Living with an “Empty Spot”: My Oncologist Has Cancer (Part 5)

Marc celebrating Hanukkah with granddaughters Estella, 7, and Lily, 10.

It’s been more than four months since I’ve interviewed Dr. Marc Hirsh about his journey with a rare cancer, so I called him a few days ago.

“Just got back from a half-hour run with (older daughter)Jessi’s two dogs,” Marc said on the phone as he fixed himself a glass of juice.

“You’re jogging?” I asked incredulously.

“Yeah, I don’t jog fast,” Marc replied. “I’ve also been skiing six times and am punching the heavy bag. I’m pretty much doing everything I used to–just at a lower level.”

Not bad for a 69-year-old man who doctors said last spring could expect to die soon after being diagnosed with atypical carcinoid of the thymus gland–a cancer so rare there are only about 160 documented cases.

“People thought I was going to die,” Marc recalled. “But I feel good and I don’t feel like I have any recurrence symptoms. I only have mild chest pain, which hasn’t changed for months.”

In March he heads back to Hershey Medical Center for blood work and a CT scan to assess how well he’s doing clinically after completing his self-determined treatment of radiation, oral chemo and a hormone shot in September.

“I’m pleasantly surprised how the last six months have gone since I finished treatment and have been enjoying life,” he said.

With both his daughters and three grandchildren spending extended time at his home during the pandemic, Marc’s recent days have been filled with his wife and him giving “a lot of piano lessons,” reading countless books, and celebrating the holidays.“I know (the odds are) I’m probably going to die in a couple years, but I’m still not convinced of that,” Marc added. “I’ve come to terms with that and I’m not obsessed with it.”

One of the scriptures that Marc, a Messianic Jew for 40 years, finds most helpful is Philippians 4:6,7:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
present your requests to God.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

“Be anxious for nothing is what I try to live by,” he added.

Photo by Benjamin Earwicker from FreeImages

Still Marc acknowledged there are struggles which have come with having to close his Hanover, Pa., practice immediately after the diagnosis.

“I miss not seeing all my patients and I miss going into the office and being an oncologist,” he told me. “It’s definitely an empty spot in me.

“When I think about all those patients, I miss them, and I wonder how they’re doing,” Marc added. “I do love them and miss them–it’s really an empty spot.”

He also said he misses our semi-annual Cancer Prayer Support Group dessert concerts, when 50-100 patients and their family members would show up for food, fellowship and fabulous music with Marc on keyboard, saxophone and sometimes harmonica.

“I miss the summer and the Christmas concerts,” he said. “Maybe sometime if I’m still feeling well and the pandemic is over, I can play some music again for everyone. But if not here, definitely in the afterlife!”

I was glad to hear him say that because I, for one, already have been praying to hear another earthly concert.

(P.S. If you want to be in touch with Marc, you can send mail to: 3601 Lakeview Rd., Spring Grove, PA 17362, or subscribe to his blog at . For Parts 1-4 in this series, see posts on 9/30; 8/19; 8/12;  and 8/5.)

Be sure to open in your browser to enjoy the song below “Sometimes by Step,” by Rich Mullins, Marc and Elizabeth’s favorite Christian artist.

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