Friday, December 22, 2023

Insight: A Christmas like no other

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

At the time I wasn’t sure if 1998 would be my final Christmas or not. Now with more than two and a half decades behind me in the rearview mirror, I can look back and reflect about how it was a pivotal time that changed my life forever.

It sure didn’t feel like it at the time, but Christmas 1998 marked the beginning of a new chapter for me and turned my world upside down and for the better.

I had spent most of that fall on the doctor merry-go-round trying to determine what was causing my dull and aggravating back pain for months, a slow weight loss, and weekends of uncontrolled vomiting even if I had nothing to eat. Each of the four physicians I had visited had no answers and they seemed at a loss as to why at age 45 I was experiencing these symptoms.

Then the fifth doctor I had an appointment with decided to send me for a chest x-ray and it provided some clarity. It revealed a spot on one of my lungs and that doctor suggested I see a surgeon immediately.

As I sat down with the surgeon, and he reviewed the x-rays and the results of a CAT scan I had taken, he turned ominously and told me “This could go two different ways. Either I’m going to save your life, or you need to start putting your affairs in order. We need to confirm what this is through surgery.”

He suspected I was suffering from a form of leukemia or lymphoma and scheduled my exploratory surgery for the day after Christmas. While others enjoyed the holidays that year, I was worried if I would make it to see another Christmas.

When I finally woke up from the surgery and in the first few days thereafter, I began to receive phone calls from friends, family and co-workers and couldn’t understand why suddenly I was the subject of so much attention. Finally, my surgeon met with me in my hospital room while my mother was there visiting. He told me he had good news and bad news. He said the bad news was I had a rare form of cancer and that he had told my mother right after the surgery that I had 90 days or less to live. I asked him what the good news was, and he said he had sent my results to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for a second opinion, and they believed a regimen of chemotherapy and follow-up surgery could be an effective treatment and restore my health.

He had made an appointment for me to meet with an oncologist and begin treatment as soon as possible. That launched six months of chemo where I had a port implanted in my chest and checked into the hospital every two weeks for rounds of platinum-based chemotherapy. My weight quickly dropped from 171 pounds to 100 pounds in a month. All my hair started to fall out and my friend shaved it off for me. I couldn’t eat as everything tasted like ballpoint pen ink. I also had trouble standing, let alone taking steps to walk anywhere.

I’d have the chemo for a week and then spend the next week trying to recover. I kept a bucket by my bedside into which I frequently threw up. Friends stopped coming by to visit for fear they might catch whatever it was I had. I’d have so little energy that I’d call it a day at 4:55 p.m. and head to bed.

But each time I’d go to the hospital for chemo, I’d lay there and imagine if I made it through this, what I wanted out of life. I wanted to return to meaningful newswriting after years of writing about sports in my career. I wanted to own my own home, put up outdoor Christmas decorations, and have a family of my own to share the holidays with. I asked God to give me a second chance at life and thought about how things would be different if I survived.

Six months of chemo and two operations later to remove small pockets of cancer in my chest, I returned home and went back to work. Within several years, my doctors told me I was completely cancer free. I met Nancy in 2004 and she came over for Christmas that year and never went home. We were married the next year, and I inherited three adult stepsons in the process. We bought our first home, then I became a section editor and started writing news stories again for the newspaper where I worked.

Eventually we moved to New Hampshire, where I served as the Editor-in-Chief of the daily newspaper in Laconia, then on to Biddeford where I was the Executive Editor of the daily newspaper there. I’ve been the Managing Editor of The Windham Eagle since May 2020 and my life has come full circle.

I thought of this last week when I was stringing up Christmas lights. No matter how bad your Christmas may be, there’s always someone going through sometime much worse. As long as we all have hope and dreams though, life is indeed worth living.

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