Posted: May 15, 2011 8:45 PM by Jeannette Hynes
Updated: May 16, 2011 5:18 AM
Hospitals weren't a part of Mike Hamel's life until 2008. His stomach was bothering him, so he went to the doctor.
"In fact, I almost turned around, being a man. On the way to the doctor my stomach wasn't hurting and I thought, ‘He's not going to find anything,'" remembers Hamel.
What the doctor found was a grapefruit-sized tumor. Hamel was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and the rounds of chemotherapy began.
"Everyone knows life is terminal, but it's another thing to have a date put by the right side of your time line," explains Hamel.
He started bringing his still camera and video camera to Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs to document his cancer journey. He also started to blog.
"I wanted at some point to be able to go back and describe the journey and I didn't want to try to have to remember," says Hamel.
In his blog, "Open Mike", he writes about his life, faith, cancer, and all the daily struggles in between. That blog connected him with people and resources to help him, but it also laid the groundwork for his book, "Stumbling Toward Heaven."
In the book, he wrestles with faith, but admits he doesn't have all the answers.
"How does prayer work? What role does faith play?" asks Hamel, who comes from a long line of a faith-based life, including ministry work.
Having faith was a double-edge sword for Hamel. "It helped and hindered. It helped me because I have a faith base. It hindered me because of issues like how do you reconcile a good God and human suffering?"
Hamel hopes by putting his experiences on paper, he can help people through something that is overwhelming.
"I also want them to find encouragement as questions come up, as fears come up that they are not alone," says Hamel.
Hamel also went through a bone marrow transplant. Partly because of his blog, he is part of a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Attorney General to try to change the laws about bone marrow donations, in hopes more people will be willing to become donors. The lawsuit is currently in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
He tells people with cancer to take an active role in their treatment and journey. He says not to be a passive and submissive patient, but to be a client. Do the research. Ask questions. Change the course.
He also encourages loved one to be just as active.
"As horrible and as fearful and as awkward as it can be, it is much better if you face it with the people that love and care about you," says Hamel.
Mike has another round of chemotherapy this summer, but he gets up every day to meet his challenges head on.
"We live in a broken world and the best we can do is try to cope with that and one of the best things we can do with that is to try to help other people," says Hamel.