(Author’s note: It’s a pleasure of my job on occasion to jump in and join middle school students while they “quick” write. On this fall distance learning day, the assignment asked students to consider a specific part of their lives. I chose my prized possession.)
My most prized possession isn’t even worth a penny anymore. It’s faded and dark along the edges of both sides as if it had been dipped in oil. My wife and I bought this heart-shaped pendant and long chain for me at a kiosk in West Towne Mall on June 20, 1997. One month before, we had learned she was pregnant with our first child, but this purchase wasn’t directly related to that. Our lives changed the day before when my health sank like a brick in a kiddie pool.
For a few months, I had already struggled with labored breathing, wobbly standing and severe fevers — but not at the same time. Until now. Doctors tossed out mono, diabetes and other illnesses before landing on the correct answer: I had cancer. At age 31! What the heck is that?! I had testicular cancer that already spread to my lungs. My cancer doctor — jeez, I had a cancer doctor! — said this was not good, but I could beat it. So, after the appointment, we went to the mall for an inspirational chain. We bought a pendant with a long chain. On one side, we had the worker write, “For us.” On the other side, we were certain of the inscription: “I will get better.”
It turns out that the smallest item provides the biggest boost. I wore the chain through 80 hours of chemotherapy, which puts poison in your whole body to kill bad cells. I wore the chain while X-rays showed trouble on my left lung. I wore it when my cancer doctor asked me to take a walk, and he explained that I needed surgery, major surgery, to stop the cancer spread on my left lung. He took me to meet two surgeons. Half of my left lung would be removed. If the mark on my lung was cancer spreading everywhere, I would face more relentless chemo and trial cures. I had already lost 20 pounds from a lanky frame, and I had no hair, sporting a bandanna.
Each day, without exception, I put my chain on. At cancer’s roughest times – and there were countless ones – I would look at the pendant as if it held magical powers. The sayings, “I will get better” and “For us,” became a mantra. “For us” meant to survive so I would continue to be a husband and soon would become a father. Doctors did not have the definite results until one week after my surgery. When we left our house to hear the results of the surgery, my wife and I discussed how to react to bad news.
I had my chain on, of course, in the big medical building when the surgeon walked in.
“Good news,” the surgeon said.
I dropped to my knees and cried with joy.
Cancer remission started. My son was born five weeks later.
It’s now almost 23 years later. Everyday, no matter what I do or where I go, I put the chain and pendant on. The “For us” has long worn off, but the pendant has a curve that allows the “I will get better” to remain able to be read. Doctors used tons of equipment on me to stop cancer. But I found the strongest medicine included a simple chain with a positive message. Wearing it today, I consider it as a tribute to other cancer patients, survivors or not. Ask me sometime: Are the chain and pendant really still around your neck? I’ll smile and hold out the heart-shaped pendant. You’ll really see these words: “I will get better.”