Persevering and Overcoming - A Story of a 30-Year Cancer Fight

by Glen Kirkpatrick

My life with my wife Debbie, and our three-year-old son Russell was wonderful before cancer. Our memory building times together included family dinners, the days we spent swimming in our pool, taking trips to the San Diego Zoo, and enjoying extended vacations. Leading up to my first cancer diagnosis I was serving as a police officer with the City of Manhattan Beach, California. My wife was working in the animal healthcare field.

Our Wedding Photo

I STOOD OUTSIDE IN THE POURING RAIN. As the water washed over me, I envisioned it cleansing me of the unwelcome enemy that had invaded my body. There I was, alone in my backyard, soaking wet, and weeping. I never remember crying before receiving the phone call that changed my life forever.

It was May of 1987, and for several weeks I had been experiencing profound fatigue. Then one day I noticed a lump on the right side of my neck while shaving. I made a doctor appointment, and blood work and diagnostic testing followed. Within a few short weeks, I underwent a surgical procedure, called a Stanford staging laparotomy. The results demonstrated I had stage 3a Hodgkin’s disease, now referred to as Hodgkin’s lymphoma . The cancer was deemed to be at stage 3a because it was found in nodes on both sides of my diaphragm. My treatment team prescribed radiation therapy, and after 50 sessions the disease went into remission.

In mid-1989, the Hodgkin’s lymphoma returned, and chemotherapy brought the cancer into remission that same year. In 1991, I was diagnosed with chronic lymphocyte leukemia (CLL), a secondary cancer. Back then there was no treatment regimen in the U.S. for CLL. Thus, I elected to have non-traditional treatment in Tijuana, Mexico. Five years passed before the cancer went into remission. Today the Hodgkin’s lymphoma and CLL remain in remission.

Fast forward to September 2011, when my cardiologist ordered me to stop working due to aortic and mitral valve stenosis. Because of shortness of breath, fatigue, and a high level of anxiety, I retired from my position with the district attorney’s office, two weeks later. From there it didn’t take me long to realize I needed help processing all I was feeling over my poor health, and unplanned-early retirement. So, I made an appointment with a therapist, who had in-turn diagnosed me with adjustment disorder, with mixed anxiety and depression. This news served to validate how I’d been feeling. Validation became an indispensable tool for my emotional healing.

The below quote spoke to the growing understanding I had that I would need to learn how to overcome the daily challenges of living with chronic illness.

“Fight on, my men,” says Sir Andrews Barton,
“I am hurt but I am not slain
I’ll lay me down and bleed awhile,
Then I’ll rise and fight again.”

Sir Andrew Barton (1466 – 1511),
High Admiral of the Kingdom of Scotland

The Four Of Us The Night Of Debbie's Baptism


The American Cancer Society (ACS) Cancer Treatment and Survivorship Facts & Figures report for 2014-2015, states nearly 14.5 million children and adults with a history of cancer were alive on January 1, 2014, in the United States. Sheryl M. Ness, R.N. of the Mayo Clinic, wrote, “In 1996, the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship pioneered the definition of a cancer survivor from the time of diagnosis until his or her death.” I had been on my cancer journey for more than twenty years before I ever called myself a survivor. I began to embrace the term in 2010 after I was diagnosed with a number of chronic health conditions found to be directly on or indirectly related to the radiation and chemotherapy treatment I had in the 1980’s.

The International Medical Journal Sciences reported at least fifty percent of cancer survivors suffer from late treatment-related side effects. These often include physical, psychosocial, cognitive and sexual abnormalities, as well as concerns regarding recurrence or the development of new malignancies. Many of the side effects are chronic in nature, and some are even life-threatening. Survivors also face issues involving lack of appropriate health maintenance counseling, increased unemployment rate, and workplace discrimination.

The late effects, and other chronic illnesses I live with now include:

In 1996, I was diagnosed with:
hypothyroidism

In 2010, I was diagnosed with:
• essential hypertension, mitral valve stenosis, aortic valve stenosis and regurgitation (in 2014, the aortic valve was replaced) aneurysm of the internal carotid artery, and sleep apnea

In 2011, I was diagnosed with:
• chronic asthmatic bronchitis, and atherosclerosis

In 2012, I was diagnosed with:
• coronary artery disease, chronic fatigue, and migraines

In 2013, I was diagnosed with:
• chronic kidney disease, and hearing loss

In 2015, I was diagnosed with:
• systolic congestive heart failure

In 2018, I was diagnosed with:
• periventricular lucency

Between 2011 and 2018, my mental health history has included adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depression; major depression major recurrent depression with anxiety; dysthymia (persistent mild depression); mood with depressive features due to the general medical condition.

With over thirty-years of survivorship, I’m still learning how to make the most of each day. The happiest days are the ones during which I live entirely in the now. I realize there are things I must do each day to help me survive or even thrive. Among the most important things that help me are my personal Bible study, pray, and Christian fellowship. The time I spend with Debbie, our children, and grandchildren is precious to me. Long walks in the neighborhood, and at the beach when I have the energy to take them, help refresh me and fulfill the need I have to remain physically active. Talking with my therapist, writing, and listening to music are also very beneficial.

My thirty-year cancer journey has taught me much including perseverance, and resilience. As well as the importance of finding joy in each day, and the significance of living in the moment.

I seem to recall that I learned of the WhatNext community from either an internet search or from or someone I knew who referred me. I enjoy connecting with other members of the group. I find it encouraging to interact with others at WhatNext who themselves are on their own unique cancer journey. It’s rewarding for me see that my posts/comments have the potential of helping others as they travel their own cancer journey.

Author Photo Debbie And I

Glen D. Kirkpatrick, Jr., and his wife, and co-survivor, Debbie, make their home in San Diego, California. They have three adult sons, Terrence, Trevor, and Russell; one daughter-in-law Carmen; a grandson named Zion, and a granddaughter named Isabel. Glen enjoys sharing what he’s learned about how to persevere in life, the importance of finding joy in each day, and the significance of living in the moment. Glen writes about faith, family, and overcoming obstacles. You can read Glen's full cancer journey on WhatNext here.

In March 2018, Glen and Debbie Kirkpatrick released their new book, “Overcome: A Story of Intervention, Rescue, and Redemption; Our Cancer Survivorship Journey.” www.overcomingdaily.com

Glen and Debbie can be reached at gdk5kirks@yahoo.com

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