Editor’s Note: Kevin Zelko was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma last fall. He is currently in treatment at SCCA under the direction of Dr. Ryan Cassaday. Many here in Seattle will recognize Kevin as a beer vendor at Mariner and Seahawks games and as a founding member of Gorilla FC. Kevin, a special education teacher here in Seattle, was also featured last year in USA Today for his role in providing Seahawk jerseys to the more than 400 students at Kimball Elementary School. On February 20, Kevin will celebrate his 40th birthday at an event in Fremont called Life is a Beach that’s aimed at raising money for cancer research at SCCA. Learn more and get tickets for Life is a Beach here. In the post below, Kevin discusses how rituals helped him through his cancer treatment. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @Msbeervendor.
The fight against Cancer is a journey that isn’t always clear cut or spelled out. It’s very much a journey with peaks and valleys. In my fight, I reached out to my loved ones to build a strong team of people who would be there to get me through. Together, we developed a set of rituals that made hard appointments less stressful, helped us to connect with others, and provided a welcome distraction.
One ritual that I found particularly helpful was casting chemotherapy appointments as positive events. These sessions can be long and uncomfortable, and involve getting plugged into machines that inject chemicals that leave you with side effects, nausea and bad tastes, while also fighting the disease that is against you. I dreaded these appointments, so I decided I needed to do something about this dread. My girlfriend and I began using reverse psychology when discussing chemotherapy. My infusions were on Friday, so Fridays became known as Chemo Friday. We would joke that these were party days and act as if we were excited to wake up on Fridays and get ready for the sessions. On Chemo Fridays we would enjoy a nice breakfast before the appointment at a special restaurant. We would bring in a funny movie to watch while sitting for hours hooked up to the medicine machines. Never once would we let each other act like Chemo Friday wasn’t a great day, knowing full well that these appointments would restart the cycle of making my body feel like crap.
I added to my Chemo Friday ritual by wearing the same favorite t-shirt to my appointments. The staff at SCCA quickly learned that my favorite band was Jawbreaker. Every Chemo Friday, I would wear my Jawbreaker shirt giving me that extra strength to fight Cancer.
I am very involved with the Seattle Sounders community, and am the steward of this years’ Supporter’s Shield that’s currently residing on my coffee table at home. My appointment scheduler wanted to see it, so I brought it in to share with the staff. There was much excitement at this chemo session, as all of the staff was able to get a photo and hold the large silver trophy that the Sounders earned with their dominant play this year.
Another important ritual that we added was watching our sports teams. Sure, having teams like the Sounders and Seahawks helps, but knowing you could connect with so many local fans over sports helped me share a bond with my fellow Seattleites. The ritual of watching sports helped to distract us from my own condition or recent medical news, and gave me a break from what was going on in my body. I was able to enjoy watching Richard Sherman intercept balls and not think about how long my chemotherapy sessions would be. I could hope for a Clint Dempsey goal for two hours instead of thinking about how bad my stomach felt. Seattle is also very lucky to have such amazing athletes off the field, and watching the actions of Russell Wilson at Children’s Hospital, Sounders forward Kenny Cooper visiting Cancer fighters, and seeing ex-Mariner Jamie Moyer be such an advocate is uplifting to the say the least.
One of my favorite rituals during treatment has been my visits to the Olympic Athletic Club. A very supportive friend named Andrew made an effort to join me at the gym on days I was feeling strong enough to go. From these visits, my body would break a sweat, removing toxins while also gaining strength from the workout. It helped me to feel normal, while also giving me the social connection of a gym buddy. We would end these with a eucalyptus sauna which really cleaned out the head, which can get really cluttered during treatments.
Ultimately, these rituals brought me the routine that I needed to overcome Cancer. Earlier this month, my doctor shared the news that my Cancer is in remission, and my chemotherapy will finish at the end of February. These rituals helped bond me with my loved ones, friends, my health team, and strangers to find strength to beat Cancer. For those on a fight or for those loving someone on the fight (which is often harder), find some rituals to help ease your journey and embrace others to assist in your fight!