Moving Forward

I started Team Lou Pitchoun USA and subsequent blog in August 2013, in the wake of my first battle with the big C.

In any fight, if you don’t have something or someone to fight for, your chances to win and survive are slimmer.

In my personal journey, and as defined by the name Lou Pitchoun itself (it means the little boy in a French Southern dialect), my light at the end of the tunnel has always been my little boys, who were way too young to see their father die. All along, they have been the source of the mental and inner strength I needed to endure and survive the fight with cancer. They are the deeper and meaningful purpose of my life, and even today, five years after my second remission, when doubts settle in my mind along with fears for the future, I look at them, get myself together, and I know that no matter what, everything is going to be all right.

Along with my little boys, Team Lou Pitchoun has proven to be so much more than a fundraiser team. Throughout treatments and later throughout the unforeseen challenges of survivorship, this team has been the backbone of all my healing process. Doctors call it “support system”, I call it Team Lou Pitchoun USA.

At the head of this team, there has been one unique and very special person. I do believe that, without her, I wouldn’t be here today. From day one, she jumped right in, and faced this monster with the strength of a bull on steroids. She chose my oncologist, and she followed up with every single medical appointments, questioned every single medical decisions, reached out to her professional healthcare network for second opinions, stood by my side every single step of the way, held my hand when I was weak, kicked my butt when I needed to, gave me Love, comfort and confidence all the time, while working full time and over time to insure our bills would be paid when I couldn’t work, while raising our boys in such a way that cancer wouldn’t be their problem at all so they could still enjoy an innocent kid’s life filled with laughers and Love. As I wrote before, I don’t think she knew (nor did I) what she was in for when she said “I do”. Together, we have experienced so many storms and I am forever grateful for what she has done for me.

As a Navy veteran (and forever a sailor in my mind), the concept of a team has always been key to my life. Whether a crew, close family, friends or my team at work, nothing can be done without others. The dynamic of a group is very powerful and this is how it has also helped me through cancer. There is a very famous line from an even more famous movie, “Any Given Sunday”, that, I think, illustrates well the team spirit that has been leading me through my healing journey, and beyond that, through Life in general. In this inspirational speech, Al Pacino, head coach of a football team that is about to play a defining game, gets his guys pumped up with what it means to be a team:

“[…] and either we heal now, as a team, or we will die as individuals.”

The team behind Lou Pitchoun USA has been this very motivational force for the last seven years. At the helm, again, my wife, who steered the ship and her crew through the storms. Then family of course. My Mom first, during my initial chemo treatment, who flew from France and stayed with us for three months, until my first remission. Later, when I relapsed and I had to go through stem cells transplant, there was a time when we had family lined up and scheduled to be with us for about a month, so my wife would take care of the kids and the house, while family would take care of me. The whole process ended up working perfectly as designed and everything went so smooth that it really made a difference, I believe, in my treatment and its outcome.

Then come friends. You know, the type of friends who you can call at any time of the day or night, just to let it out. Or the type of friends who show up unannounced at your door with huge dishes of lasagna, you know, because when you go through chemo, even if lasagna doesn’t kill cancer, it will make you feel better. It’s guaranteed and proven! Or the type of friends that you meet at a support group, and when you tell your story for the first the time, they cry with you and after a big hug, you know it’s a friend for life. All these types of friends, who make a difference.

Team Lou Pitchoun USA, it’s all of that. An amazing team with extraordinary people who came together to make an impact. Thanks to them all, today, I am alive. And I am forever grateful for them.

Throughout this journey, Lou Pitchoun USA has also been a writing experience. It first started with a short blog that I thought I could use to keep my family and friends updated about my treatment and how I was doing, in a format different than the usual social media we have these days, and in a way that would give me more freedom in the content I could publish. Initially, I posted very short texts. As I was getting acquainted with the platform and as my healing journey was progressing, I started to write more, I added pictures, sometimes videos. Then something hit me: in this process, there was something that I was truly enjoying and that was making me feel better, and it was the writing part.

