When I was diagnosed and hospitalized with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), I received cards from many places. One card came from a new friend who told me I was beginning a journey.
One might think a cancer journey wouldn't be something to remember fondly, but I do have some really good memories associated with mine.
Remembering my first trip to MD Anderson
Flying to Houston for my AML treatment was not the exciting trip it had been just a month earlier when my wife and I went there for the birth of our grandson.
That too involved a hospital, but this was not the same. The weekend was ours before appointments began, and my two oldest boys made it one to remember. We spent the weekend with them, their wives and our three grandchildren.
We visited the children's museum, went to Mass together and ate pizza. I remember our grandson making a messy chocolate face with the dessert pizza.
My wife Sharon came to Houston in September. After two rounds of chemo, I was weak, but well enough go with her to College Station, where my daughter, Emily, attended school. I had not really seen her since the summer when we told her I was sick. The memory of seeing her across the parking lot and walking over to a warm embrace still brings tears to my eyes.
Celebrating the holidays during cancer treatment
After my stem cell transplant, I stayed in an apartment with my wife. I remember my uncle joking about it being a love nest. It was filled with good memories as Christmas awaited. We had just celebrated Thanksgiving with all five children, their spouses and children, and Sharon began decorating our temporary apartment for the holidays.
We had several Christmas celebrations that year, with my mom and sister flying in to visit about a week before Christmas. Other family members came throughout the holidays, and we celebrated Christmas with gift openings each time.
My wife and family were also lucky enough to celebrate the New Year together at my son's father's-in-law bonfire in nearby Sour Lake.
One of my tastiest memories included a visit to a nearby discount warehouse store a few times a week with Sharon. We walked the floor, me in my hospital mask, and then had lunch at the café, a hot dog and a soda. Food still did not taste that great, but for some reason that hot dog and soda did. That quickly became my favorite recovery meal.
We also made several trips to Galveston, where I got to see Christmas lights with Sharon and our two daughters. One time Sharon and I even spent the night at a hotel on the beach. Wind and cool temperatures did nothing to spoil our walks on the beach.
My wife could not stay as my caregiver for the entire time. When she left, my children took turns taking care of me. Toward the end of my stay, my mom and sister came to take care of me.
Growing closer to my family, thanks to cancer
As a result of my cancer and treatment, I got to grow closer to all of my family and spend time with them that I would have not been able to otherwise. All of those memories are a part of me now. They are something I'll always treasure.
My favorite memory was being told I could go home. A close friend and my daughter-in-law came over and helped us pack the car. Three hours after being told I could leave, I was on the road with my mom and sister in our little car. We made a stopover in San Antonio, where I paid a visit to a favorite aunt and uncle. And then we made the long drive up I-10 back home to El Paso, where my wife, youngest daughter and life after cancer were waiting.