Five Years: Looking Back on the Day that Changed My Life Forever

Five Years: Looking Back on the Day that Changed My Life Forever

Five Years

Five years ago, I had what was not even arguably the most difficult day of my life to date. September 11 of all days. We should have known just by that. For months prior to that day, I had been experiencing symptoms of something. Some swelling and discomfort. But not having insurance I just tried different things at home. Until it started getting worse. So the evening of September 10th 2012, we decided I would go up to the ER to be checked out. This is how the following day went.

8am: Wife takes my son up to drop him off at the primary school.

9am: We watch my daughter walk with her class down to head start.

9:10am: Get in the car to go to Abingdon.

9:50am: We arrive in Abingdon at the ER and check in.

10:37am: The doctor comes in to the exam room and does a physical examination. An ultrasound is ordered.

11:00am: I go to the ultrasound room. The tech does her thing and the whole time has a serious and disconcerting look on her face.

11:37am: I am ordered to have CT scan done. My wife leaves the hospital because it’s time to get my daughter from Head Start. She decides to go ahead and pick up our son as well, because we knew it was going to be a while before I would get out of there.

1:17pm: ER doc returns to my room. She sits down and asks where my wife is. “She had to go pick up the kids” I inform her.

1:19pm: After all the medical jargon is spit out she looks at me and says “Mr. Taylor, your ultrasound showed a large mass within the left testicle. The following CT confirmed multiple masses within the abdomen, the lymph nodes, and in your lungs. Mr. Taylor, I’m not on oncologist, but there is enough evidence to show it’s cancer. And it doesn’t look good. In my opinion, hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.”

That was five years ago now. Five long, tough, rocky years. So much has happened since the day that would forever change the course of my life story. Five years that went by in a flash, while at the same time seeming to have taken decades. Five years, and a whole lifetime of difference. I’ve watched myself bounce back from the toughest thing in my life. Watched my mother struggle with her own diagnosis, treatment, and life after cancer. Learned of my dad’s near brush with cancer. I watched countless online friends go through the struggles, and numerous ones that lost their lives during.

Five years have brought a world from the brink of prosperity to the brink of destruction. Lives from the bottom to the top, and from the top to rock bottom. So, what have the last five years held for me?

Back to school – In 2015 I entered a classroom for the first time in 13 years and began my journey to become a college graduate. I had dropped out of college before in 2001 and in 2002. In May of this year, with my wife and kids, mom and dad, and sister and niece in the crowd, I walked across the stage, Magna Cum Laude, and received my degree. 2 years of hard work both being a full-time dad, and a full-time student, combined with all the ins and outs of taking care of a house.

Starting over in the work force: I left my old job in 2012, just months ahead of my diagnosis. So five years had passed since the last time I had clocked in at a job. In July of this year, I began a new job, and a new path to an IT career. Landing with one of the better companies in town and have enjoyed (mostly) every moment of it. Nerves that almost had me sick to my stomach the first day have now gave way to forming friendships with those I work with, and finding my way into a new work family.

Dealing with demons: I write every now and then about mental illness and my own life living with it. It had been years since I had last acknowledged my demons. In 2014 I made the decision that to better myself and be better for those I share my life with, I would seek the help I needed to get back on track. I have no shame in the fact I take medicines daily, the fact that I off and on see a therapist. I do what I have to do for myself and my family.

The last five years have also brought around their fair share of struggles too. Not everything since February of 2013 has been completely peachy.

Outlasting the long lasting side-effects: Nobody told me how long the side-effects of treatment would last once it was over. Fatigue, stomach issues, neuropathy… It took many years to get back to my new normal and even feel like it wasn’t still something that was happening to me. Still to this day, I deal with many of the same side-effects. Of course, these things get better with time, but I can’t wait until it’s all over.

Balancing life and recovery: Life never slowed down for my cancer. The kids still had school, they needed dinner to be cooked. In the years following, there was not time for me to simply recover. They grew up, my wife worked, I had responsibilities to keep. Balancing it all was a major act of will-power and to this day remains so.