In any traumatic experience, it is essential to speak about it in order to process what’s happening or what happened. The idea is that, by letting things out, the mind gets a chance to release the pressure and the darker thoughts that keep resurfacing. This process doesn’t necessarily solve anything overnight, but by keeping doing it, it helps the mind find ease and peace, while putting the traumatic experience and related thoughts on the back burner. In other words, it helps make life more bearable and the traumatic experience more manageable.

Sharing my own experiences, feelings, fears but also good times through the format of a blog has become overtime my own way of letting things out. Writing became therapeutic for me, as for many others before me. Later during my healing journey, after my second remission, depression set in for awhile. I would wake up every morning and scared to death that cancer would come back again. I had obsessive thoughts all day long, every single day, and the only thing my brain could do was to try to prepare for this possibility of another relapse. At that point, I turned to writing even more. By focusing on a blank document on the computer, I would trick my mind to think about something else. For the time I was focused on the piece I was trying to write, my brain was no longer into this endless spinning mode and that was a priceless relieving feeling to me.

Other tools and activities have helped me in addition to writing. At one point I decided to see a counselor. Same process there: talking about what was wrong to ease the pressure. He too encouraged me to continue writing as a therapeutic tool. Support groups as well: sharing experiences with fellow patients and survivors led the path to rebuilding my self confidence, and more importantly, showed me that I was not alone in this and that I now had new friends. Finally, the last piece of this healing process has been going back on the water and being able to sail again, and find some sort of Peace thanks to the deep blue sea and the winds.

This summer 2019, I celebrated extensively my 5-year remission anniversary. Medically, after 5 years of remission, survivors are technically done, which means no more scans or medical follow up. Doctors say that after 5 years, you are cured. Because I relapsed once, and because my Mom relapsed of breast cancer 7 years after her remission, I know there is always a doubt. However, through my healing journey, I have also re-learned that like in anything else in life, there is always a doubt. You never know if you are going to wake up in the morning with the symptoms of a stroke and be paralyzed for the rest of your life, or get a heart attack, or get into a bad car accident, and so on. Regardless of these doubts and uncertainties, most of us keep going forward, no matter the storms. This is, I believe, what Life is about.

This is with this mindset that today I am writing these lines. I have no idea what the future holds for me, but I want to take the opportunity of my 5-year remission anniversary to keep moving forward. I still have lots of uncertainties in my life, and unfortunately most of them are currently medical related due to the side effects of all the treatments I have had over the years. But this is manageable. I strongly believe that it is important in Life to acknowledge milestones and get a sense of moving forward, despite all the doubts. Life will never be perfect anyway and we have to make the best of it.

So today I am celebrating one more time my 5-year remission and I am moving on to the next chapter. I want to set in stone through my words on this page and this blog that today a new chapter is starting. A new chapter for writing first. I want to write about other life experiences than my cancer journey. Of course it will always be part of me and I will keep writing about it, but this is no longer the only thing that defines me (The Lou Pitchoun USA blog is titled “Sailor, Father, Cancer, Survivor”). I also want to write more in my native language, French. My mother tongue… I want to write about other topics at heart to me: what it is like to immigrate to the U.S.A. out of the military and start a new life here, what it is like to live in the U.S.A. nowadays in such a divided society and crazy world, what it is like to work in corporate America while juggling the work/life balance in the midst of a midlife crisis… And again, writing will continue to be my therapy to better cope with Life in general. I also want to write more freely, maybe through a pseudo name and through a different platform. Lou Pitchoun USA website will remain up no matter what. That’s my baby of course. But I will take the next chapter of my writing adventures in a new format and platform. I hope I will get to see you there my friends.

Secondly, a new chapter for Team Lou Pitchoun USA. For the last seven years, we have gathered every October for the annual Light The Night walk to support the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), and ultimately to support the research for blood cancer, and to also help patients, survivors and their families. This year, we will still be there, downtown Norfolk, VA, on Saturday October 26th, to shine the lights bright and high to fight cancer, celebrate Life and remember those who passed away.

