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U-M CCC - Progress Newsletter Winter 2004 Online

Survivor's Viewpoint

Larry Aeilts,
Survivor Diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease
March, 2000

What went through your mind when you were diagnosed?

I came down with a cold before Thanksgiving in 1999, and felt a lump when rubbing my neck. I remember thinking right then, “you have cancer.” But it took months to get to a diagnosis. It was a long process of trying to rule out cancer. Actually, when I was finally diagnosed, I felt bad for my doctor. He's the same age as I am, and at the time, I think it frightened him more than me.

How has cancer changed your life?

One of the big things cancer changes is your relationships. It's amazing. It can add distance to some -- people take a step back, sometimes literally, almost as if they're afraid they”ll "catch it.” But for others, it takes distance away. I heard from friends I hadn't heard from in years, and we became closer. So all in all, I guess it balanced out.

What has the experience taught you?

To be informed, to have a sense of humor, to be patient, to let life”s "little details” roll off. The need to do the best we can with what we have and be open to the help of others. To have a frame of mind of success, and comfort, and peace. That's what makes you have a role in your own healing.

Any surprises along the way?

During treatment, I got involved in the Cancer Center's art therapy program. I'd never been interested in creating art before. The Voices Art Gallery meant so much to me. I felt a bond with the artists -- their experiences were like mine. Art let me express myself when words wouldn't do it. I've continued to develop that interest. It's great to have a "safety valve” for your ideas and emotions -- I'd encourage others to explore what works for them.

What advice would you give to someone who's just been diagnosed?

I don't think I'd give much advice -- I'd ask how they feel, and get them to look at those feelings. Being mad is understandable, but don't let it interfere with the healing process. I might suggest a couple of things that helped me along the way. I kept a journal -- everything, the serious and the silly. And I kept every encouraging thing people sent me pinned to a wall in my house -- cards, charms, stones, crosses, you name it. Both the journal and the wall gave me strength and comfort then, and still do today.

How do you define a "survivor”?

From the moment you're diagnosed, you're a survivor. Some parts of the journey are similar for all of us -- the poking, the prodding -- but what defines "surviving” is what you do in between those moments -- the attitude you choose, the feelings you face or deny, the degree you inform yourself. Those choices make each cancer journey different, and for me, truly define surviving. It's not about the length of time, but the quality.

 

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