Five years can feel like a lifetime. They can feel like just yesterday. They can be the many stories of triumph and shortcoming. Five years can be the difference between where you are, and where you end up. Five years since my life changed forever. And in some ways, it is still changing my life. Except now, I get the option of how it does.




An Open Thank You Note to Those Who Saved My Life

An Open Thank You Note to Those Who Saved My Life

JMH Cancer Center

To those who saved my life:

How does thank you even begin to sound adequate at this point? Five years later I am on the verge of closing out one of the biggest chapters of my life. The chapter that started with Dr. Early in the Johnston Memorial Hospital emergency room saying these words to me:

Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

I’ll never, EVER forget that day. I mean, how could I? That was the day I was told I had cancer. And not just a little cancer, a LOT of cancer. Life threatening as long as I had waited to be seen. The next few months I would walk in and out of the doors of the cancer center, the ER, and a couple of rooms and the third floor during my inpatient stays. I would fight with treatment, fight infections, and fight unwieldy IV poles that just didn’t want to roll with me as I walked.

But my fight was not mine alone. Nothing about it was just mine. It took the prayers, good vibes, and well wishes of thousands across the country. It took my family making emergency trips from Columbia, SC to Abingdon on call to help out. It took friends coming over to help out at the house. And it took you. All of you, working together, doing your jobs.

To the nurses: My God if I could bake you all a million cookies I would. Between the long shifts, the grueling pain in your feet and legs, long nights, and rude patients. You are angels and saints of the medical world. Your dedication to your jobs, to your patients, and to the world around you showed in every greeting and every lighthearted conversation we had. You deserve much more than you will ever get in return for the hard work you put in to saving lives of people like me. I owe you a lifetime of gratitude.

To the staff of the JMH Cancer Center: You know, I will have to admit, that I’ve seen much more of you than I have cared to in the last five years. But here’s the thing, you’re not just “the cancer center”. You became friends and family to us. You took on a role in a job that I’m sure has more disappointments than joys at the end of the day, and you never let it get the best of you. Your caring, compassionate nature welcomed a scared 29 year old man, and you limped through it with me. Dr Davis, you became Dr. D, the hip, awesome tie wearing oncologist who walked us through treatment and survivorship with a calm gait, and welcoming handshake. The volunteers have lifted our spirits on so many occasions, and I can’t imagine having ever been in a better place during that time in 2012.

To the imaging technicians: I wish I could remember all of your names. Sadly though, it’s not the cancer, it’s just me being terrible at remembering people’s names. I cannot imagine what it’s like to do your job. To be the ones to sit there and not make an apparent note as to what is going on during scans and x-rays. To be the first people to realize that someone’s day is about to get dramatically worse, and still treat them with a smile and a laugh. You all have become a second family as well. And I know you don’t often remember me when I come in for my regulars now, but rest assured I remember all of you.

To all the countless faces that supported me during my toughest trials: Mom, Dad, Sis, Wife, Kids, Friends, Strangers… A remarkable thing happened during those trying months. I witnessed family literally drop what they are doing to be at my side. I watched my wife, the warrior of our family, take on so many roles she was never asked to in order to keep our lives going. I saw friends willingly give up their time to be a part of my battle in whatever ways they could be. I watched people I have never met send me cards and prayers, and wishes of health and luck. I’ve searched the internet and seen the mass amount of support that complete strangers threw behind me. All of you, even if I don’t know you, need to know my deepest thanks are going out to you. Because of you, there was never a time I felt alone.

As we get ready to mark 5 years since that day in September, I want to not only think about the hard times, but think about the literal thousands of people who helped me through it. To me, you are all heroes. Whether you wore scrubs, or a stethoscope, mopped the floors of my hospital room, or came by to just hang out during my downtime, you are all what made it possible.

And I thank you.


Johnny T (Cancer Free since Two Zero One Three)