Turning 70 and Celebrating One Year as a Survivor: My Oncologist Has Cancer (Part 6)

Today Dr. Marc Hirsh, my oncologist, my brother in faith and my dear friend, turns 70. I know others who have recently, or will soon, reach this milestone, but none I’m celebrating more than this guy.

An early celebration with staff and a chocolate cake.

That’s because shortly after his birthday last year, Marc was diagnosed with a rare atypical carcinoid tumor of the thymus gland. The 12cm mass behind his heart had caused inflammation of the heart lining, collapsed one lung, difficulty breathing, and terrible pain. It seemed there would be no more birthday celebrations for this man who had dedicated his life to trying to help cancer patients, including me, enjoy more time.

“When I was diagnosed, I honestly thought there was a good chance I was going to die soon,” Marc explained as we chatted on the phone this week. “Some of the doctors at (Johns) Hopkins and other places were pretty pessimistic too, but I’m still here.”

Marc will celebrate seven decades of living by going tent-camping for a few days with his younger daughter and his 7-year-old grandson.

“It is tiring, but I like it,” he explained. (His wife Elizabeth says she now prefers the comfort of her bed over a sleeping bag on the ground and only will be joining the trio during daytime!)

When I asked Marc if he also was celebrating one year as a cancer survivor, he quickly answered.

“Definitely. I’m grateful to feel as good as I do and to be able to do things a year later,” he said. In addition to multiple camping outings, he plans to kayak, paddle board and take out his pontoon boat soon.

However, like many cancer survivors he’s having to get used to a “new normal.”

“I’m adjusting to my new reality–without my practice and without Jake,”  Marc said. (His illness forced the immediate closure of his 31-year-old oncology-hematology practice in Hanover, PA, and a few months later, his beloved rescue dog, Jake–who went to the office with him every day– had to be put down.)

“I feel like in the past year I went from age 50 to age 70,” Marc explained. “I don’t have the strength and stamina I did before. I feel old and I never felt old–it’s something I don’t like.”

But Marc is thankful for some aspects of this new life.

“I’m getting to do a lot of things I enjoy, but never had time for,” he said. “I’m relearning a lot of classical (piano) music, reading a lot and doing sports with my grandson.”  (Before his two granddaughters returned to their West Coast home, they enjoyed music and science lessons with him, as well as some serious Lego building!)

“I’m adjusting to my new reality and I look forward to future events,” Marc said. “Elizabeth and I are really enjoying each other and I’m getting a lot of satisfaction from my marriage. I feel like I’m in a good place spiritually. I have good faith and I don’t have many moments of fear.”

And this birthday has been especially sweet because of all the cards he’s been receiving from friends, patients and colleagues.

“It’s crazy how many birthday cards I’ve gotten,” he said. “It’s really beautiful that so many people care about me. A lot have handwritten notes thanking me for things I’ve done. I’m really grateful and humbled by all of them.

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“I was flooded with cards when I was first diagnosed and to know that people still think about me a year later is really heartwarming,” he added.

When I asked Marc what was especially encouraging to him these days, he said “I seem to be feeling a deeper sense of God and love that is almost inexpressible. It seems to be welling up inside of me and I really feel more loving.”

Marc, here’s to many more birthdays filled with God’s love and ours for you, too.
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Don’t miss the music video below, “The Love of God”  by Marc and Elizabeth’s favorite Christian artist, Rich Mullins.