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Peg Cushman: Cancer diagnosis puts our lives in perspective

With tears in my eyes, I sat by my husband as the 6½ hours slowly passed. I became mesmerized by the rhythmic ticking of the machine as, drop by drop, the chemotherapy drugs entered his body.

I covered him up with a soft blanket when he became cold from the solutions. We heard the random background noises of TVs, telephones ringing, people talking, toilets flushing, doors opening and, occasionally, laughter.

Two wonderful ECMC oncology nurses were constantly on the move as machines beeped, alerting them to replace another bag. They were a reassuring presence, always upbeat and kind.

Every few hours, our two sons sent pictures of our cats to make us laugh, somehow sensing we desperately needed a distraction. Family and friends also sent encouraging emails and text messages to help us pass the time. They will never know how much that meant.

How could my husband possibly have cancer? We never suspected such a harsh diagnosis from the seemingly minor symptoms of swollen glands in his neck and a lesion that wouldn’t heal after two rounds of antibiotics.

We were referred to an amazing ear, nose and throat surgeon, whom we instantly felt comfortable with and put our complete trust in. He spent hours explaining everything, telling us what to expect and that it was not going to be an easy ride, but that he and his team would do everything possible to cure Mike. After going over several options, we agreed to a specific treatment plan.

We felt numb. Our emotions were all over the place, but we were determined to get through this for our sons, family, friends and each other. It was another hiccup in life that would challenge us, and we took it one day at a time.

Even though my husband worked through most of his treatments, the responsibility of our business fell on our sons, who handled every aspect professionally and with kindness. We will forever be grateful to them for all of their help and love, allowing us to focus 100 percent on the treatment.

A whirlwind of appointments began: blood work, PET scan, chest X-ray, biopsy, port surgically placed and three rounds of chemo every 21 days. Before my husband’s surgery, we were encouraged when we heard the great news that Jim Kelly was cancer-free.

The first few days after Mike’s surgery were tough, but he was tougher and powered through with very few complaints.

We learned the results of the pathology a week later, and while it was a great report, it wasn’t the one we had prayed for. One lymph node had been compromised, so the final phase would include surgically placing a PEG feeding tube and 33 radiation treatments to destroy any remaining cancer cells. Halfway through, side effects kicked in, but we could see the light at the end of a very long tunnel.

Cancer changed our lives. My husband joined the club no one wants to belong to. But with the help, love, support, prayers and many acts of kindness we received from family, friends and health care professionals, we remained optimistic and held it together.

This journey put our lives into perspective. We no longer sweat the small stuff, and appreciate every day. My husband is the strongest person I know. He faced cancer head on, always with a smile and positive attitude. I am incredibly proud of him.