Jason's Story: Hope After Colorectal Cancer

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Gorska FamilyA father of two, Jason Gorska, pictured left with his family, shares how he found hope in the midst of a life-threatening illness.
My diagnosis of cancer, like so many others, changed the world as I knew it.
I had just been through an emotional and physical life change six weeks earlier when my son Nathan was born. Being a new father and newly diagnosed with cancer brought many challenges, but I found that being a father gave me a new strength that I was able to use to help me in my fight against my cancer.
An Uncertain Present

Upon learning I was diagnosed with colorectal cancer, I experienced a wide range of emotions. At first, I felt the shock, fear and uncertainty associated with a life-threatening illness. These feelings were in sharp contrast with those I had recently experienced during the birth of my son.
When he was born, there was joy, happiness, and a sense of yearning to "learn the ropes" of being a dad. With the cancer diagnosis, I went from focusing on the future, and my dreams and goals of being a father, to an intense focus on the present: survival.
An Emotional Rollercoaster: New Father, New Cancer Patient

It was quite the emotional rollercoaster, but almost right away I began to draw on my new role as a father to give me courage and strength to fight my illness. I remember rocking Nathan to sleep one night shortly after my diagnosis and thinking, "I'm going to beat this because I want you to know who I am."
Not long after that I was by myself, holding him outside on our deck, and starting to think about all the things I wanted to show him and teach him. I thought about showing him the outdoors, teaching him to ride his bike, and helping him with his homework. And every night, I began to pray that I would be here to watch him grow to be a toddler, a teenager, a young adult and, ultimately, a father. I began to focus on the future again, which gave me hope.

A Perfect Distraction
It really is amazing how one can be so concerned about his own survival, but at the same time still have more concern for those that you love.
Nate was the "perfect distraction" for me during my treatment and recovery: along with my wife, I needed to be there for him to change his diapers, feed him breakfast, play with him, and give him the love a baby needs.
This gave me a chance to clear my mind and to focus on something outside of myself, which was very important for me as so many people were concerned as to how I was doing.
We also tried to push forward with "life as usual" by going on outings as a new family. Between my weekly chemotherapy treatments, we went out to our first family dinner at a restaurant, we took Nathan to a pumpkin farm, we went on our first family camping trip to Warren Dunes in Michigan, and we even went on a flight to Denver, Colorado to visit relatives.
Jason Gorska and Son Climb the Dunes

Jason and son climb the "Tower Hill Dune"

Cancer Still Influences Life, Even After Treatment

Even though I no longer require treatment, cancer still heavily influences my role as a father.
From a practical point of view, I have received a lot more hands-on fatherhood experience I otherwise might not have had. Since I was not working much while I was going through treatment, I was afforded time with my newborn that a lot of fathers don’t get. This allowed me to really get to know my son, as well as to get really good at changing a diaper, packing a diaper bag, and building Lego towers!
Fighting cancer, and marking my progress, has also given me moments of inspiration with my kids. For example, on a recent return trip to Warren Dunes, I was able to climb the "Tower Hill Dune," which is over 200 feet tall, with Nathan on my back. (The previous year I was unable to complete the climb due to exhaustion from my treatment.)
Throughout the climb, and once I made it to the top, all I could think about was the strength Nathan had given me during the previous year to fight my cancer, and how he had just then given me the strength to complete my climb.
Jason Gorska with his sons

Jason and his sons

One More Hill

But we had one more hill to climb; we wanted a larger family and were uncertain if we could after my aggressive treatments.
Six months following my treatment, we were ecstatic to learn we were expecting again, and on April 15, 2008 we welcomed our newest son, Zachary, into the world.
Having had cancer while being a new dad gives me motivation to be the best father I can be to Nathan and Zachary. It makes me want to give back to them after what they have done for me.