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Cancer puts everything in perspective

A West Brighton lawyer battling the disease
takes a look at his life...and feels blessed

By: Derek Alvez

In my 40-plus years on earth I have almost experienced life to its fullest. I survived the adolescent and teen-age years without being a menace to society. I've endured the growing pains of a young adult trying to make his presence known and have his voice heard, while sports was my stage; and later evolved into becoming a cog in the community, with family responsibilities and commitments.

The evolution process of developing into the person one wants to be is always fascinating and sometimes predictable - if one stays on course. But then there is still no guarantee the blueprint we lay out won't have any glitches.

How would you feel if you were dealt an unkind fate in the game of life? Would it be all about you and forgetting the world around you, while slipping into a state of depression, challenged by the idea of checking out without warning? Or would you face the reality of the inevitable?

In my quiet moments I've asked myself those questions and I'm not certain what my actions would be.

For Joe Maceda of West Brighton, he was dealt that unexpected card in August of 1994, when he was diagnosed with cancer - non-Hodgkins lymphoma )mantle cell type), an incurable disease.

In August of 1994, the 47-year old was visiting family and friends at an aunt's home, and by fate his dentist was also a guest. Maceda informed him he needed to make an appointment because a tooth was bothering him. The doctor took a close look at Maceda and told him work could not be done until his swollen glands went down; but he should see an oral surgeon for further examination.

After seeing the surgeon, he was referred to his physician, who recommended a blood test, and ultimately a biopsy of a lymph node from the neck.

Chemotherapy soon began, but between April 1995 to the summer of 1998 he was in complete remission. Earlier in 1995 he had a bone marrow transplant.

"Nobody ever told me you had so much time," Maceda said. "I was going to fight this."

The disease was stronger, however, invading his life once again and interrupting his career as an attorney. But with more chemotherapy, the lifetime athlete continued to try and beat the odds, improving his health and later walking out of the hospital New Year's Day 1998 after watching the ball drop on television.

Maceda is still being treated today and the prognosis is unknown, but that doesn't stop him from living life to its fullest.

"I'm always looking forward to each day when I wake up." said Maceda, married 25 years to wife Lynda and the father of three children. "I do live each day at a time and enjoy opportunities, but there are certain days the disease is left behind and it eclipses everything."

Last year was a special time for Maceda as he witnessed more than medical experts might have predicted. His oldest son Joseph graduated from High School and went on to college; his daughter Jennifer competed in the New York State Cross Country Championships; 9-year old Andrew competed in the National Junior Olympic Championships in South Carolina; and the family moved to its dream home.

"The disease is powerless against those precious moments that you have with your children and wife; they are milestones," Maceda said.

The gentle giant of a man is a symbol of true courage and perseverance.

"Faith and family keep my feet on the ground and I have been extremely blessed all my life," Maceda said. "I can't complain about this, it happens to others. I'm not the only one. I've had a wonderful life and no hardships.

Maceda's advice: "Keep hope alive. Sometimes things change when you face adversity. Nobody can pronounce your sentence to what is going to happen to you with certainty."

Maceda is in tune with the reality of his fate, but he has no time to dwell. He continues to conduct his personal research on the disease, and then there are basketball practices, games and meetings.

Maceda says don't feel sorry for him - just continue to say prayers.

"I feel like the beneficiary of prayers from many good friends and family... Like George Bailey from the movie "It's a Wonderful Life."

"Some things in life just don't have an explanation," Maceda said.

So when you see a smiling Joe Maceda, it is genuine, "I'm doing exactly what I want to do."