Sharing My Cancer Story is a Blessing
It lets me give hope to others that they'll get through their darkest days too.
I'm in the waiting area of Hillman Cancer Center. It's CT Scan day. The scan will look at my head, neck and chest. Then the doctors will tell me if my cancer is showing back up anywhere.
Truth is: there's a spot on my lung. It has doctors a tad concerned, but not "you need a biopsy of your lung" concerned. I'm sitting there with my wife, Kristine. We're both a tad nervous. "Cancer Survivors' Paranoia" is real. NO-ONE wants to go through the radiation/chemo "Hell Trip" again.
Out of nowhere, a man grabs my arm. There are tears in his eyes. He's crying. "Hi, I'm Joe. I have the exact same cancer as you," he says. "I've watched your journey from the beginning. Will you talk to me? I don't want to die." Everyone in the room was listening. The receptionist looked up. "I'm crying too," she said.
Joe's retired. Married more than 50 years. He sold his Pittsburgh home and moved to Myrtle Beach to live out his dream with his wife. A few months in, he found a lump: it was cancer. HPV-related cancer. In his tongue cancer. My cancer. He's just starting his nasty treatment. His mouth is dry. Food tastes like crap. He's depressed. He's afraid. He wanted the truth from me.
I told him it's okay. I told him he will survive. I hugged him. I took his cell number. We'd talk later. We did.
Truth is, I just talked the day before with Eric. He's a young guy in his forties. Same cancer, same treatment. We talk at least an hour a week. He's just now getting hammered by the radiation/chemo side effects. "Food sucks. I can't taste anything. I can't swallow. No saliva. Am I gonna be okay, Marty?" There's real fear in his voice. When we finish, he's convinced he's gonna be okay.
As I write this column, a text comes in from Michael. He's another HPV "cancer guy". He's 50 years old. "Hey Marty. I talked to you last night. PET/CT Scan results came back clear. Thanks for talking to me and hang in there, brother!"
We are brothers. All of us. We all have a cancer story. We are all afraid. Complete strangers now joined by similar tales of a cancer we all knew nothing about a year ago. Convinced now. Together we have a much better survival rate. Together we make a difference in each other's lives - in other people's lives, I hope.
It was Nelson Mandela who said, "Live life as though nobody is watching and express yourself as though everyone is listening." I find comfort in sharing my cancer story - "If I can make it, they can make it" kind of mentality.
Meantime, back to my CT Scan. The doctors take a look. The spot on my lung is still there. But it's smaller. They think it's caused by food that went down the wrong tube. For now, I'm okay. Back in three months for another look says my awesome oncologist Dr. Dan Zandberg (below with Kristine and me).
When I get home, I've gotta put in a call to Steve. He's in his thirties. Just diagnosed with HPV-related cancer. We're gonna talk about his treatment. His wife reached out. She's in full-blown panic. I sent her a text, "Talk later. I promise. He's gonna be fine."
Everyone has a cancer story. Everyone needs someone to listen to their story. It's what we're about here at Sparkt.