10.18.87: I stood in the birthing room of Rockville General Hospital mesmerized by
the in and out movement of the tongue of my newborn baby girl. Transfixed.
Transformed. Her eyes burned her way into my soul and shattered my
cocaine-induced haze accompanied by a forceful whisper “You are not alone”. I was
wildly strung out on cocaine at the time. I am here to tell you that I am not proud of
that moment. Never will be. But more than 26 years later, I am no longer ashamed.
That has made all the difference in the world.
Because of recovery, because of working a program one day at a time, I am no longer
ashamed. I am no longer a drain on society. I am a citizen that relishes his role as a
husband, enjoys being a father of five glorious children. I vote, pay my taxes, register
my insured vehicles, pay my bills, coach soccer, go on missions, get involved. I have
found my purpose in life, to carry the message of recovery wherever I go.
03.19.10: A beautiful spring day, one that’s memorable because it’s the first really
nice day of the year, one that will end up in the top five most beautiful Connecticut
days of 2010. I was driving aimlessly relishing the back roads of Ellington.
And I was doing my best to absorb the shock that I was just diagnosed with Stage 4
oropharyngeal cancer – cancer of the tongue.
Rewind a few weeks. I had gone to the doctor for some pesky swollen glands. They didn’t really hurt and I didn’t feel sick, so the physician’s assistant put me on antibiotics. Three weeks later I still had the swollen glands. This time, the doctor touched my neck and his eyes filled with concern. I was ushered off immediately for a chest x-ray and there was some relief when the test revealed no dark masses.
I was told to see a surgical oncologist immediately. This guy stabbed my swollen node with a needle, spattered the mess onto a slide and said, “Damn, I've got to stick him again!” He stuck me again.
On 03.19.10 I got the results. Cancer. No longer a huge surprise but there is something quite sobering about the official diagnosis. I went for a ride.
In the months that followed I endured two inpatient chemo stays, a feeding tube install that led to two other hospital stays, 39 radiation treatments with still more chemotherapy that left me emaciated, hairless and shaken. But cured. During the treatment, I struggled with the decision to begin narcotic medication for pain. I didn’t want to jeopardize my sobriety, but eventually the pain made the decision for me. Then I struggled some more by tapering off too quickly and shook apart from nerve damage, withdrawal and anxiety for several weeks.
Faith got me through. My wife, Sandy, got me through. My family, my co-workers, the "Valentine Battalion", the CCAR Board and the many, many prayers got me through. My recovery program got me through.
One day at a time.
Sometime during the healing, I felt called to do something extraordinary, something downright outlandish. At first, I tried to ignore the call, but it kept growing louder and I accepted it, dove into it, embraced it. I believe my higher power wanted me to attempt something memorable, to leave a legacy.
I was called to walk the Appalachian Trail, to attempt a thru-hike from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine. What’s funny about this is, I’m not much of a hiker. Or a camper. But I’m getting there. I started reading books written by people who have thru-hiked the AT, many books. I know a lot about the trail, what to expect, what type of gear to acquire. I’ve been getting my body ready, but I don’t think it’s possible to prepare totally for a journey of this kind.
I guess, “there’s not much to it, you just go do it.”
03.19.15: Exactly five years from the day I received the official diagnosis, I will step off the southern terminus located at Springer Mountain, GA and make my way north 2,185 miles. It should take approximately 5,000,000 steps up and down mountains for about 6 months. I will be walking to put a face on recovery and "to carry the recovery torch through the wilderness" if you like those kind of corny metaphors.
Please pray for me.