Cancer is personal, so it’s part of my brand

"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.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Paul: I have seen you speak and I have always appreciated your blog coming into my inbox but I have never been motivated to post until now. I agree about illnesses being part of your personal brand; as Gloria Steinem once said: “The personal is political.” I very much hope that your recovery will be smooth.
    Having also come through a life-altering near-death experience a few years back, I would add a question for you:
    How do you find the perspective you have gained from having cancer has ENRICHED your personal brand?

  • Great question Kate, I am going to ponder that one watch for a future blog post.

  • Steve Rosen

    Paul,
    My compliments for having the personal courage to share your circle. As you said, it is not an unusual one, unfortunately.
    My thoughts and prayers are with you. You are an incredibly generous human being in the work that you do, and touch many people’s lives for the better. I hope some of that positive energy comes right back at you, and gets focused exactly where it needs to be to speed your healing!
    All my best,
    Steve

  • Steve Rosen

    Sorry, I meant share your story, not circle, in the first sentence. Should have previewed first!

  • Paul,
    Glad to hear your are over the treatments and awaiting next steps. I think you story is very appropriate for your blog for as you say its part of your brand.
    Very Best wishes from all your friends at HAPPEN, please keep us posted.
    Regards,
    Jim Geraghty
    HAPPEN

  • Kathy Weston

    Paul
    Thank you for sharing with us what you have been going through. I believe that we shouldn’t separate the personal side of who we are from our business purpose. It is the combination of everything that we do and what happens to us that makes us who we are, whether at work or at play.
    Best wishes for a speedy recovery.
    Kathy

  • Michael Scott

    Paul: Thank you for sharing this journey with us Paul. I have read your blog a few times and want you to know you are very much in my thoughts and prayers. I’m particularly pleased to read that your wide circle of friends, and your family, are such a source of energy and comfort for you. I have some news of my own, of a different nature, and will send you a note as soon as I can. In the meantime, continue to be well ….and keep the blogs coming!
    Michael

  • Barbara Trendos

    Paul,
    Thank you for sharing your story and good luck with whatever comes next in your journey. I think your story absolutely has a place in your blog: it’s part of you and therefore a part of your brand. Regarding Kate’s question, I think that any major event in one’s life and perhaps especially cancer, puts life in a new and better perspective. That can only enhance your personal brand.
    Best,
    Barbara

  • Ever a leader and expert communicator. Now more human than ever. A very personal, personable Paul. In my thoughts and prayers, as ever, Amanda

  • Cheryl Verbiski

    Paul there are moments in life when one should stop and take stock. You created that moment today. I thank you for your candor and dedication. Best wishes on a speedy recovery.
    Sincerely,
    Cheryl

  • A big virtual hug goes out to Steve, Kathy, Jim, Michael, Barbara, Amanda and Cheryl for sharing on the blog, your comments uplifted me further and also to the many people who have responded directly. I wish that anyone going through this process has similar support, friendship and love thank you.

  • I just came home from an event at the Princess Margaret, and was awed by the progress in research and treatment options. I reflected how lucky we are to live in Toronto and Canada, and have access to the most amazing medical professionals… then I read your post.
    Paul, I am heartened by your story, thank you for sharing your journey. Many blessings,
    Maureen McCabe,
    Passionate Marketer

  • Paul, thank you for sharing your personal challenge and experience with your readers and friends. Your strength and determination is evident in your writing, and we are grateful for your matter of fact approach as you share the details of your journey. Those of us fortunate to have worked with you are grateful for your assistance, guidance and friendship. We pray for your complete and speedy recovery and hope for positive news in the weeks and months ahead.

  • Alex

    I always read your blog and was very touched by this story. I lost my first husband and my Mum to cancer, and can relate to some of what you are saying (though of course every case is different.) I think that having gone through the above in my early 30’s, it added strength to my character and I guess, my personal brand, along with an ability to see the positive in most situations.

  • Thanks Cyril and Alex

  • Imran M. Ismail

    I think you are right on the spot. Personal branding is all about YOU, and we cannot seperate personal YOU from professional YOU! – Although there is some balance required.
    Thanks for sharing various dimensions of your personal brand. And as I see everytime – you are always on-brand.
    Praying for your full recovery – soon.

  • Cheron Long-Landes

    Six months on and I hope that you are feeling stronger and healing well. Thinking of you and sending you every good wish for a complete recovery, Paul.

  • Thanks Cheron, just a few weeks ago received a clear health report, now just regular check ups and a new lease on life!

  • Ed Cox

    Hi Paul
    I did not get to your blog on this until today.
    I agree that our life experiences should also be a part of our personal branding otherwise we will tend to define ourselves by our work. What happens when you have work disruptions such as company restructures leading to unemployment or retirement.
    If we accomplish life balance between our work and our personal time we will have a much richer personal time if we are not totally defined by our work.

  • Thanks Ed, living to work is not a great mantra anymore, working to live certainly rings truer for more and more people. Paul

  • Ray Brooks

    Paul, Thanks for sharing your thoughts and feelings in this post. Coincidentally I missed this post in January because I had just started a course of chemotherapy. I agree with all that you said and hope that you make a complete recovery to give your speech at your daughters wedding.

  • Thanks Ray, that could be a long time, I have no plans to let my daughter marry before she is 40! Sorry to hear you have been facing your own challenges. Wishing you speedy recovery and long health

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