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How Suffering May Change You for the Better

2013-016-10_kilingsworth_580x326I was reading an opinion piece by David Brooks in today’s New York Times and it clarified for me a theme I wanted to write about. Brooks wrote about the transformative effect of suffering in an age where everyone is pursuing happiness. I got to thinking about the suffering that comes with illness. When it is serious and protracted, it changes you. I have heard that so many times from cancer survivors. I know in my case, living with cancer since 1996, I have experienced it in my own life and since then I have become what I call “Andrew 2.0.” Different things are important; I am more introspective; I am more committed to others; and I celebrate every day. Of course, I have heard that from so many others. Cancer knocks you on your butt, and if you are lucky enough to get up and move on you are, in some ways, better for it.

This morning I met with my regular crowd of dog owners at the park. There’s one man I had not seen for awhile. Pepe (remember I live in Barcelona right now) was usually upbeat, smiling and making jokes. Not today. It turns out he has advanced colon cancer and is living with a lot of pain–emotional and physical. Scary, for him, treatment is around the corner and the future is in doubt. I shared with him that I am a two-time cancer survivor and doing well and that I know several colon cancer survivors who are  also doing well. He listened, but he’s in the thick of it.  I believe Pepe’s suffering will transform into a new way for him to see the world and his life. Now that more cancers can become long-term affairs, it allows us to re-evaluate and change, hopefully for the better. Suffering helped us find the strength we didn’t know we had.

One of my mentors in the cancer world is a man named Pat Killingsworth. He has multiple myeloma. He has devoted his life to helping others with the disease and writes a daily blog. Recently, I interviewed pat and he talked about the future as he described living on “myeloma time.” Whether you are suffering with this illness or another you must listen. Pat is very inspiring.

Of course, you don’t have to have cancer to have illness shake you to the core and force you to see things differently. As I write this my eldest child, Ari, 24, is lying in bed in Seattle with mononucleosis. This high energy young man who was days away from running in the Boston Marathon now is unable to run, temporarily, and is fighting fever, fatigue and a really bad sore throat. Many of us had this when we were younger. I am confident Ari will be fine even though he is suffering now and the illness has crushed one of his dreams.  There will be other marathons. And like the rest of us he will have a new perspective on the other side of this, more clarity on what’s important, more understanding of what we can control and what we can’t. Suffering teaches us that and we are better for it.

Here’s wishing you and your family the best of health!

Andrew

On the Road Again for Cancer Connections

Over the next couple of weeks I will be traveling thousands of miles on long-distance flights to connect with other patients, in person. It can be exhausting but it’s energizing too. Like any of us with a compromised immune system (I keep getting chest or sinus infections!) there can be a price to pay for [...]

The Age of “Patient Opinion Leaders”

I am writing this from a conference of pharmaceutical executives meeting in my hometown of Barcelona, Spain. I was a speaker here at the Eye for Pharma conference trying to drive home the point that the pharmaceutical industry (“pharma”) needs to support, without control, ongoing education programs for patients. I hope the message begins to [...]

ESPN’s Stuart Scott: Kickboxing Cancer

I have always admired ESPN sports anchor Stuart Scott, 48, of West Hartford, Connecticut. Maybe it’s because he’s originally from North Carolina, where I lived for 12 years. Maybe it’s because we both attended and graduated from UNC Chapel Hill. Or maybe it’s because both of our broadcasting careers got a start at the student [...]

More Cancer Progress: The Unfolding Story in Advanced Prostate Cancer

I have written here many times of my excitement about progress in treating blood-related cancers, so called “liquid tumors.” And. like me, many of our visitors have one of them. But many men also worries about prostate cancer. I am happy to report that here, too, there’s a lot of progress in an unfolding story.

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An open letter to Tom Brokaw about cancer

Dear Tom (I am calling you that instead of “Mr. Brokaw” because, like millions of Americans, I feel like I know you personally),

I read that you have announced you have cancer, multiple myeloma, and that you and your doctors are optimistic. At 74, no one knows how much time they have left, but I [...]

With Imbruvica (Ibrutinib) Approval CLL Options Accelerating

This week the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as expected, approved ibrutinib, now known as Imbruvica, for CLL patients who have tried at least one prior therapy. It gives the hope of being a one-pill-a-day treatment and giving a new lease of life for some of the sickest CLL (chronic lymphocytic leukemia) patients and [...]

It’s Counterintuitive: Cancer and Laughter

Dr. Michael Keating and CLL Patient Shari Brenner who brings him a homemade cake at every visit

For so many years, if you were told you had cancer, you equated that with death. And the path to that death was usually paved with treatments that caused pain, trauma, and cast a pall on your [...]

Patient’s Urgent and Ongoing Search for Cancer Information

Andrew Schorr and hematologist Dr. Haifa Al-Ali at her clinic in Leipzig, Germany

As we have written many times here, the pace of research and discovery in many cancer types is accelerating. I wish it was for all cancers, but I take heart in that it is for some. Two of which I have: [...]

Cancer is a Marathon, Not a Sprint, and Definitely Not a War

A recent article by Bill Keller in The New York Times told the story of a woman fighting advanced cancer in New York. Bill raised the question of whether we cancer patients should see ourselves in a war with constant or recurring battles or see it differently. He wondered if, when cancer appears to be [...]