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Life After Cancer: A Father’s Perspective

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Our battle is over, won. The weekly trips for chemotherapy have ended; the overnight bags are no longer packed. My wife and I have returned to work, myself, an 18-year military veteran, and she, a preschool teacher. Our 10-year-old son is also getting back to normal. Wait, normal, what is that? I long to feel the way I once felt…normal: complaining about afternoon baseball practice and cold dinners or getting mad over silly things. Normal.

Normal is such a foreign perspective these days. Our faith tested, our spirits broken and reborn day after day, minute after minute. One of the most common questions I get from friends, colleagues at work and even family is the age old, “Well aren’t you glad that it’s over?”  The truth could not be more bittersweet. The straight answer is “Yes,” of course I am glad that it is over.

The hidden feelings are that it will never truly be over.

Our son was diagnosed with osteosarcoma (bone cancer). It’s very rare and one of the few cancers in which they don’t diagnose the patient as being in remission. Instead, they use a term that I am not sure I will ever be ok with: No Evidence of Disease or NED on his post-scan reports.

I’m not sure that the anxiety of his 3-month scans will ever go away. After you have had the traumatic experience of watching a child lose their battle with cancer, a fear deep inside of you cannot be extinguished. It fades, distracted by the return of your normal schedule and fun things, but it remains and returns with a vengeance with every pass of the CT and bone scan and during the hum of the MRI machine. It’s tough!

I feel so fortunate to be where we are today. During the five months after my son’s limb salvage surgery, we had three more cycles of dinosaur-age chemotherapy to complete all while trying to keep up with fourth grade lessons and work. Trying to stay positive was tough. We prayed and stuck together, relying on our fellow cancer families for support. They understand. They understand the battles that most can’t comprehend and you bond immediately.

It’s truly special watching the kids build each other up in the clinic. We are finished with those days and we have many friends who are not. It’s a delicate balance that as a post-treatment family you learn to take day-by-day. I thank God with all of my heart for every morning I get to see my baby come down the stairs and tell me “Good Morning, Dad.” I never leave him without giving him a hug, a kiss and telling him “I love you.” We make every day special somehow and work hard to move forward and back onto the tracks of this amazing life. If I can offer advice to anyone going through the battle, it is to keep your faith close and never let your child see you give up. Every day there is a battle won, celebrate them!

Written by Shane Sprague

Shane is an active duty Chief Petty Officer in the United States Coast Guard and is from Charleston, SC. His wife, Holly, is a preschool teacher and is from Hertford, NC. Tanner was born in Galloway, NJ and grew up on the beaches of Puerto Rico. The family returned back to North Carolina 5 years ago. Shane is stationed at the base in Elizabeth City. They now live in Hertford where they enjoy sports and outdoors activities.

TeamTanner #NeverAlone

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