My diagnosis came at an apex of stress and challenge in 2009. I was 33, my first daughter was three months old, and I was a financial investment advisor in the middle of the credit crisis crash. I wasn’t sleeping much with the new baby, my income was down 40%, I had a bunch of new expenses, and—oh, here you go—here’s some cancer to deal with.
The news I had cancer hit me like a semi-truck. I had surgery, but I waited on the chemo because my doctor thought it was prudent to see how things progressed first. I was feeling good—eating healthy, becoming more mindful, exercising—and I didn’t think the cancer was coming back.
In my first check-up scan, the doctor discovered three tumors in my lungs, and everything accelerated. I banked sperm the next day, had a titanium port installed in my chest, and I was in chemotherapy, all at warp speed.
I tried to retain some sense of independence during treatment. I took the bus to and from the treatments at first, but toward the end, I needed help getting home. Friends made us dinner or walked the dog. It was humbling, and it helped me appreciate my family and friends.
My wife was amazing through all of it. She took care of the baby while I was in treatment and when I was too tired to get up in the middle of the night. And being married allowed me to move past the common issues with my type of cancer. I didn’t have to worry about dating or talking about it. She said it didn’t look that different with just one. And we had one healthy daughter, and having a second later with my ‘super nut’ helped quite a bit to keep me feeling “normal”. I called the sperm bank and told them to throw it out.
As a survivor, I could have made myself crazy worrying that my cancer was spreading. But I read Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now,and that book helped me to know that I couldn’t predict the outcome and to focus on the moment. It helped me to find the humility to accept not being able to control the future.
My friend Joe, who I met through Imerman Angels, was a mentor. He was the only young person I knew then who had cancer. He showed up for a lot of my treatments, and we went to a lot of Imerman Angels events. That introduced me to a community of young adult cancer survivors I didn’t know existed. I had no idea how many people have cancer.
A lot of men my age work and travel hard—maybe too much, with new families. I’m committed to my job and, strangely, cancer has helped my business grow. It’s because of the way I now approach my clients’ concerns about saving for things like college and retirement. I have a different angle on how to help people make good choices.
I’ve also reset my old priorities—career, income and achievements—to enjoying life. I regularly spend Fridays with family. I work from home three days a week so I’m able to have breakfast, lunch and dinner with my young kids on those days. And I find more satisfaction in the way I work with my clients now.
Oddly, my cancer experience and the check-ups have kept me grounded, yanking me away from worry about the stuff that doesn’t really matter. A lot of things seem easier now.
It’s hard to convey my perspective to others who haven’t had a near-death experience or cancer. When I first came out of treatment, everyone expected me to be ready to party. But it took seven months of physical recovery before I actually felt fine again. And the follow-up period offered a time for reflection, which was challenging in and of itself.
As a survivor, it makes sense to say “I’m lucky to be alive and I’m going to live my life to the fullest now.” But what “the fullest” came to mean to me threw me for a loop. Before cancer, it would have meant lots more Cubs games, a lot more travel, kind of a bucket-list approach. Now, it means almost the opposite: taking my daughter to the playground or going for a hike in the forest—simple, deeper pleasures.
The combination of cancer and being a new father softened me. I’m more humble and compassionate after cancer than I was before, but also a much tougher-minded person. Cancer brought out the best in me.
Scott is a five-year survivor.