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What Life Looks Like After Cancer

Posted on December 16, 2016, 11:52 AM
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It was just an ordinary day for American Airlines flight attendant Douglas Armstrong. Then within seconds of feeling like something wasn’t right, it hit. The left side of his body started to tremble; he felt weak and was unable to speak. It lasted a mere 20 seconds, but Douglas knew, thanks to years of flight attendant training, that he had suffered a stroke or a seizure. It turned out to be a mild focal seizure, and his partner, Darin, quickly rushed to his side, coached him through it and helped him out to their car.

As someone who had never been sick, let alone suffered a seizure, Douglas knew in his gut that something was wrong. After much denial and resistance, Douglas and Darin headed to the hospital. It was an afternoon of countless tests and doctors coming in and out of the room trying to discover what may have caused the seizure. “The hospital and their staff were amazing to me,” recalls Douglas. “They wasted no time trying to figure out what was wrong. I didn’t have a moment to be afraid.” After about two hours, the doctors closed the curtain and flipped on a little screen that revealed a dark area, about the size of a golf ball, on Douglas’ brain. Cancer. “There it is,” Douglas remembers saying. “Now, how do we get rid of it?”

Douglas’ decision to face his cancer diagnosis head on, and with a positive attitude, is one of the reasons he believes he’s still here today. “I never said, ‘Why me?’ Because, why NOT me?” Douglas says. “Cancer doesn’t discriminate, and wasting time wondering why I had cancer wasn’t going to change the fact that I still had to face it.” He credits Darin’s parents for inspiring him to have a positive attitude. “The year before my diagnosis, Darin’s mother and father were both going through chemo and radiation at the same time,” Douglas explains. “I was blown away by their positive outlook and determination to live life despite their cancer diagnoses. They helped me believe that I could get through it too.”

For Douglas, conquering his cancer would take not one, but two, craniotomies to remove his tumor. His surgeon Dr. Porceilli played a pivotal role in helping Douglas understand his diagnosis and giving him the best option for removing his tumor entirely. Both craniotomies lasted ten and a half hours and carried with them potentially life-changing side effects. Recovery from the surgery was difficult. Surprisingly, after the second surgery, Douglas recalls,  “I woke up in the recovery room and life just looked different than before:  the sunrise, the birds, even the air smelled better than it had before. I was just so thankful to be alive, and I still am.”

Douglas and his partner Darin at the 2016 SU2C telecast.

As a cancer survivor, one of the ways Douglas continues to stay involved in the cancer community is by attending a support group every month at the hospital where he was treated. “I have learned so much over my journey with cancer,” says Douglas. “I was hesitant to join a support group at first, but sharing my story with others and giving other patients hope, helps me too.” He hopes that by continuing to share his story, he can help encourage other patients to keep fighting, stay positive, laugh a lot and never give up hope.

Today, Douglas is three-years cancer-free. He is back to flying the skies for American Airlines, something he was told he might not be able to do again when he was first diagnosed with cancer. “I’m thankful for the support my co-workers and my supervisor were able to provide through everything,” Douglas says. “I’m proud to work for a company that supports cancer research because personally, I have known so many people affected by cancer, some of whom I work with.” In September he attended the live Stand Up To Cancer telecast with Darin. “To be there and be a small part of something that’s striving to bring better treatments to patients is phenomenal. Stand Up To Cancer and the research it funds gives me hope for the future and for others that may be affected by this disease.”

Douglas and his partner Darin at the 2016 SU2C telecast.

Surviving something like cancer changes your life forever. For Douglas, cancer came and changed his life on an ordinary day, and three years later, continues to remind him how precious life really is. As his journey continues, he looks forward to the future: the holidays with his family, marrying his partner Darin, spending time on his farm, walking his dog and enjoying the beauty of each day the sun continues to rise. American Airlines stands with Douglas and with the millions of others affected by cancer every day. Learn more about how they are supporting SU2C research through their Miles to Stand Up campaign here.


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