A new life

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By James Roberts


What did I do during my summer vacation? I got cancer!

Earlier this year, I was feeling kinda run down. I had a cold that just wouldn’t go away, a nagging fever and some swelling around my stomach that clearly wasn’t from Oreos.

In May, I finally went to the doctor. They drew some blood, did an x-ray, offered a few theories and sent me home until the results came in.

By that night, I was in Taylor Regional Hospital’s emergency room, where a doctor was telling me that I may have cancer.

The news didn’t phase me, but my wife, who was sitting by my side, lost control of her emotions. Seeing her cry hurt more than hearing I had cancer.

On May 13, while I was a patient at University of Louisville Hospital, we celebrated Mother’s Day with my mom and learned that I did indeed have cancer.

It’s called Chronic Myeloid Leukemia and, while not the worst form of cancer, it’s no walk in the park.

While I was still walking and talking, I did “black out” for about six days while the cancer cells were multiplying and quickly taking over my blood stream.

I remember laying down on the couch to take a nap. I woke up six days later at U of L Hospital, my second stay there. While I was only there three days the first time, I spent five weeks and four days there the second time.

My doctors tell me that when I came to U of L the second time, I was near death. I guess that explains the missing time.

But, chemotherapy pills did a number on the cancer cells, along with my hair and skin, and here I am. Alive and kinda well.

My form of cancer doesn’t require radiation or surgery. I have chemo pills that I take twice a day, every day.

They are keeping the bad cells in check until a bone marrow donor can be found. I’m told the bone marrow transplant will sideline me for likely six months, though it’s possible I could return to normal life in as little as three.

There’s also a chance it could kill me. But, then again, so could a piano falling from the sky. I’m not too worried about death. I was saved during my first stint at U of L and no matter what happens, I’m going to live forever.

After a more than three-month absence, I’ve finally returned to work here at the Central Kentucky News-Journal.

I can recall on those long, long stressful days having thoughts about how nice it would be to just be able to lay around watching TV or reading on a full-time basis. Having now done that, I can assure you that it’s thoroughly awful. Since day one, I’ve dreamed of returning to work.

I move a little slower these days. I suffer from what some call “chemo brain.” It’s a mixture of fatigue and

“Honey, have you seen my car keys?” You forget a lot of things. I have alarms on my phone that tell me when to take my medicine, some of which treats the bone and joint pain caused by the daily chemo pills. Some days are great, some days my legs are wracked with pain and walking is downright torture.

Abby, my wife, started this process as a crying mess. But somewhere in there, she found an inner strength that perhaps she didn’t know she had. She became the one who made decisions (before it was a partnership), who paid the bills and asked doctors the questions. She became my rock and I drew strength from her.

I’ve always loved her more than I could ever articulate. But now, that love is even stronger. I fight through the bad days for her. When I feel down, I think of her smile and her infectious, unique laugh. Or, even better, I say something stupid and make her laugh. There’s nothing like the real thing.

Two things have happened during my little sickness so far. I’ve realized just how much I love my life. And I let God into my heart. I suspect now, things will only get better.

In fact, everything is better these days. Food tastes better. The books I read carry more weight. Music I listen to hits me on a more profound level than before. The Bible, which confounded me when I was lost, makes perfect sense to me now.

I’ve also made a few new friends during the process, one of whom, Sonya, has CML also. We’ve swapped plenty of war stories. Being able to talk to someone who’s fighting the same illness as you does wonders for the soul.

I still have a long road ahead of me but I have Abby and God to carry me when I’m too weak to walk on my own. With them by my side, I’ll be just fine.

Editor’s note: After returning to work for one day last week, James Roberts has suffered a setback, and is again hospitalized and being treated at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn. Please continue to pray for James and his family.