38 Years with Cancer – Not Cured, Living with It

I was diagnosed with a severe case, of a relatively rare genetic form of skin cancer when I was 16 – I just turned 54! Over these 38 years I have been operated on well over 400 times. Yes, on average, more than once-a-month for those 38 years. I have had thousands of “Spots” removed in those 38 years by six surgeons who specialize in Skin Cancer around the country. The first was also Ronald Reagan’s Skin Cancer surgeon in DC. I met The President there one morning – funny story for another time perhaps.l

“Tragic”, “Horrible”, “Disabling”, “Catastrophic”, None of the above!!! My type of Skin Cancer, unlike most types of Skin Cancer, is not “curable”. But like other types of incurable Cancers of all types, it is completely treatable. So, I spend a day or so a month at the surgeon’s office keeping my condition under control, and “In Check”. Would I prefer to be doing something else? Of Course! Could it be worse? Absolutely – In fact, Totally unrelated to this Cancer “Nuisance Routine” as I call it, it has been much worse – again a story for another time perhaps.

So what should you do when you or someone you love hears those frightening words, “I’m sorry, You have Cancer.”

First, and I am being serious here, if the first two words that come out of the doctor’s mouth are not, “I’m Sorry…”, Then find another Oncologist specializing in whatever type of Cancer that doctor told you or your loved one that you or they have. Why? You and your medical team, that the doctor(s) lead, must be a team on this. To be a good “Team” the doctor must understand that the news they have to give you will be painful to hear, and if they are not sorry to be the “Bearer Of Bad News”, then they cannot be an equal partner with you, through the good days and bad to follow.

Then once you find a doctor that you like and who you feel this team spirit with – quite often the nearest University Medical Center will be the best place to start, develop a plan or course of action, treatment, surgery or whatever. Ask any and every question that you have! And then get started. Most of what were the deadliest forms of Cancer a generation ago, are now curable – or a “Nuisance Routine” to keep them “In Check” like mine, at worst. So your future stands a very good chance to be very bright – brighter than most, probably “brighter” than some of those around you in the past, present and future, in spite of your having Cancer at the moment.

Why – when you are feeling so low and worried? Because in this period, where you and your medical team work to cure your Cancer, or to bring it under control – allowing you to keep it “In Check” from then on, can and should be a wonderful learning experience. A Gift! You will learn what is important – True teamwork; Who your true friends are; The meaning of Love Of and For family and friends; And an odd way to word it – the importance of slowing down and doing what is best for you and those most important to you first; You will have time to reflect on your accomplishments to date – and to plan for the future now from this better perspective, and the like. You will also learn what is not so important – working for more than what you and your loved ones could or will ever need; “Competing With The Jones”, and the like.

Please keep this in mind as “Food For Thought” – there are others that have had it worse than you in the past, and will in the future. On a related note, I loved the conversation that I once heard that will be helpful through this process. The first guy told his friend, “This is the worst day of my life!” The other guy said, without missing a beat, “Nonsense Boy, You are going to have much worse days than this!” The first guy said, “Thanks! I feel better! Let me buy you a drink.” And off they went. By the way, nothing is more healing through this process than humor – never lose your sense of it – share it with others as I do with my surgeons each month, and encourage it from others throughout the process.

So, It, this period in your life …highlighted by Cancer, should be “A Gift”. Over my 38 years with Cancer, around my “Nuisance Routine” of monthly Cancer surgeries, I have been around the world several times; Witnessed amazing events; I’ve Loved and been Loved By some of the most amazing women in the world – remember, I have been around the world, so I know (Chuckle); I have been successful in business; Met amazing people – Ronald Reagan, GHW Bush, Lady Di & Elton John, JFK Jr., various well-known actors & actresses, famous news people, and the like.

This is why I say, “It could have been much worse.” Please keep this in mind if you ever get this unfortunate news delivered to you or your family. Because, in the vast majority of cases today, you will be fine, and you will see life from a much better perspective when you come out the other side.