Kick mAss Thriver: Damian del Rio

In 1987, at age 15, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Five weeks of radiation therapy moved me into remission for 13 years. In 2001 my system relapsed for the 1st time. It was a huge surprise but after my treatment success in 1987 I was confident my system would quickly move into remission again. However, in 2003 I received bad news from my doctor when he called with news of the 2nd relapse. Given the seriousness of the situation I was treated with a toxic chemotherapy regimen and underwent a stem cell transplant. Although the process went smoothly my oncologist warned there was only about a 50% chance the treatment would work. I was frustrated with the prognosis but understood I needed to make some major decisions on how to spend my time given the uncertainty of my future. I left work in 2006 after the 3rd relapse and my oncologist was not optimistic about my prognosis. They searched for recent advancements in treatment, involved me in experimental trials and gave me more chemotherapy in 2008 to help with keeping tumors from growing too big during my 4th relapse.

As you might expect I was worried about my health but I was also exhausted from the process. I was in a violent battle with cancer but also dealing with divorce, relocation, the anxiety of falling behind in my career, adjusting to disability benefits and unfortunately having to sell my home. It was overwhelming. I wanted to keep busy but struggled with what to do as doctors were telling me my system was not responding to the treatment. Walking in circles, I’d ask myself where had I come from and how did I arrive here. Doctors told me to expect more treatment and not to return to work. I was stuck in neutral without responsibilities, commitments, goals or even a simple purpose. Stuck with nothing to do but wait caused confusion and aggravation I had never been exposed to.

In 2011 I reached out to the San Diego chapter of Stupid Cancer. It took me 10 years to ask for help but once I did I was quickly connected to a network of resources starting with the mAss Kickers Foundation. From there I met amazing people who were going through a similar experience and had so much to share. I learned of many organizations that were established to help people and their families being challenged by cancer. These groups include the LiveStrong Foundation, The Patient’s Advocacy Group, Imerman Angels and others. Within days I was connected to people who helped me emotionally, spiritually and practically. I found a healthcare counselor that assisted me in addressing medical billing and explained Medicare options. Imerman Angeles connected me with a peer mentor who had a similar story and some valuable advice.

I regret not having reached out for help earlier and now want to support Eric in his mission to help patient’s and their families fight stigma associated with cancer and change perceptions. mAss Kickers Foundation has done most of it’s work in the US but is branching out to places that don’t have a local chapter of Stupid Cancer. Susan G. Komen, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, American Cancer Society and so many other groups don’t have a strong presence outside the United States. For many cultures the stigma associated with cancer hinders communities in establishing support groups and unfortunately the resources they provide. mAss Kickers Foundation wants to help in changing peoples attitudes. Eric and I want everyone to know that cancer is not always death sentence. 

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