My Cancer Story

In my post on Kay Yow today, I asked for comments sharing cancer stories.  I promised to share mine.  Here it is…

Stuff happens: good stuff, bad stuff, frustrating stuff, unexpected stuff.  Successful people respond to the stuff that happens in a positive way.  Humans are the only animals with free will.  That means we – you and me – get to decide how we react to every situation that comes up.

A little over 10 years ago, I found out that I had Thyroid cancer – not a particularly deadly form of cancer, but cancer nonetheless.  Trust me, you don’t want to hear the words “you” and “cancer” in the same sentence.  This experience qualified as some bad stuff.

It energized me.  I remember thinking, “I’ve got a lot to do.  I better get busy if I’m going to have surgery.”  I then got busy and rescheduled any client work that would conflict with the surgery. 

I learned everything I could about Thyroid cancer.  I talked to friends in the medical field who referred me to docs they knew who specialized in the disease.  I went on line and read, and read, and read.  I interviewed a couple of surgeons and chose one to perform my surgery.

I visited a couple of on line Thyroid Cancer support sites.  I mostly didn’t like what I found there – lots of angry people lashing out at one another, the unfairness of life in general and Thyroid Cancer in particular.  I decided that if I were going to stay positive, it was best for me to stay away from the online cancer support groups.

In order to meet my client commitments, I had to spend the weekend before my surgery in New York.  I finished up one engagement on a Friday and had to do a talk to some pharmaceutical execs on Monday.  I had some down time over the weekend, so I decided to visit a few museums and do some shopping.  I bought a bright red striped tie that I wore to my talk on Monday.  I still call it my cancer tie.  I think it brings me luck.  I wear it when I’m having a bad day.

After I finished the talk on Monday, the person running the program announced that this was going to be my last talk for a while as I was having cancer surgery the following Friday.  People were incredulous.  They asked, “What are you doing here when you’re having cancer surgery in four days?” 

I responded by saying that I had committed to doing this talk several months previous and that as long as I wasn’t actually in the hospital I was going to do it – to the best of my knowledge Thyroid Cancer wasn’t contagious.

The interesting thing about all of this was that I never considered canceling or postponing the talk.  As long as I was able, I was going to honor my commitments.  I chose to deal with cancer the way I choose to deal with most things in my life; honor my commitments, do the best I can.

My cancer story has a happy ending.  I have been cancer free ever since the operation and seem to be healthier than ever.  The story, or at least the hospital stay portion of it, also has a humorous ending. 

My surgery was on a Friday.  I came out of the recovery room about 4:00 in the afternoon.  Sometime that evening, the nurse unhooked my IV.  This made it a lot easier to get to the bathroom; it’s funny how small things can make a big difference.  About 6:30 Saturday morning, the surgeon showed up.  He looked at the incision and checked my vitals.  Then he said, “You’re good to go.”

This sounded good to me.  I’m not one who likes to spend any more time in the hospital than I have to.  I got up, found my clothes and got dressed.  I called my wife and asked her to come and get me.  She showed up around 7:00.  We gathered up my stuff, got in the car and went home.

About 11:00 we got a frantic call from the hospital.  They had lost me.  In my haste to leave the hospital, I neglected to check out.  The doc said I was good to go, so I went.  I had things to do, people to see and places to go.  The nurse scolded me with a smile in her voice, then she read me the post operative procedures I was to follow.  She told me that she had never known anyone leave the hospital the morning after cancer surgery without checking out.

That was how I reacted to cancer.  The escape from the hospital was probably not the brightest thing I could do given the circumstances, but it showed my determination to not let stuff like cancer interrupt my life and commitment to my success any more than it absolutely had to.

The one thing I was not going to do was wallow in anger and self pity like so many of the people I met in the Thyroid cancer on line support groups.  I chose life.  I chose to be positive.  I chose to honor my commitments to my clients as best I could.  I spent a week at home recuperating.  I conducted a week long leadership seminar the following week.

The common sense point here has nothing to do with my cancer experience and everything to do with free will.  As you go through life, stuff will happen, most of it out of your control.  The important thing is how you react to the stuff that happens to you – the nice things, the mild annoyances and the major catastrophes.  It’s your choice.  Successful people choose to respond to events proactively.  They do what they can to make the best out of any situation in which they find themselves. 

I find a lot of wisdom in Native American spiritual traditions.  The Navajos live in the arid plains of the US southwest.  Drought is always a problem for them.  I once met a Navajo Medicine Man who summed up the difference between how white people and the Navajos deal with adverse situations.  He said “When there is no rain for a long time, the white man prays for rain.  The Navajo prays to find the ability to live in harmony with the draught.”   When I was diagnosed with cancer, I prayed for the ability to live in harmony with the disease.  My prayers were answered.  I believe this gave me the strength I needed during those days.

As always, thanks for reading.  Please share your story.  It will inspire all of us.


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  1. I love this post Bud, and am thrilled you have the all clear.
    I completely agree with you when you say “The important thing is how you react to the stuff that happens to you” – if I was agree with you any more I’d have to wear a tshirt saying “I agree with Bud” and camp out on your front yard.
    I’ve battled with depression in the past, and without making deliberate, slow choices who knows where I’d be and who I’d be, or even whether I’d be.
    Always be willing to make a choice.

