How my father-in-law’s response to his leukemia diagnosis inspired me
If you were faced with something bigger and scarier than you initially knew how to deal with, how would you handle it? Would you sit back and do nothing, because the challenge of addressing it seemed too overwhelming? Or, would you put up a fight and try to control the parts that you could?
When my father-in-law, John Nelson, was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) in February 2019, he chose the latter. And I am so proud of and inspired by him because of it.
Confronting a chronic lymphocytic leukemia diagnosis
I didn’t know this before John’s diagnosis, but treatment for CLL doesn’t always begin right away. That’s because a person’s symptoms, blood counts, and/or physical exams have to reach a certain threshold of severity or abnormality in order for them to really benefit from treatment. John hadn’t reached that point yet by the time he was diagnosed. So, leukemia specialist Dr. Prithviraj Bose recommended “watchful waiting.”
My father-in-law wanted to do everything he could to build up his strength before that happened. So, he started participating in various running events. To show our support, my husband, brother, sister-in-law, mother-in-law and I all started signing up to run races alongside him. We ran our first race together in September 2019, just seven months after John’s diagnosis.
Then my father-in-law surprised us: at Christmas, he announced that he’d begun training for a Half-Ironman competition in Florida. It was originally scheduled to take place in May 2020. We were stunned.
Scratching off bucket-list items despite a leukemia diagnosis and COVID-19
I’d known for a while that competing in an Ironman event was a bucket-list item for John. But to me, dealing with the combination of cancer and COVID-19 seemed like enough of a challenge for anyone.
Still, you can’t forgo all of your greatest desires and dreams due to fear. So, John kept up both his training schedule and his check-ups at MD Anderson – even when the event got cancelled and later rescheduled due to the pandemic. Once it finally took place on Nov. 7, 2020, he placed fourth among all the men in his age group, which I thought was fantastic.
I’ve always thought the world of my father-in-law. He raised an amazing son, and I love his go-getter spirit. But he inspires me even more now in the way that he chooses to live his life.
I know from personal experience that dealing with a fear of the unknown is hard. So is managing the constant worry that goes along with whatever news might be found out at your next appointment. But that’s life. We are not always meant to know our futures. Still, John doesn’t let that stop him. He just gets on with it and keeps going.
None of us knows when our clocks will stop ticking. But being able to choose how you want to live now, while you still can, is a beautiful thing. And I’d like to believe that watching John and the way he has handled himself has helped all of us to follow his lead, and make the most of our lives in each moment.