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Jeremiah Colihan

 

Pennington, NJ; jjcolihan@comcast.net

1957 / Class of '04 / Tandem PBSCT, remission / Updated: 8/15

I was born in 1957 and was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma in December 2004. I am a Realtor. I enjoyed good health until I began to have hip pain in September, 2004. An X-ray, an MRI and a blood test confirmed the disease in early December and I was referred to Dr. Porter at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital. He prescribed Thalidomide and Dexamethasone and scheduled me for tandem autologous stem cell transplants. I tolerated the chemotherapy rather well, but I also experienced the usual side effects including feeling sedated, and feeling disoriented after crashing from Dexamethasone. My blood counts responded well within the first month.

The chemotherapy lasted through April, then my stem cells were harvested and I had my first transplant on June 2nd. I was released on the third day to go home and fight my private war. My counts fell as expected and I felt really crappy (this is a little known highly technical medical term with which you may be unfamiliar.) I got a fever and was readmitted for three days for antibiotics, but no problem. Then, around day 14, I woke up hungry and everything was on the upswing. After three weeks I felt fine and went back to work full time. I worked, played golf, went out to dinner, visited family and friends and vacationed in Maine -- life was good. The worst part of the whole ordeal was having a line in my chest, as it inhibits everything you do. The second time I got wise and insisted on a line in my arm.

I had my second transplant on September 19th with much the same results, readmission and all. The first time I participated in a trial for a drug to stop the effects of mucousitis--it worked like a charm, but was not available to me the second time around and I suffered with that for 10 days or so. In all I lost nearly 40 pounds and was down to 175, which made me feel great because I looked 28, not 48. Then I got smart and took my wife's advice and joined the gym. Now I feel AND look 28 again (okay, 38!), as I can bench press 200 pounds and leg press over 500 pounds. I'm back up to 190 pounds now, but it's all muscle, baby! In every dark cloud is a silver lining.

I feel absolutely fabulous and, to be expected, I have a new perspective on life. Everyone dies, that's not what matters. It's how you live that counts. I made a decision early on that when I get to the end of life, I want no regrets. I want to focus on the positive aspects of life, visit the people I love, do the things I enjoy and avoid anything burdening or unnecessary. Every day I wake up happy. I avoid people and situations that drag me down, I truly enjoy working and I was even able to reconnect with someone very special whom I have not seen 30 years. A wise man once told me that, as you get older, your world grows smaller and warmer--what a pleasant view of life.

Though I've done well, I do not suggest that your attitude can have an impact on the disease, but rather on the quality of your life and happiness. All we get is some level of health and a little time in life. I want to enjoy and appreciate the health I have, even if it's not perfect, and spend my time wisely.

I'm nobody special. My first wife of 19 years (my college sweetheart) had brain cancer at age 38 and died just shy of 43. Those were the most poignant years of my life, and I learned how to find happiness in the face of my greatest fears by following her example. Every day, sunny and pleasant or pouring rain, my wife woke up, smiled and said "It's a beautiful day", and her saying that made it so. Every day is a beautiful day. It's up to each of us to see it. As more and more of her life was restricted and taken away, she adjusted her needs and wants so that she could continue to enjoy all that remained. Even near the end there was so very much that remained.

Here's my recipe for happiness -- First, practice acceptance. Accept what life offers and takes away. Always be honest with yourself. Second, practice appreciation. No matter what you have or do not have, it's enough and has no real bearing on happiness. Last, pursue simplicity and enjoyment. Pursue the things you enjoy and live modestly. Those three lead directly to happiness and contentment in life, and that's what we're all searching for. It's kind of simple, really.

One last thought. It's necessary to live well in spite of your fear. That way nothing inhibits you from pursuing your happiness and enjoyment of life.

I just had a 90 day checkup and everything is perfect. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and we are flying to the Philippines for a three-week vacation... well-deserved, I think.

I wish you all good health and contentment in the new year.

October 6th, 2006: What a wonderful year itís been for me! I just had a one year check-up and bone marrow biopsy and everything is perfect. I have a great new job in commercial real estate that allows me to travel and meet new people every day. Iím diligent about keeping in top shape at the gym at least several days a week and mostly, I feel good and Iím content with my life.

My wife and I enjoyed our trip to our new home in the Philippines last year and we are going again this year after Christmas. Weíve played golf almost every weekend this past year (no kids, no responsibilities) and are enjoying every day the fullest.

I would like to acknowledge the dozens of people from around the world whoíve written me since I originally wrote my story. Some wrote to say thanks for the encouragement. Others wrote seeking advice on dealing with the emotional torment that comes with cancer. In every case Iíve been able to communicate with fine people, some just once, others repeatedlyÖand it has been an extremely satisfying experience for me.

There is one sad commonality in everyoneís storyÖfearÖfear of illness, fear of disability, fear of death. Some people are controlled by their fear.

Iíve given everyone who wrote me the same basic advice, and Iíd like to repeat it here.

