable and had company. She was incredible; I had to marry her.
I used to be very pessimistic, but that’s completely changed. I am incredibly optimistic now and it’s because of my diagnosis. I figured if I could overcome this deadly disease, many more things are possible. To show you how far I’ve come, I’m a huge sports fan and I’m optimistic about a Cleveland team’s winning a championship!
My faith also shifted. I was never a very religious person, but during treatment and until shortly after, I went to church often and prayed daily that everything was going to be okay. Seven years ago, just before the end of one of those prayers, I got a call from my nurse on Christmas eve to tell me that my scan was clear. From that moment, I was a religious person. That let me go through a two-year period of questioning almost everything, including my spirituality, and I became comfortable with having doubt. My faith now is the strongest it’s ever been, even though I haven’t been to church in a while..
The strength and resilience that come with faith help me live life as fully as I can. I take on more at work—I don’t shy away from projects the way I used to. Much to my wife’s dismay, I love to tailgate at Browns games, something I never did in my 20s. Doing whatever the hell I want-to is now ingrained in me. Any more, I don’t even think about it’s being tied directly to cancer.
Michael is a seven-year survivor.