3-time Cancer Survivor’s Letter to Pearl Jam

I posted this in The Porch, too 

Dear Pearl Jam,

My name is Peter Pearson and I am a 3-time cancer survivor.   I was listening to Amongst the Waves yesterday.  I was struck with the lyric, “I gotta say it now, better loud than too late.”  That lyric sparked this note because I’ve made a promise to myself to say and write the things I want to say.   I’ve learned tomorrow isn’t promised.  What follows is how Pearl Jam provided positive light during the darkest times of my life.   

I was first diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in August 2013.  Within two months, the tumors responded and I was declared cancer-free.  I finished the remaining treatments and continued to be in remission.   3 months later, I found a new lump in my neck and I was told that I would have to fight Hodgkin’s for a second time.   

This was August 2014.  I had already purchased tickets to the Pearl Jam show for October in St. Paul.   The likelihood of being able to attend the show was very low, since the new treatment plan included a stem-cell transplant which was supposed to happen in October.  Due to some complications, my stem-cell transplant was delayed.  That delay allowed me to attend the show.  Prior to the show, the band toured the University of Minnesota’s hospital.    During the concert, they brought out the lead bone marrow (stem-cell) transplant doctor at Children's Hospital in Minnesota. His name was Dr Jakub Tolar. Dr Tolar said the following, "When you listen to his music, his lyrics, you know that it goes to your brain, your heart and your marrow. I am a bone marrow transplant physician and what I do for a living has lots to do with what he does for a living. What we both do is give people hope." As I wiped away tears, I had a new mantra for my stem-cell transplant. Hope.

Fast forward to 2016.  I had just finished a year of maintenance chemo following my stem-cell transplant, I was cancer-free.  I bought tickets to the Pearl Jam shows at Wrigley for August 2016.   Two weeks before the concert, I felt a new lump in my neck.   I asked my doctors to delay biopsies and scans until after the concerts.  They agreed.   However, I needed to be back in Minneapolis the Tuesday morning following the concert for the first of many meetings with my doctors.  During the first night, Steve Gleason came out to introduce Inside Job.  He brought tears to my eyes as he said, “Everyone who has a heartbeat will face adversity, but when you experience those moments, like the message in this song, how we choose to feel is how we are. And I feel fucking awesome.”   So, after an epic weekend attending both shows, I went straight from the concert to the airport to catch a red—eye back to Minnesota and drove straight from the airport to my first of many appointments confirming a third recurrence.  Thanks to Mr. Gleason and Pearl Jam, I was heading into the new fight the mantra, “How I choose to feel, Is how I am.”

With a combination of radiation and chemotherapy, I achieved remission for a third time.   On the way to my final chemo appointment, I was listening to the bootlegs from Wrigley.   Pulling into the  parking lot, Surrender was just finishing with the “We’re all alright” refrain and the opening chords of Alive started. Covered in goosebumps, I walked in to the clinic with the message that reassured me that I was indeed alright and still Alive.  

5 months later, I’m back to where I was 2 years ago, I just got drawn for tickets to Wrigley.   Cancer-free, finished with treatment and looking forward to spending a weekend in Chicago with my brother and nephew, and my best friend for what will be another epic weekend following our favorite band.

Over the past 5 years, I’ve written a blog to chronicle my trials and tribulations through my cancer treatments.  And each time I’ve completed a course of treatments, I’ve ended my posts the same way:

My brother posted lyrics to one of my favorite songs in my guest book. 


Here they are: 


And the wind keeps rollin 

And the sky keeps turning grey 

And the sun is setting 

The sun will rise another day 

I have wished for so long... How I wish for you today 

Will I walk the long road? 

We all walk the long road 

I definitely walked the long road, but at no time was I walking alone. God blessed me with each of you in my life.  81,500 times during the past four years my caringbridge site has been visited. 81,500 times you have joined me as I walked the long road. All through this incredibly humbling process, I have struggled with the words to adequately express how much your support means to me and my family. Early on, I settled on Thank You, with the understanding that those two small words carry a tremendous amount of gratitude and love. So, I say again, Thank you. The sun is setting on this very, very, very long and surreal day. The sun will rise another day. A day that I am cancer-free, finished with treatment, and thankful for the blessings that have been bestowed on me. I leave you today with this promise; when you are walking your long road, you will not be walking alone. 

Since I probably never will have a chance to tell the band in person, I will settle for saying it here.  Thank you, Pearl Jam.  You have been the soundtrack of my long road.  You provided me with hope and light in a really dark time and the attitude to carry on when the road got long.  Keep on rockin’ in the free world!

With deep respect,

Peter Pearson


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