First, Iíd offer an analogy. My wife Maureen is highly educated and intelligent, yet she speaks with disarming modesty and simplicity. She says we should strive to be as happy as we can and enjoy every day, because you never know when a coconut may fall on your head! This is Philippino wisdom, no doubt, but applicable to everyone.

In my words, there is nothing to fear. Having this diagnosis does not immediately end our lives, it allows us to reevaluate and reprioritize our time. Although we may be cancer patients, we can still be run over by a bus. In other words, there are many possibilities far worse than your current situation.

You cannot live well if you are constantly in fear. My advice is to acknowledge your fear and then do your best to ignore it, minute by minute, day by day. We should all be so fortunate to learn to accept our situation, appreciate our blessings and enjoy our time.

I wish you all continuing good health and happiness.

Oh yes, and look both ways before crossing the street!

January, 2009: Well, itís been just over three years since I had my tandem autologous transplants. I never thought my life would take such dramatic twists and turns and that I would end up with some incurable illness, but here I am. Having survived those trials and downturns I naturally developed a heightened sense of appreciation and contentment. My mind keeps returning to the analogy of dark clouds and silver linings. I am enjoying remission and my new path in life. Iíve gotten stronger and leaner and thank God, a bit older.

Iíd like to repeat the summary from an introductory speech I wrote for my local Rotary Chapter. It accurately describes my sentiments:

bulletThe quality of my life has risen dramatically since my diagnosis. Even the darkest clouds have silver linings.
bulletI believe in what the Dalai Lama said on happinessÖhe said we are all essentially searching for happiness, and deserve to find it.
bulletI believe in the power of encouragement.
bulletI believe that attitude is everything.
bulletI consider myself very fortunate in life.
bulletI have everything Iíve ever really wanted in life.
bulletIíve accomplished everything that is truly meaningful to me.
bulletI live in the present.
bulletI dream of the future.
bulletI wake up hopeful every day.
bulletI go to bed thankful every night.
bulletIím living a fine life.

If anyone wants to contact me with comments, questions or just to talk, Iíll be happy to hear from you. Thank you.

The Secret To Life

My name is Jeremiah Colihan.
I have a lot of experience in the challenges of living with cancer.
My Mom died of ovarian cancer when I was 18. I was the last person to hold her hand the night she passed away.
My mentor Lu Ping died of stomach cancer. Near the end of his life he asked me to pray for him. I still do.
My wife of 19 years Karen died of brain cancer. She faced constant and unimaginable fear, yet was happy and thankful every day of her life.
My Dad died of lung cancer just several months after diagnosis. Often the therapy is as overwhelming as the underlying disease.
My wife of 13 years Maureen died of lung cancer. She survived well for three years on sheer courage and strength.
I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2004. I am in remission and living a fine life. I was recently remarried to my wife Jean, a nurse from the Philippines. We live in St. Pete Beach, Florida. Jean is learning to drive and studying for her nursing board exam. I am walking the beach every morning with full awareness of my great fortune and blessings.

Receiving a cancer diagnosis changes your life meaningfully and permanently. It can be a difficult and overwhelming experience or a gateway to a more satisfying life. It depends on the person. The people best able to cope and adapt to this new reality share a unique similarity. They think in positive terms...about everything...

The person with the most influence over how your future develops is you.
It all depends on how you think.
Our thoughts guide our outlook, emotions, opinions and actions, and we are free to think any way we choose. In my experience the people who not only survive but thrive after a cancer diagnosis choose to think in positive terms.

Here are three simple ideas that can directly improve your life, regardless of your diagnosis.

Attitude Is Everything
A positive attitude is a prerequisite to a happy life. We choose each day how we view our world. We choose to be positive or negative, happy or sad, satisfied or wanting. The choices we make generally shape our lives and influence the lives of others. Our attitude is the only thing we can control and has the single greatest impact on the quality of our lives. We can choose to perpetuate our problems or create our own contentment. It is that simple and that profound. A positive attitude creates positive energy and a deep sense of appreciation and fulfillment.
Practice a positive attitude minute by minute, day by day and that will become your life.

Simple Is Better
Seize the opportunity to reassess, reprioritize and refocus your life. Identify the several things in your life that are central to your happiness, then get rid of everything that distracts you and focus on the important things. Minimize your possessions and obligations and eliminate negative relationships.
Simplify your life and spend your time wisely enjoying all your blessings.

Just Let Go
We are all active participants in most of the problems we encounter in life.
Anger, resentment, guilt and regret are the burdens we bear...and are all of our own creation. The more we focus on our problems, the greater they seem to become. The more we focus on our happiness, the deeper it becomes. Look upon your disappointments like water under a bridge...let them float away. Put down your bag full of burdens and walk away. Face your greatest fears and and do your best to dismiss them.
Just let go of all the unimportant matters and pursue the simple enjoyment of life.

If there is a secret to life, I think it is this... life is exactly as we choose to see it...

 

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