Story by Kevin Bang.
Those two words best describe Doug Friedt’s approach to his cancer journey.
“When you hear that you have cancer, it is a horrible moment,” Doug recalled to me over lunch one Friday afternoon this summer. “Shock, fear, the unknown. Al of those things go through your head. One thing I never did, and I think this was key to my treatment, is that I never said or wondered ‘why me.’ I thought that would be wasted energy, and I needed to concentrate on treatment and getting better. I had a great medical team, great support and did not want to spend time feeling sorry for myself.”
Doug was 60 years old, and the Head of Human Resources at ECKART America in Painesville, Ohio, when doctors at the Cleveland Clinic found a squamous cell carcinoma in his neck. His intense treatment spanned from March until August of 2015. Right from the beginning, Doug’s determination was at the center of his cancer journey. “It’s very important to be an advocate for yourself. My primary care physician blew off the lump in my neck, and I pursued getting it checked on my own. If I had not done that, I would not be talking to you right now.”
Once Doug’s initiative put him in the hands of the right medical professionals, he really appreciated their expertise and caring. “I counted on my doctors, one of which is the 5th best head and neck cancer oncologist in the world, to tell me what I need to know,” Doug said. “My nurses and caregivers were also excellent. They have a very hard job to do, but soon I looked at them as members of my family. There was lots of support and hugs, and a lot of joking around because I am the class clown.”
Doug’s support team, however, stretched beyond the walls of any medical facility. “My wife Barb was the most important person in my support network,” he said. “My son and daughter-in-law and our close friends were wonderful support. I have two friends that are cancer survivors and they were excellent support because they really understood. My colleagues at work were good support, as they understood I was going to be unavailable for several hours a day and could not travel. They only contacted me for the most urgent issues. The CEO of ECKART also checked in from time to time to see how I was doing. I was very fortunate to have a cancer that was curable, and the treatment was successful. Thinking back, I honestly don’t think I had any issue I faced alone; except being bolted to the treatment table every day, and wondering if the treatment was working.”
Even amongst a team of great doctors and nurses, as well as dependable friends and family, there were physical challenges to overcome during treatment. “I lost my taste about week four,” Doug recalled. “I had no desire to eat. My wife, out of an abundance of concern, tried to make me lots of different things and none of them appealed to me. I know she was frustrated, but I could not eat. I existed on Boost-it was awful. I know she thought she was not doing her part and not taking care of me. I had friends drive me to my daily treatments sometimes so they could ‘do something’ and it helped. A dear friend who had cancer 18 years ago went with me a couple times and sat in the waiting room of the radiation therapy department. I am sure it was difficult for her, but she insisted on being with me.”Doug was determined to keep up with his work during treatment. He says he thinks he put more expectations on himself than anyone else put on him: “I did not want to let anything at work to get missed, so I worked from home almost every day during the seven most intense weeks of treatment. I went into the office for the first couple weeks because there were no side effects until about week four.”
Amongst the hours of treatment and work, Doug also made time to write a blog about his cancer experience: “It was an easy way to keep everyone up to date and my wife and I had lots of fun with it. It was a great way to “talk” about what was going on and we looked forward to posting.”
Doug’s determination, along with his team of support and his sense of humor and perspective, drove him through cancer treatment, until the day in August of 2015 when he heard the words “the cancer has been eradicated,” and he became a survivor. “I lost 7 months of time that I would have been doing other things that I wanted to do,” Doug said. “But my journey gave me a renewed understanding that life is pretty fragile and can change dramatically in a few minutes. I also saw the tremendous courage of those with cancer whose prognosis was not as good as mine.”
Doug has thoughts and advice for others who face similar journeys: “Learn as much as you can, be an active participant in the treatment and ask questions when you don’t understand. Use the resources of a social worker if you are struggling with anything, since they are there to help. The Scott Hamilton Foundation has a program, Fourth Angels, where you are paired up with someone who had the same cancer. It is a big help to have someone to talk to. They also can pair up your caregiver with another caregiver (spouse, significant other etc.) who can help them with being a caregiver. Also, try to stay busy somehow. Read, heaven forbid watch TV, learn something new, play video games, and walk. Don’t dwell on cancer, and drive on every day.
“After treatment, there seems to be a void, because there’s all manner of activity during the medical treatment period, and then you are done, and in my case cured, that activity stops. Seek a group of survivors to share your experiences: it helps. Only cancer survivors understand what it means to have had cancer. Now that I am a survivor, I spend time thinking about what that really means. The diagnosis and treatment are certainly life changing, so now the question is how to spend the rest of my time on earth. My plan is to enjoy every day, keep friends and family close and try to have no regrets.”With cancer in the rearview mirror, Doug Friedt is determined to drive on.
Doug is a two-year survivor.