I had cancer twice and I have a lot of opinions about the experience. l try to not let cancer define me, but it has had a profound influence on me - mostly good. It feels odd to post about something so personal, but sharing can help someone else who stumbles on my site; other people's accounts of their cancer experience certainly helped me when I was going through tough times.

I had Hodgkin's Lymphoma in 1999 and Prostate Cancer in 2014. No one knows for sure what causes either type of cancer.

Scroll down if you'd like read more or read my advice. You can also view photos of my experience but, be warned, they are not pretty.

 

I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma on October 13, 1999. I found a lump at my collar bone that, through a needle biopsy and surgery, turned out to be cancer. I was treated at the Cleveland Clinic with six rounds of ABVD and 15 radiation treatments. 

I was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer on March 10, 2014. My PSA levels were about double what they should be, so my primary physician referred me to a urologist to be sure. "It's probably nothing", he said. The first urologist also thought that it was probably nothing but suggested I get a biopsy to be certain. The biopsy came back positive in two of the 12 tissue samples.

Once diagnosed, I had three options.

  1. Monitor the cancer through an annual biopsy
  2. Treat the cancer with radiation treatments
  3. Remove the cancerous prostate

I went with the third option because I was young enough at age 49 that I would likely have to have my prostate removed before I died and because I already had a significant amount of radiation through radiation treatments for Hodgkin's Lymphoma and about 12 CT scans. Plus, after having cancer once before, I wanted it out of me; it was mostly an emotional decision.

I had a prostatectomy at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in Manhattan on May 9, 2014.

 

Advice for Those Recently Diagnosed with Cancer

This is a list of 21 bits of advice I have for someone about to go through cancer treatment that involves chemotherapy or longer periods of radiation. As with all advice related to cancer, consult with your physician before acting any of my advice.

  1. Tell everyone you know about having cancer.
    Most people will figure it out and many won't want to ask; telling people you have cancer removes the awkwardness and starts the conversation.
  2. Tell your parents, partner, children early on not to shield you from anything.
    They may be tempted to treat you like a child and shield you from information they think you might find upsetting. I was sick, but could handle sad news.
  3. Take a medical leave from work and disappear until you have fully recovered.
    It's better to be absent and somewhat mysterious than to be labeled as a weak link.
  4. Join a support group. Start soon after you’re diagnosed and keep going.
    You'll want to build relationships before treatment so you have them when things get tough.
  5. Hire a cleaning service.
    A clean house will make you feel better.
  6. Subscribe to Netflix and Amazon Prime.
    You'll have many hours where you will only want to vegetate and watch TV. Food commercials on broadcast TV and Hulu can be upsetting if you're nauseous.
  7. Get a comfortable chair that reclines so you can sleep on it.
    You may fade in and out and it's nice to have a good place for a short nap.
  8. Check out guided imagery audio.
    I found the recordings by Belleruth Naparstek particularly helpful.
  9. Keep a journal.
    Even if you only record dates of milestone events, tests and drugs taken, you'll want to have a basic record of your experience.
  10. Take lots of pictures of yourself including naked ones.
    Your body will likely go through some changes and it's good to have a record of the journey.
  11. Accept help.
    People want to help, so let them. 
  12. Rest when you feel like it and not based on time of day or night.
    Don't get hung up on keeping a regular sleep schedule.
  13. Go with your food cravings no matter how odd.
    If you have nausea, eat whatever you can handle. I had a period where I ate only coleslaw and cheesecake.
  14. Shave your head before you start loosing lots of hair.
    Be brave and take your own hair. Be in control and embrace your new look.
  15. Automate your financials.
    Set up your financial life so your bills get paid on time.
  16. See your dentist and ask about preventative care.
    Your dentist may want to see you more often during treatment.
  17. Tell your family and friends what they can do for you.
    People who love you want to help and may not know what you need. Tell them.
  18. Plan something fun for when you are through with your treatments.
    You'll want a focus for the future post-treatment.
  19. Get a mediport if chemotherapy is your treatment.
    Ask your doctor about getting a mediport. I found it made drawing blood and getting drugs more pleasant. 
  20. Remember, the chemotherapy drugs are helping you; cancer is your enemy.
    Focus your frustration on the right thing.
  21. Be a germ Nazi and don’t be concerned about offending anyone who is sick.
    Someone else's minor cold could be life threatening to you if you have weakened immune system. Ask everyone who wants to visit about their health and turn them away if they have any signs of a cold or flu.