Learn more below about Mike Beer, our featured Spotlight Survivor for April. We asked Mike some questions about surviving colon cancer and we’re so happy he obliged! Thanks, Mike! You kick butt!
Can you please share a little bit about your cancer diagnosis and treatment? (how old were you at the time of diagnosis?; what type of cancer was it and what stage?; and what kind of treatment did you receive?)
I was diagnosed in June of 2012 with stage 3 colorectal cancer at the age of 54. I received approximately 6 weeks of radiation therapy before having surgery in September of that year. I then had six months of adjuvant chemotherapy. The cancer recurred in late 2014 and I had surgery again in March of 2015. I have been in chemotherapy since. My prognosis is hopeful.
How were you affected by cancer?
To say that the diagnosis was a complete game changer would be the ultimate understatement. It turned my world completely upside down. I had lived 54 years of a charmed existence. A broken finger was about as bad a health crisis as I’d ever had. In the days immediately post-diagnosis I was numb, depressed, deeply negative about the future, and generally in a state of great duress. As time went by, however, and I was able to get more information about my specific condition and the nature of the cancer in general, I began to have a much more balanced view. While none of us know how long we have on this earth, I became resigned to the fact that I was going to have to fight for every day I could get. That focused my thinking and my life. Make no mistake, though, cancer dominates your life.
What did you find was most beneficial to you while going through treatment/surgeries, etc?
Without a doubt, the love and support of my family and friends. They are what made it possible for me to get through the dark times and are the motivation for continuing to fight the good fight. As important, however, were and are the physicians, nurses, technicians, other medical staff, as well as other patients. You would expect the cancer community to be a pretty gloomy and dire place, but nothing could be further from the truth. The genuine care, concern, and incredible skill of these people provide a level of confidence and a sense of well being that is invavluable in enduring treatment and surgery. I applaud those who have dedicated their careers to helping us along the road we’re on. The combined presence of family, friends, other patients, and the medical community all provide the foundation required to fight on with hope, confidence, and a sense that all is not lost.
Looking back on your experience, what do you wish you had known before/during your fight?
This may sound really strange, but I’m not sure some degree of ingorance about the experience is not a good thing. If I had known in advance all that I would have to deal with, I’m not sure I could have begun the fight with the right mental outlook. It would have been a lot easier to have just given up. Again, this may be a bit counterintuitive, but I found it easier to deal with hurdles as they arose. If I had known all that was in store for me, I’m not sure I could have started down this road with the same positive mental outlook. Of course, total ignorance is never a good thing, either. A good rule of thumb for me has been to rely on the fact that things will not likely be as good as you’d like, but neither will they as bad as they could be. That’s what keeps me in the fight.
What are a few pieces of advice you would offer to those who have recently faced a diagnosis?
Stay calm. You have a longe road ahead of you. Don’t jump to conclusions. Obtain all the knowledge about the disease, its treatment, the options available to you, and begin researching your optimal treatment facility. The best advice is to approach this as you would a major project. You wouldn’t begin building a bridge without first having a plan. It’s not natural for us, but we have to be our own best advocate as we navigate the process and we have to be comfortable with the plan going forward. Interview doctors, look at facilities, consult with other patients. The final choice as to how you approach this is always up to you. Also, in your research, ignore data on survival rates. Better yet, ignore it. It’s typically dated and does not reflect the most up to date treatments that will be available to you today. You have enough anxiety. Who needs more? Finally, make sure you have executed both a durable power of attorney and a health care directive. There may be a need for someone to make decisions on your behalf during surgery, treatment, etc., and you want them to be able to do so without any delay.
What are a few pieces of advice you would offer to the family members of the diagnosed?
Be patient. You may think you know what your loved one is going through, but you don’t. Not even close, unless you yourself have been through it. The best thing you can do is be there to support your loved one. There will be good days, bad days, and a whole lot of in-between days. Do not get frustrated with mood swings. They can be pretty intense. Simply realize that your loved one is going through the worst experience of their life. Also, don’t feel bad or ashamed about your own sense of frustration with your loved one, or the weight of the burden being placed on you. Try not to let them know it, but don’t feel that it’s wrong to feel these things and give them vent somehow. You’re all going through worst of it, all feelings are natural and need to be dealt with in a healthy manner. Finally, share in the process of gaining knowledge with your loved one. There may be an occasion when you need to be the advocate. You need to be as informed as your loved one.
What do you think is the most important thing to remember while fighting the difficult and indescribable battle with cancer?
A positive mental attitude is essential. I honestly believe that remaining positive and keeping your sense of humor does more to help you along the way than anything. A positive attitude and a sense of humor actually lighten the load somewhat. Also, it’s easy to fall into the “why me” funk. Don’t. No one is guaranteed a tomorrow, so no matter what your situation, today is an incredible gift. Frankly, it’s all we have with any degree of certainty. As one fellow patient told me, why waste the time you have worrying about the time you might not have.
If you could communicate anything to those who have been affected by cancer and those that may be, what would that be?
Keep things in the proper perspective. As I’ve said, things are never as good or as bad as they seem. Take every day as it comes and live your life to the fullest. My dad used to say, if this were the last five minutes of your life, how would you want to live them. We should live every minute like that. Never give up hope. Lean on the community that is there to support you. If you are at risk, but not yet afflicted, take every precaution you can and get regular screenings and check ups. This is not a club you want to join.
What has been the toughest part of your experience with colon cancer?
Learning to live without a colon and a bladder. The technical advances in external appliances have been wonderful, but having them has created special challenges, both in terms of just getting used to the maintenance of them, but also in dealing with the inevitable failures in public. You just learn to cope.
What are you proudest of?
My family. They have been as supportive of me as they could be. Remember, cancer effects everyone in a significant, life altering way. They have cheerfully and lovingly made the changes in their lives that my situation has required. I’m sure there are moments away from me when they may express some frustration, and that is good, but I’ve never once seen anything other than love, support, and hope.
What are you most grateful for?
That I live in this time and have access to the caliber of health care professionals that I do. I probably would have already been dead twenty-five years ago. Today, I’m still fighting.
What is your biggest dream today?
Simple. To live every day to the fullest.
That’s such great advice for all of us, Mike! Thanks for all you do to kick colon cancer’s butt!
Are you interested in nominating a survivor for the “Survivor Spotlight” in the future? Email Patty Francis!