Memorial Day Weekend this year had some significance for me. On Saturday, May 28, 2016, I turned 60. So what's so "big" about that, you wonder? Birthdays come and go and it is nothing more than adding another year to your life. In fact, there was a time in human history when reaching the age of 60 was a significant milestone, and it meant you were really getting old and retirement was just around the corner. Well, that isn't the case these days anymore. Now, 60 seems to be the time when you start thinking about thinking about getting old.Birthday Candles

Why do I need to write about my 60th birthday? Because I wasn't supposed to have one. My story begins six months after my 49th birthday. That is when I was diagnosed with an aggressive type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma called mantle-cell lymphoma (MCL). It was then I was told the life expectancy for a MCL patient was about three to five years. So, based on information from 2005, I'm not supposed to be here writing this note; I was expected to die between 2008 and 2010. But yet, here I am celebrating (and I mean CELEBRATING!) another birthday.

In a nutshell, my story echoes Winston Churchill when he said, "Never, never, never give up!" Oh, for sure, there were times when my emotions and my body gave out, but my resolve to live never gave in to the disease or the treatments. For what seemed like a never-ending nightmare, I endured numerous cycles of chemotherapy only to have that damned disease remain. It slowed at times, and even twice I was declared to be in remission, but the bastard continued to come back. It is one of the hallmarks of MCL; it likes to find strength to return.

During my battle against MCL, I developed a secondary type of cancer in my brain. That resulted in two brain surgeries in as many years and two-month regimen of brain radiation. It seemed, at times, as if those two cancers were fighting to see which one was going to keep me from having another birthday.

In my "Seven Steps of Persistent Perseverance," I outline the importance of remaining hopeful (Step #2). What kind of "hope" could there be when you are told you have three to five years to live?! What kind of hope could there be when you get a second type of cancer, and its prognosis isn't any better than the first?! What kind of hope can there be when each chemo cycle leaves you weak, drained and emotionally wrecked?! Perhaps that's the question you need to ask: Is there really any hope for me? Let me assure you — yes, there is!

I'm writing this note in 2016 completely and totally free of both cancers for two years now. There is no evidence of cancer in my body. No MCL and no brain cancer. Yes, the physical scars are still on my body from treatments and surgeries, but there is no evidence of cancer in my body! Here's the point: What was known about MCL in 2005 now seems light years away from what is known today. The treatment that brought me into permanent remission was a stem-cell transplant. That, in and of itself, was a battle unlike any other I had experienced in my battle against cancer. But it worked, and now my body recognizes cancer as cancer and kills it off.

Today, just a few days after my 60th birthday, I am well, I am happy, I am blessed with two granddaughters I wasn't supposed to meet, and I'm back into the career I had to give up for cancer treatments. I can't even begin to explain the joy in my heart when my oldest granddaughter, who is almost 4 years old, comes to my house and says, "Grandpa — let's run!" And then we start running through the house and having tons of fun. Her giggles and laughter can melt an iceberg.

What's my point? Never, never, give up! Yes, I fully appreciate the pain and suffering you go through as a patient or a caregiver. I fully appreciate those quiet moments in the waiting room when you are surrounded by other people in the same boat as you, and all you see are the faces of hopeless and helpless people. I fully appreciate those endless, sleepless nights when you wonder, when you cry, and when you collapse in fear. But please, never, never give up! Things in the cancer treatment world change by the minute.

As you fight (and you need to fight because this monster needs to die!), please know there are many people you don't know and you have never met who are working tirelessly to defeat this monster. There are also countless people who are praying daily for every single cancer patient. I know my prayers for all cancer patients join up with theirs and those prayers do reach the ears of our Lord.

What you are going through as a patient or a caregiver is hard. Hell, it's damn hard! But hold onto each other and comfort each other with a resolve that affirms you will never, never, give in. You may give out every now and then, but never give in to the disease and know there are unseen hands and prayers holding you up. For me, life now begins at 60, and you better believe I'm planning on a whole bunch of birthdays in the future. My friends, never, never give up.


Share Your Thoughts

Did you make it to a milestone that you never thought you'd see? How did you keep from giving up? Share your comments below.

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About the Author

Paul J. Lawonn has more than 37 years of industrial safety and leadership experience and has provided consulting to more than 100 companies. Prior to his cancer diagnosis in 2005, Paul led the safety function at Harley Davidson’s Milwaukee power train operations manufacturing plant. His last position with Harley was corporate safety manager for compliance and employee training. He was diagnosed in 2005 with mantle-cell lymphoma but waged a successful nine- year battle and is now cancer-?free. Paul’s priority now is on inspirational and motivational speaking, writing, and coaching. He is particularly fervent about donating his time to charities that finance and fuel cancer research and organizations that provide assistance to cancer patients and their families. He’s written a guide to fighting cancer that he calls “Seven Steps to Persistent Perseverance.” 

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Amy Stueckroth
on June 7, 2018 - 12:24 pm

Dear Paul, Your words are just what I needed to hear today when I read them. There are so many ups and downs with cancer! I have stayed strong in my faith, positive and hopeful through chemo and surgery. Recently though, I have been feeling a little discouraged as I face radiation and the news seems to be ever changing about the severity of my cancer.

You have helped to renew my hope and reminded me to keep the faith and stay positive! Thank you for your words of strength and encouragement!

I hope and pray you continue on a path of good health and enjoy many more years with those Grandkids!

Jack Henning
on June 7, 2018 - 12:24 pm

Paul:Have a blessed birthday and many more.Attitude and faith is the link that connects cancer with recovery.

Amy Koch
on June 7, 2018 - 12:24 pm

Thank you for this. I think I am pretty positive through my journey but stories like yours definitely help get me through those not-so-positive times. Happy belated birthday!

Beth Dowhen
on June 7, 2018 - 12:24 pm

Thank you for your joy-filled post. May you be blessed with many more bonus birthdays!