Mitchell T. Happeney
Mitchell T. Happeney

Processing a Cancer Diagnosis and an Open Letter
Monday, February 13
Just recently, I became a very proud second-generation Miami graduate. Eight years ago, I studied at Miami University, where both of my parents attended and graduated. One day, during my sophomore year, my parents called and told me to return to my hometown. My dad had been hospitalized, and they found that his kidneys were failing. When I received the call, I did not know the reason. My parents did not want to tell me over the phone. Prior to this visit to the hospital, my dad had never visited a doctor’s office in my lifetime. It was odd. So, I left Miami and traveled to my hometown. My dad is tough, I thought. The cause was probably just a bad virus. My dad probably just wanted me to return and take care of some things while he was hospitalized. I was wrong. That day, my dad was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. 

Over the years, I have observed three stages when processing a cancer diagnosis. Each member of my family has probably gone through at least one of these stages.
 
The first stage was what I call the “blur,” where I cannot remember many events after my dad’s diagnosis. It was a blur. In that blur, time passes quickly. Decisions were made that impacted the short and long-term health of my dad. My family’s emotions were up and down. We did not know how to respond. Even more, I cannot comprehend how my father processed the diagnosis. But he did and moved forward. For some of us, it took much longer to move forward. The year after the diagnosis, I do not remember much.
 
The second stage was the “pride and distraction” stage. After the first few months with my father’s diagnosis, I had a great deal of pride and sense of urgency. Some outsiders would call it anxiety. But, in general, my family has a strong work ethic, and it sometimes comes off that we are busy buddies. As proof, my parents are first generation college graduates, and they both have Ohio State University graduate degrees. They broke two new barriers that most do not. As most children, I wanted to prove I could break barriers as well. And more importantly, I wanted to demonstrate that I could break barriers to my father. So, I became an engineering student, joined and led two student organizations and a completed a year-long co-op during my last two years. To put it simply, I never said I couldn’t do something. I might not be the best, but I would compete. My pride motivated me. And, it was the only way I understood how to operate for many years. I convinced myself the outcome would be good if I persisted. In my mind, I could control my future. My pride distracted me from my dad’s treatment.

Left to right: mom, me, my sister, my brother, and my dad. 

The third stage is the “relapse” stage. In this stage, my father becomes very sick again. An attack on my father’s immune system could cause the cancer to go out of control. This stage is much like the “blur.” It’s difficult every time it happens but also a little different. In the blur stage, my mother and father supported us. In the relapse stage, we are actively supporting each other. Overall, we are a much stronger family.

Eight years have passed since my dad’s diagnosis. And, my father’s life is thriving. I was inspired to join the Mt. Kilimanjaro trek because my dad’s success story is a testament to great cancer research – multiple myleoma needs advocates.

Open letter
 
Dad,
 
When you were diagnosed with multiple myeloma, our family was fearful. We did not know how to respond. We felt like victims. Today is a different story.
 
Over the past eight years, I have seen you fight…every day. You do not complain. You do not talk about your pain. You are not defined by cancer. Prior to my Mt. Kilimanjaro trek cancer research campaign, I doubt many colleagues or friends even knew you had cancer.
 
I plan to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro for you, our family, and many other patients that need improved treatments. Our family has watched you and know you challenge yourself and your diagnosis every day. With your persistence and cancer treatments supported by research organizations such as the MMRF, your life is thriving today.

2013 motorcycle trip to Mt. Denali

2013 motorcycle trip to Mt. Denali

Over my entire life, I have watched you. Since I was very young, I remember you working hard…all the time. Not some of the time but all of it. Whether it was driving to Florida to break your own personal speeding record or riding our motorcycles to Alaska, you have always been my role model and hero. Today, that has not changed.
 
To quote the late Stuart Scott, "When you die, that does not mean you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live and the manner in which you live."
 
I love you beyond measure.
 
Love,
Your son, Mitchell
 
Sources:
National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health, “A Snapshot of Myeloma,” March 22, 2013, https://www.cancer.gov/research/progress/snapshots/myeloma.
 
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