Moving forward, I think it is time to change the way we raise money. LLS offers many different fundraising programs, and as I was able this year to train for and then run a triathlon, also as part of my 5-year remission celebration summer, more sport-based fundraising efforts sound very appealing to me. And I know some close friends would jump right into this new projects with me. We still have time to refine our next fundraising format and time to train for it, but I think whatever new things 2020 will bring, it will be great!

Before closing this chapter, I want to acknowledge and honor the memory of fellow warriors and friends who are in Heaven now, and whom I shared meaningful and deep Life moments with.

Sam, father of two beautiful boys, who passed away a few months short of his 40th birthday. Kathy, who left behind her husband and her little boy who was still so young. Walking by this little man at her funeral, who didn’t really understand what was going on, was probably one of the most painful moment in my life. Sego, who fought leukemia twice, and finally found peace with our Good Lord on a beautiful afternoon of June, was also the mother of a wonderful little girl. Shericka too. She was a shipmate, so young, and mother of two amazing boys. Their memory lies with me, for ever.

And finally my dear Mother, who decided not to get conventional treatment when cancer came back after seven years in remission, but instead, chose to lead her own alternative therapies. She ultimately made the decision to live free, in a sense that she lived by what she deeply believed in, even if in the end this killed her. She lived free, and this is what matters the most, and this is how I try to live every day, through her example and her memory.

Freedom. Freedom to allow the darkest thoughts invade your mind and slowly kill you, or the freedom to stand up, and do something about it. Freedom to stay in bed all day as you feel sick, or freedom to try, again and again, to stand up and put one foot in front another, regardless of the pain, the nausea and the disease. Freedom to accept what you can’t change and freedom to do everything you can for what you can change. Freedom. I am choosing freedom. And I am choosing to move forward with Team Lou Pitchoun USA and my Life.

See you for the  next story.
Wherever it is.
And thank you for being part of this journey.

PS: Here is the video and the whole transcript of this famous speech from Al Pacino from the movie Any Given Sunday, along with the YouTube video.

I don’t know what to say really.
Three minutes
to the biggest battle of our professional lives
all comes down to today.
Either
we heal
as a team
or we are going to crumble.
Inch by inch
play by play
till we’re finished.
We are in hell right now, gentlemen
believe me
and
we can stay here
and get the shit kicked out of us
or
we can fight our way
back into the light.
We can climb out of hell.
One inch, at a time.
Now I can’t do it for you.
I’m too old.
I look around and I see these young faces
and I think
I mean
I made every wrong choice a middle age man could make.
I uh….
I pissed away all my money
believe it or not.
I chased off
anyone who has ever loved me.
And lately,
I can’t even stand the face I see in the mirror.
You know when you get old in life
things get taken from you.
That’s, that’s part of life.
But,
you only learn that when you start losing stuff.
You find out that life is just a game of inches.
So is football.
Because in either game
life or football
the margin for error is so small.
I mean
one half step too late or too early
you don’t quite make it.
One half second too slow or too fast
and you don’t quite catch it.
The inches we need are everywhere around us.
They are in ever break of the game
every minute, every second.
On this team, we fight for that inch
On this team, we tear ourselves, and everyone around us
to pieces for that inch.
We CLAW with our finger nails for that inch.
Cause we know
when we add up all those inches
that’s going to make the fucking difference
between WINNING and LOSING
between LIVING and DYING.
I’ll tell you this
in any fight
it is the guy who is willing to die
who is going to win that inch.
And I know
if I am going to have any life anymore
it is because, I am still willing to fight, and die for that inch
because that is what LIVING is.
The six inches in front of your face.
Now I can’t make you do it.
You gotta look at the guy next to you.
Look into his eyes.
Now I think you are going to see a guy who will go that inch with you.
You are going to see a guy
who will sacrifice himself for this team
because he knows when it comes down to it,
you are gonna do the same thing for him.
That’s a team, gentlemen
and either we heal now, as a team,
or we will die as individuals.
That’s football guys.
That’s all it is.
Now, whattaya gonna do?

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