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Survivor Interview – John F.

John is a small cell carcinoma survivor. He discusses uncertainty of a recurrence, finding spirituality, and applying for Social Security Disability Insurance.

A bald middle aged gentleman is interviewed wearing a white sweater

I became a cancer survivor when I was diagnosed in 2004.

I thought I was having a stroke. I went to the emergency room, and they found out that there was a blockage on my heart. Within three days, they gave me a biopsy. That’s when they found out that I had cancer and what kind of cancer I had. The doctor said what I have is small cell carcinoma, and it is extremely aggressive. The cancer was in my lymph nodes. He told me flat out, “If this don’t work, you’ve got less than six months.” They didn’t guarantee that it was gonna work.

I was given chemotherapy all the way to the last week in January. They give you three weeks on, then they give you a week off, then they give you three more weeks. The chemo made me nauseous. I had some rough times with that stuff. That was brutal. But apparently, that was part of the healing process.

I don’t have the same amount of air as I used to have, but it’s coming back. I’ve always been extremely active. I’ve always been able to do whatever I wanted to do. I found out when I got this stuff, I could hardly walk up a flight of stairs. I’d have to stop in order to do it. I kept praying. I kept taking the therapy and everything else. It went away. Now my air is coming back. Maybe it’s because I quit smoking. That helps.

Fatigue. It takes a while to get your strength back. If I have chemo, which I used to have on Monday, it’d take me to Thursday before I would be functional. Sometimes I would be functional on Thursday, and I wouldn’t be functional on Friday. Whatever reason that was, I don’t know, but I would have this nausea so bad. It’d take all my strength. I’d spend half my life in the bathroom. As a matter of fact, I thought I was gonna move in a few times. It was that bad, because it would go through you one way or the other way.

You weren’t hungry. You were always bloated. It seemed like when you ate, it’d go right through you. Maybe you’d eat for two or three days, then you wouldn’t eat again for two or three more days. I lost 20 pounds. I don’t know if that’s standard. When people go through chemo, they have a different reaction to it. Some of the people that were going through it at the same time that I was had no problem with the nausea at all. I had a hell of a time with it. It zaps all your strength. It’s like you constantly have the flu. You know your body isn’t right. That’s why you have fatigue.

You live one day at a time, the best way you can. I don’t even think about recurrence. What is gonna be, is gonna be. The doctor says that it’s ten percent of the people that don’t come back. But with ninety percent of them it does, and he said it can come back in two weeks, in six months, ten years, five years. There’s no guarantee on any time. It’s an ongoing process. I’ve got to keep being checked all the time in order to nip it in the bud.

But I don’t even look at it as an uncertainty. I thank every day I’m alive because the way that I was going, I wasn’t living anyway. All I was doing was existing. I was just taking up air and space. I’ve come back to the realization again of what life means. There’s a fulfillment in it that hasn’t been there in years.

I was born and raised Catholic. I went to Catholic grammar school, Catholic high school, Catholic college, and then got the heck away from it. Things transpired in my life and took me away from it. For some reason, on that day when I quit drinking and quit smoking, that was His idea. It wasn’t mine. I went to this place called The Ministry of Challenge, which is a heck of an organization. It’s a drug rehabilitation center. They’re very much religious-oriented. When I got there, I started feeling different. It took me about three, four days. I started getting a peace that I hadn’t had. A contentment that I hadn’t had. A realization that there are certain things that I have control over, and there’s other things that I don’t have control over. Without Him, I couldn’t have done any of this. There is no way in the world.

I found God, so I wasn’t really scared when I was diagnosed. You would think you’d be terrified. I wasn’t really that scared. It was like what’s gonna be is what it’s gonna be. It’s in His hands. There ain’t nothing that I can do to change what already is anyway. I got to learn to live with it, do the best I can with it, and pray. That’s what I did.

I’m smoking now. I go through periods. I’m bored to death. I smoke four or five cigarettes in a day, then I won’t smoke. Then I get mad as hell at myself. Then I won’t smoke anything for two days. It’s because I’m sitting around, and I got all of this antsy time on my hands. If I was doing something with my time, I wouldn’t be doing that. But I do know that it’s not good for you. I did it for 42 years. Something’s got to give after 42 years. I started when I was 13 years old. That’s pretty young to be starting smoking.

I went and applied for Social Security. They approved me within two weeks, and nobody ever heard of that. Everybody that I ever talked to said it takes a minimum of five months unless you’re dead. But they approved me within two weeks. So you figure the odds of that. It’s got to be Him again taking care of me, protecting me. I get my pension when I’m 60 years old. I don’t get it ’til I’m 60. I got to do something in the meantime, can’t just waltz around, one place to another. It’s not a lot of money but at the same time, what the heck do you need if you don’t have any bills? Pay your rent. Watch a little TV. That’s it. Eat a little steak.

It’s been a hell of an experience. It shows you that you are vulnerable, when you think that you’re not vulnerable. Doesn’t matter how much money you have. Doesn’t matter where you live. Doesn’t matter what you’re doing. You are vulnerable. People get this stuff that never smoked. They’ve only been around people that have never been anywhere, but they still get it. There’s no rhyme or reason why people get it. They just get it.

Livestrong means doing the right thing and how you treat other people. I believe that you get along fine in this world if you treat people the way that you want to be treated yourself. You get along pretty well in this world. I’ve always felt that way.

My name is John Favel, and I’m a seven-month cancer survivor.

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