  2. Thanks for the comment Steve.
    I really appreciate your kind words and support.
    It sounds as if you embody the concept of choosing to react to what happends to you in a positive way. Good for you.
    All the best,

  3. Withheld to protect worriers from themselves says:

    My cancer story turned out not to be a cancer story at all, but after reading yours, I decided to share anyway. I’ll give you the short version 🙂
    A few odd occurrences in life made it that while checking for one medical condition, a CT scan of my abdomen revealed a tumor on the right kidney. Due to the odd occurrences mentioned earlier, I was not near my home at the time of the diagnosis and was sent to a specialist for a consultation who would not really be treating me. The urological surgeons and the radiologists concurred that the tumor was of a kind that was not good news and although the lawyers wouldn’t let them say for sure, there was a 90% chance it was cancer. With those kinds of odds, you don’t spend a lot of time wishing it weren’t, you just prepare. Two weeks later, I had found a urological surgeon where I lived who took his own set of tests and concurred that it was not the kind of tumor you leave in. Kidney cancers do not respond to radiation or chemotherapy, so out they must come as soon as possible.
    Now the real story is that I come from a long genealogy of worriers, catastrophizers and people who just enjoy having a terrible, unpleasant or unkind story to tell (happy stories just don’t interest them :). After much soul searching and many hours of physiotherapy, I have overcome the learned behavior of worrying and chose to address my tumor with my n ew-found skills. That meant that I was only going to take actions that would lead to helpfulness or positiveness. Translation, many of the people I have known my whole life don’t know a thing about my tumor. They are incapable of being helpful or soothing, so they had to be excluded from access to my psyche while I processed it all.
    You see, kidney cancer can’t be biopsied because disturbing the tumor could cause it to metastasize, so they take out the kidney and then they tell you whether you had cancer. So, I really wasn’t going to have to deal with a confirmation of cancer until after I was technically a survivor already. I did have to prepare “as if” with the odds that I was given, but mostly, I just had to have the patience to take each day’s events as they came. My challenge was to just Be and stay in the moment. There was little to plan for except choosing surgery options and it would take at least a week after that to know whether I would know what I’d had.
    I hand picked a circle of people who would be supportive of my approach, positive in their outlook and keep me laughing. Truthfully, I had more to be grateful for than I did to be worried about. The tumor was found very early which is rare in the case of kidney cancers. Most folks have the same experience you hear about pancreatic cancer. You find out and then you choose your box. I wasn’t facing anything like that. After the initial discomfort and inconvenience of having a kidney removed, I would be cancer free with a 90% chance of never having to worry about a relapse. That was a pretty good deal. Of all the people that were told they needed to prepare for cancer, I wouldn’t trade my conversation with anyone. I really was very fortunate. There wasn’t anything to complain about. So, I wasn’t wasting any time shutting down people’s attempt to create fear and trauma. It was my turn to be self-centered 🙂
    The surgery went blissfully uneventfully however I wasn’t able to check myself out the next day. Had to learn to use my sutured flank well enough to sit and walk, so it took me a day or two 🙂 A week after they took the kidney, the results of the pathology was inconclusive and the kidney had to be sent to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology. The surgeon was convinced it was a type of malignancy that resides in pockets of a larger tumor rather than being a solid mass of cancer. He still thought I was among the 90% and was planning a pre-opt cancer protocol. So, I was ready for whatever came next.
    Three weeks later, the kidney was released from the military with a report that it was cancer free. The doctor called me to tell me that he and the radiologists were “totally befuddled.” Nothing in their professional experience would have indicated that this was possible. The CT scans should have look ed totally different than they did in order to be the type of tumor it turned out to be. Since the first set of doctors thought the same thing from the CT scans, I know we did the right thing with our choice for surgery and was happy with the results.
    I took away four things from this experience.
    * All that hard work to unlearn worry paid off. I had a really good experience with a very bad set of circumstances. While the situation was intense, it involved no fear for me. That was proven to me when I was told it wasn’t cancer. I felt many things…..surprise, gratitude, joy…but not relief. In order to have relief, I would have had to have had fear. That was a very cool revelation.
    * Miracles really can happen if you create a bubble of positive energy. No one will ever really know if the kidney never had cancer or whether the power that made the cells in my body changed them more than once.
    * Sometimes creating boundaries has to go to lengths you never imagined and when it involves your peace of mind, that’s OK.
    * Finding gratitude and practicing it consistently really is important.

  4. Hi Bud, I haven’t been by for a while, so I’m enjoying reading some of your posts. Had to leave a comment about your positive response to the report you received once about having thyroid cancer. Good for you!
    Both my dad and young nephew dealt with cancer during the same time period a few years ago. I remember working hard to stay positive and not succumb to fear. And with God’s help I found a lot of peace in the midst of the storms.
    I also remember a time years ago when a colleague was diagnosed with cancer — our whole office went into a state of depression because of it. It was a horrible place to work at the time because there was this heavy darkness that seemed to settle on the whole group. The individual seemed to lose all sense of hope or joy in the midst of it.
    Though the time with my family was one of the darkest seasons we’d ever faced, I refused to let it ‘rule’…. and it truly made a difference in my life. Together we found the funny side of things… and could still laugh. Everything does not have to be dark and gloomy even if it’s the ‘c’ word. We grew closer. As I say, I found that peace that truly passes all understanding.
    So I had to stop and say thanks for the post.

  5. Brenda:
    Thanks for your inspiring comment.

  6. Thank you so much for sharing your very personal — and inspiring — story.
    Your last point — “finding gratitude and praciticing it consistently really is important.”

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