This past June, I celebrated 20 years of being a cancer survivor by throwing myself a party. It was an interesting experience because I learned that many of the 100 guests I invited were also cancer survivors or were family members of cancer survivors, and so we celebrated their lives as well. Our pastor led us in a prayer of gratitude, and I was glad we could acknowledge in a public way how fortunate we are.
I was 57 when I was diagnosed with low-grade non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), and although I was told the cancer was incurable, my oncologist assured me it was treatable. Except for missing a half-day of work when I had a biopsy of an enlarged lymph node in my groin that was discovered during a routine medical exam, I’ve been able to go about my life uninterrupted by the cancer or its treatment side effects.
It’s not that it wasn’t a shock to hear I had cancer—I had no symptoms of the disease and, therefore, wasn’t expecting to get such a life-threatening diagnosis—but as a person of faith, the prospect of death didn’t frighten me. Getting the diagnosis just gave me the privilege of an early warning, so I was able to prepare myself to die, if that was to be my fate, sooner than I might have expected.
As it turned out, the treatments I was prescribed, first-line therapy with chlorambucil (Leukeran), which kept me in remission for 6 years, and then two treatments with rituximab (Rituxan), which has kept me in remission for the past 14 years, have allowed me to have 2 more decades with my family and to continue the work I love—first, as an editor in a denominational publishing house, and currently, as a personal historian. I have no plans of retiring.
Living a Good Life
I know not everyone fares so well with this cancer. A friend of mine who was diagnosed with NHL soon after I was could not tolerate rituximab and died in 2000. Why I’ve done so well for so long is a mystery to me, but I’m using the time I’ve been given to be a better husband to my wife Mary—I think having cancer has been harder on her than on me—and a better father and grandfather, as well as a more productive citizen. I’ve also spent the time engaging in satisfying work that brings joy to the lives of the people that hire me to record and publish their personal histories.
Being Part of the Team
In addition to my faith and family, I’m sure I owe my continued good health to the two oncologists who have treated me over the past 20 years. From my initial diagnosis, I explained to my medical team that I wanted to be included in all treatment decisions and kept informed about my progress. It was important for me to be treated as a person and not just a name on a medical chart. Both my oncologists honored my requests and I consider them my friends.
I don’t know what the future will hold, but I have no regrets or fear. I just have gratitude for the life—and the time—I’ve been given. ■
Jim Taulman lives in Franklin, Tennessee.