Facing Cancer or any other serious diagnosis can be tough. Here is my story.
With no history of cancer in my family, and doing my best to lead a healthy lifestyle, it was quite the shock last fall to have a friend, who is a Head & Neck surgeon notice a lump he saw on my neck at dinner and order me into his clinic at 7 am the next day. After an examination turned to me and said: “Todd, this is tonsil cancer, and likely caused by HPV.”
The very first thought that ran through my head was a complete and pleasant surprise! – read on and let me explain.
Pathology reports, CAT and MRI scans happened quickly, and the cancer confirmed, I entered what is described as some the most painful treatment for cancer to be dished out. I underwent chemotherapy along with 35 days of radiation to my neck and throat. Radiation kills the skins ability to replicate and my mouth and throat lost all its skin. I spent the next 3 months eating through a tube and on a morphine IV to help subdue the pain. Yeah, I know, ouch!
But I coped, I beat the cancer, and here is how, and it’s not just in the drugs!…
My therapy consisted of 35 blasts of radiation, to a cumulative effect just below lethal – should the cancer reoccur further radiation treatment is now off the table. Radiation was supplemented with a few rounds of chemotherapy. Having the tissue in my throat and mouth ‘burned out’ I was unable to eat or drink, so a feeding tube was inserted directly into my stomach, and a portable IV pumped morphine into my system 24/7. I lost 30 pounds – and I’m not a big guy! Morphine is one nasty drug and despite its ability to lessen pain, it leaves you with all sorts of trouble from gastrointestinal distress to having to manage opiate withdrawal once you heal.
Despite a painful and nightmare ‘winter of discontent,’ I survived the treatment (which seemed to be more likely to kill me then the cancer!) I was very relieved to find out 6 months later that it appears the cancer is gone and i will now be monitored for the next five years.
So how did I survive it, and what, pray tell, was that first thought that went through my head as soon as I was told I had cancer?
Here is how I survived:
- LOVE: My friends and family rallied creating a care team for me and my puppy who I needed to be by my side but could not care for. People will show up to care for you that you never thought would, and in some cases never even knew prior to your diagnosis. AND people who you thought would be there are not. Because they, for reasons of their own just can’t. Choosing not to judge why who showed or not, allowed my mind to stay focussed on the love both present and distant. Love heals.
- TENACITY: I took control of my treatment, demanding to be seen and even staging a sit in to get an MRI earlier. (I brought cookies for the staff!) In Canada we are blessed with universal health care but that sometimes means the demand on the system is high. If you can’t advocate for yourself ask someone to. The SMILING squeaky wheel gets the grease.
- COMMUNITY: See number 1. I trusted people to care for me, and they did.
- COMMUNICATION: I let go of my ego and asked for what I needed, and did so in advance of those needs where I best remembered. I took someone to my appointments to listen and record for me – it messy technical stuff sometimes, and even when it is not, often it is so overwhelming you don’t hear or remember what is being said.
- MEDITATION: I have trained my brain to listen to my mind. Keeping or ditching a thought is a learned skill. Being an experience meditator enabled me to let go of worrisome and scary thoughts, and trade them out for positive and helpful thoughts. And wildly enough, that included those thoughts we call ‘pain.’ When the meds would not do it – I could. It’s all in your head you know!
All of which leads me to share with you the first thought that entered my head when I heard the word cancer:
“Holy crap! There must be a blessing in this somewhere.”
Seriously. And before you roll your eyes know that I tell you this not to impress you, but to impress UPON you, that learning to manage your thoughts is a learned process that can save your life – literally. Years of practice, including years of training my brain to notice gratitude (Choosing to become that glass half full guy, or as my dad would say, halfway to a new beer!) trained me to instinctively look for the good – and in my language I call that looking for the blessing.
When I most needed not to turn to the darkness, be scared and panic, my well-trained brain served up a thought I had been practicing for years. And wow, that not only feels good, it possibly saved my life.
I hope the toughest part of my journey is over. And one of the ‘blessings’ in all this is having been there done that, I am eager to support others who may have to face this journey. So if you are facing cancer, or any other tough medical diagnosis let’s talk, I want to be part of your community and support network.
I have the greatest job in the world. My job is to love my clients and share both my wisdom and the wisdom of the hundreds of people who have sat with me on their journeys.
Judgement free love creates authentic relationships. Authentic relationships are magic.
Yes, love heals.
PREVENT CANCER! My cancer was caused by the HPV virus. Almost everyone in North America has this virus. Some strains of this virus can cause cancer, as it did in me. There is a vaccine that prevents 9 strains of this virus, and possibly cancer. GET YOUR VACCINE NOW – and please talk with your children, family and friends to help us all prevent unnecessary cancers.