"You're not alone, in fact this type of cancer is the fastest growing type of oral cancer in men under 55, who do not smoke and are not heavy drinkers"
That word "cancer" immediately causes a heightened level of awareness as well as obvious concern.
Last October after a great summer vacation with my family in Jamaica and what I thought was a viral lump in my neck gland had seemed to go away and come back, I finally went to see my family doctor.
Within 72 hours I had most medical exams and tests you could imagine for this and was told that nothing appeared sinister and that I was being referred to an Ear, Nose, Throat Specialist. After two appointments with him and two inconclusive biopsies, he felt it was better to refer me to a head/neck colleague.
The appointment with this Dr came within 5 days (I figured not a good sign) and just a few days before Christmas last year, he sat down with me and very calmly and with much care said "I'm sorry, but I am 95% certain this is HPV cancer."
The week between Christmas and New Year the results of his biopsy came back and he confirmed that the lump in the lymph node was the secondary site of a head/neck cancer and that I was going to be referred to the Juravinski Cancer Centre in Hamilton for next steps. As you can imagine my mind went in to overdrive - all the negative, worse case scenarios as well as positive and even humorous takes on the whole situation.
The early January meetings with a round robin of Dr's resulted in mixed courses of action; surgery, immediate radiation, etc but the senior Dr wanted to take a little more time to see if the primary source could be located. He won out the day and after a left hand side tonsillectomy it was confirmed the tonsil was the primary source AND that it was HPV (Human Papilloma Virus). Believe it or not I was actually quite excited for a couple of reasons. Having lost my step mother to a cancer where they were never able to find the primary source and therefore treat it effectively, with me this meant we knew what we were dealing with. Secondly through the power of Google I was becoming quite well informed about HPV cancers in men, various treatment approaches, clinical trials - prognosis and success rates were encouragingly high.
After the surgery, a course of radiation and chemo treatments were recommended and at the beginning of March, I embarked on the first of three chemo and the first of 35 consecutive weekday radiation treatments. The treatments are now concluded and I am awaiting further tests to determine levels of treatment success and next steps.
Overall the whole process was probably better than was first laid out to me, side effects and the severe burning (like extreme sunburn outside and inside the whole neck throat area) have quite quickly subsided. Although I need to put back on some weight and muscle tone, my levels of energy are improving daily and I am back to eating almost normally.
But what I have also discovered on this journey so far, are a number of far more impactful things;
1. Most people, that I have come across, who are diagnosed with cancer ask a question of themselves along these lines - "If this was it, am I going to be happy tomorrow doing what I am doing today?" - for me this was probably in part one of the easiest questions to answer because I love what I do - helping people realise the impact of personal branding. I am going to be re-designing my business model in a number of areas over the coming weeks and months and priorities for some things are going to less and for others more (you will be reading more on all this in the blog over the coming months), but personal branding will still be at the centre.
2. You're not alone - everyone you speak to has been touched either directly or indirectly by cancer and have stories and words of encouragement to share. Do not be afraid to reach out and ask for perspective and insight from others.
3. I am very grateful and blessed to be surrounded by a loving and supportive family, fantastic network of friends and colleagues and many more I hardly knew but who have become more to me through this experience.
4. There is always someone who has it way worse than you, it may not make easier to bear, but it puts it all in perspective. You can find much strength from others who face the same challenge, there is a 'club' to which you belong and immediately you have a new set of cheerleaders.
5. Kids especially can help that perspective, we were very upfront from the beginning with our two about the whole situation, not hiding facts or conversations from them. They have been amazing and the card that my daughter gave to me within days of knowing what was happening says it all for me "Be happy and healthy - I will always love you" - I will be reading that in my father of the bride speech in 20 years (or hopefully longer!).
I spent a lot of time considering whether this type of post or topic has a place in a blog that has always had a business bias, but the more I realise what it is I offer, the more it made sense.
In the re-worked words of Larry Winget - "They call it PERSONAL branding for a reason" - cancer is very personal, but its part of my brand - thanks for reading.