Life Lessons I Learned About Cancer from My Friend, Mr. Hodgkin


Last Friday morning I woke up and drove myself to Brighton Medical for an appointment whose results of could change my life forever. Positive or negative, the results will be a cornerstone in my life. If the results say there is no residual disease setting up camp in my body, then I get off the cancer club fan list and begin to live a normal life again. But if the results come back negative well, let’s not talk about that. No need to moisten any eyelids.

I am a 21-year-old man who has had a relationship with a cancer known as Hodgkin’s disease for the past year and a half. Our relationship is really “give and take.” You see, I give Mr. Hodgkin some chemo and he gives me some nausea. I help Mr. Hodgkin with a sweet radiating tan, and he helps me with some great scarring on my lungs. It’s really kinda neat.

Mr. Hodgkin is like one of those friends you never really asked over but comes over anyways.

According to my doctor, he and I go way back. In fact, from what I understand, some of my family were probably friends with him, too. Isn’t that neat? Someone who has lived with me for over a year probably also lived with my mother’s dad. Impressive.

I don’t think I will introduce my friend to any of my nephews though; Hodgkin can be a little overbearing. He probably means well, but he just doesn’t know when to leave. He is constantly filling my head with thoughts that keep me awake and my bed sheets moist with sweat. Soon he tells me I will have a decision to make.

When Mr. Hodgkin and I first began our relationship he told me I wasn’t the only person who he would befriend. He told me he would make sure  my girlfriend and all of my immediate family members were able to meet and appreciate him, too. I do believe if asked they would agree.

Mr. Hodgkin affected everyone who knows me in a different way. Some say he helped them realize the importance of living in the “now.” While others have told me Mr. Hodgkin taught them to appreciate everything they had. Still others say nothing at all. I am not sure if it is because Hodgkin was unable to teach them or because what they were taught they do not understand how to tell.

***

It’s funny, everywhere I go, somebody seems to either know Mr. Hodgkin personally or know of him. Usually we take a moment and reminisce about our experiences with our mutual friend, and eventually we part ways. I have learned by talking with others that Mr. Hodgkin has quite a few relatives and all of them seem to have the same personality trait: obnoxious.

I remember when I first met Mr. Hodgkin. It was quite an experience. All of my family asked about him. Everyone wanted to know what he was like and how long he would be hanging around with me. I never knew what to say because even my doctor couldn’t tell me for sure. Often I would tell them he made a decent friend and that I wasn’t sick of him at all.

Well, that was a lie. And I know lying isn’t good, but sometimes it is necessary.

I found if I told someone the truth about how I really did feel, often their reaction implied they didn’t really have time to listen, i.e. frequent glances to their wrist watch, quickly scanning the area for something else to focus on. Soon I realized some people don’t always want to know the truth, especially if it makes them uncomfortable. It is natural for people to inquire about Mr. Hodgkin but unnatural to actually be able to empathize with you.

Thus, I learned Mr. Hodgkin’s first lesson. Not everyone wants to know what he is like and how he treats you. Most people, it seems, wanted something they could gossip with their friends about, and usually if I told them Mr. Hodgkin was not a very nice person, it made running the halls of the rumor mill that much easier.

Another lesson Mr. Hodgkin taught me about life has to do with something very serious. Importance. Mr. Hodgkin taught me about things that are important. Moments, giggles and tickle tantrums all will begin have meaning, he told me. I found this hard to believe because those things happen every day. I would soon realize the wisdom in those words.

I remember the night I first met Mr. Hodgkin and how he stayed up all night long with me helping me realize how important my family and friends are. In fact, Mr. Hodgkin told me that fateful night that I had a choice to make: A) Give up and let him win. Thus resulting, ultimately, in my demise. Or, B) I could keep a positive attitude and do my best to appreciate all Hodgkin would teach me, but in the end I would show him to the door. That night I decided to choose B.

Later on that very same evening Mr. Hodgkin told me since we would be spending so much time together (at least six months) he would like to help me realize how sweet life is. How will he do that? He told me only future events would tell but for me to be ready and willing to accept the next few tougher lessons that did need to be taught. I told him I was ready for anything… always invincible.

***

The next lesson Mr. Hodgkin taught me took a long time to appreciate. That lesson is a tough one to explain. Even Mr. Hodgkin (who is obviously much older and wiser than I) took a long time explaining this one to me. What is it, you ask? Well, Mr. Hodgkin taught me when people care for you and find out you have some new, not so welcomed “friends” they may say some things they just don’t mean.

I remember when someone at my church told me everyone he knew who was involved with Hodgkin had lost weight, not ballooned up like I had. Boy, did Mr. Hodgkin and I have a talk that night. I told him I didn’t think it was very fair that he was making me gain all this extra weight. After all, I put on the weight because of him and all the extraordinary medicines my doctor made me take to keep him quiet. I went on to explain that I was beginning to get sick of having him around and I that wished he would leave.

Mr. Hodgkin was abnormally quiet that night, and I think he felt bad.

The final lesson Mr. Hodgkin taught me was that life has no guarantees. Not one of us is guaranteed to walk out the door and live to see our families or kiss our children goodnight, ever again. Mr. Hodgkin told me if I wanted to make a difference with my life then I better begin by beginning, not by thinking about it. He went on to tell me if I cared for anyone on this earth, then I’d better tell them every chance I get. He said people don’t know I love them unless I tell them.

At first this idea sounds ridiculous, but I soon realized he was right.

It’s been quite a while now since Mr. Hodgkin and I have spoken. I hope I didn’t make him mad. My doctor tells me the chances of him visiting me again are pretty slim and maybe later I might get a visit from one of his cousins. From what I hear, they are more serious, so I wonder what they will teach me? I also wonder if there is anything else to be learned? I’m certain Hodgkin would say yes.

Some don’t get a choice. What they do get is a friend like Mr. Hodgkin for life and the chance to share more knowledge than I ever will. Certainly the knowledge they gain you and I will never be able to grasp, knowledge that life is what it is. Beautiful, important, and never ever a sure thing.

Mr. Hodgkin, you told me when we began our relationship that I would eventually have a decision to make. “A” or “B,” it was up to me. So after many months of thinking I am exercising that right by choosing “B.” Please do not take my decision too personally, you have not offended me. I am simply choosing “B” because the lessons you shared need to be passed on.

Thanks to you, lives will be changed.

I hope you live a pleasantly secluded life cut off from all who don’t need you. Trust in me that I will teach your lessons for you. There is no need for you to recruit or befriend anyone else. So once again I thank you for your teachings and wisdom. With God’s grace, may I pass those on forever.

Mr. Hodgkin, I speak for some of us who have been touched by you and yours, we say thank you, but we can take it from here.

(Originally written in 2007 as a journal entry – one year after my final chemo treatment.)

This post originally appeared on Huffington Post.

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