In May 2013, I had surgery to rid my body of that insidious monster we know as cancer. It was a particularly difficult time. I struggled to make sense of the irony of being diagnosed at the same age my dear mother was when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. My mother died at the age of 46 and I wondered if fate was mocking me. Instead of getting lost in self-pity and debilitating depression, I was determined to face this fear and rise stronger than ever.
In September 2013, during my first post surgery check in, my CT scan showed no evidence my cancer had spread. I felt great – until three months later, when a second CT scan revealed enlarged lymph nodes near the kidneys and pelvis. An intervention was necessary. My wife suggested I get a second opinion, which is when I found Clair Beard, MD, at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center (DF/BWCC). Her extensive research in the area of my cancer, along with her extreme confidence in the suggested treatment plan, led me to switch hospitals, a decision I count among the best in my life. She gave me the chance to consult with a chemotherapy oncologist and provided me with the information I needed to make informed treatment decisions.
We started radiation treatment on January 15. For 18 sessions, I was greeted with a smile by those I quickly dubbed the BLUE team. Being the positive person I am, I cheerfully entered the lab each morning with an enthusiastic, “Let’s do this TEAM BLUE!” The technicians laughed but the truth was that I was masking my fear. I needed to show the world that I was in control and would not let self-doubt overcome me. During the last few sessions, I decided to take pictures and short video clips of my experience. I wanted to connect with my deceased mom in a powerful way—by not forgetting our collective experience and imagining how hard this battle must have been for her.
As I reviewed my pictures and video clips, I was inspired to create my own iMovie trailer. I thought of the legendary phoenix being burned and rising from its own ashes, an apt image, as I felt run down and lethargic, but thrilled that my treatments were coming to an end. Being a full-time dad of a 3-year-old boy and 8-year-old girl, a full-time husband, and a full-time principal of a K-5 elementary school would require me to rise from the dead and get going. The video reminds me of my family at the Brigham and Dana-Farber (Go team BLUE!) and of maintaining a positive outlook in the face of adversity. It inspires me to persevere and I hope that sharing it will do the same for others.
View Gerardo’s video below: