Brad Smith on Growing Through Cancer

Grow Through It: Health Issues & Illness

Brad Smith has experienced more than one bout of cancer, but was fortunate to have discovered it at all. Pain around his eye took him to the emergency room where the doctors didn’t find anything, but suggested he go to his primary care physician and also have a stress test. His primary care took one look at him and recognized that he had shingles. She sent him to the cardiologist for a workup and the cardiologist saw a mass on his lung. After visiting the pulmonologist, he was diagnosed as having non-small cell lung cancer and was immediately put on chemo and radiation.

About a year later, the cancer had metastasized to his brain and the tumor was removed. He was put on Tarceva, a cancer drug, until his doctor later changed his prescription to Tagrisso, a state of the art lung cancer medication.

Smith was stable until 2020 when he started to experience pneumonia-like symptoms. He thought it was COVID-19, but it was actually pneumonitis, a rare side effect of Tagrisso. He went off of Tagrisso. After two months and scans, there was no evidence of the cancer. More months went by with more scans and no cancer detected. This has been going on for 3.5 years. He is not on any cancer drugs and is not receiving any treatment.

It has been a bit of a mystery since lung cancer is not something that tends to just go away. His cancer doctor thinks the pneumonitis may have caused an allergic immunological response that had some effect on the cancer.

In describing how he got through it, Smith says he tries not to stress about things he can’t control. His attitude is ‘it is what it is.’ He has tried to live his life the best way that he can given the situation. Also, it is important for him to be a role model to his children and to show them that while bad things may happen, it is more important how you react to the bad things than the bad things themselves.

His family and friends have helped support him throughout his ordeal. And he feels very comfortable sharing his experience with others. In fact, it gives him energy. He is also an extreme exercise addict who exercised throughout his treatment and continues to do so today.

Smith learned that when you go through an experience like this, there is a divide in the road. In one direction you can accept what you have, live your life, deal with it, and move on. You have one life to live and you need to play the hand you’re dealt. This is how he approached his cancer diagnosis.

He was given 2 or 3 years at the outset and he decided to make the most of the time he had.

His advice is to make exercise a habit when you are healthy. Then it will be easier to exercise if you get sick. He also belongs to several Facebook cancer support groups and sees the benefits in finding a place where people can answer any questions you may have.

Smith encourages others to never lose hope. There are new drugs, new clinical trials every day. And as the old Monty Python movie said, “Always look on the bright side of things.”

Michaela Haas on Growing Through Post-Viral Fatigue

Grow Through It: Health Issues & Illness

Michaela Haas, author of Bouncing Forward: The Art and Science of Cultivating Resilience, tells her story of traveling and living in Asia in her early twenties, becoming very ill at 26, and being bedridden for eight months. She describes her mind and body falling apart and says it took her years before she could become a functioning member of society again.

She eventually found a good doctor who put her on medication and had her change her diet. She left her husband, moved back to Europe, and surrounded herself with more understanding people. She also sought professional help for the first time in her life.

She had to learn to trust herself, her body, and her relationships again. She found help in a community of people similar to her — those who have experienced chronic fatigue and long Covid.

Her advice is to not give up. No matter how dark things are, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel (a trope, but true). Reach out for support, and keep reaching out until you get the help you need. Mindfulness meditation and the habit of gratitude are practices she committed to that helped her bounce forward. They might help you too.

Tanya Frank on Growing Through Her Son’s Mental Illness

Grow Through It: Health Issues & Illness

Tanya Frank, author of Zig-Zag Boy: A Memoir of Madness and Motherhood, describes the day in 2009 when her son Zach, a Merit Scholar at UCLA, came home and began acting uncharacteristically suspicious, fearful and distressed. After not sleeping or eating, she took him to the emergency room the next day and learned that he had experienced a psychotic break.

Thirteen years later she is still working through it. When she was in the States, she trained to be a docent at an elephant seal colony in California, where she was living. The organization was remote, off the grid, and it forced her to try to forge a new identity.

She returned to England, where she, Zach, and his older brother were born and where she had family and friends from childhood, in hopes of finding kinder, more compassionate care.

She learned that there are things she cannot control. Letting go continues to be a challenge. After trying unsuccessfully to find the right drug, the right program, the right doctor who would help her son, she now holds onto hope that one day he will live a more independent life. And she realizes that her life has to go on, as she is his rock.

If you are going through something similar, she suggests you find your kin, your support system. Take care of yourself and try to be with your person without doing, finding the answers, fixing — just listening and trying not to be scared.

Anthony Roth Costanzo on Growing Through Thyroid Cancer

Grow Through It: Health Issues & Illness

Anthony Roth Costanzo, opera singer, performer and producer, tells his story of growing through thyroid cancer after receiving a diagnosis when he was in his 20s and in graduate school.

He knew he had to get his thyroid removed quickly. Since the thyroid sits on top of the vocal nerves, its removal can affect your speaking and singing. So, it was a tricky surgery for a singer.

The diagnosis made him think about his priorities and how he defined himself. Was he defined only by his singing, or by who he was in a larger sense?

He tried to stay optimistic and keep a sense of humor throughout the process. He chose not to tell everyone right away, and surrounded himself with people who would be there in the right way for him.

He was disciplined about doing what he needed to do to heal. After two months, he could sing again. And it was then that he started to have success as a singer.

He reminds himself daily how extraordinary it is to be healthy and to have the ability to do the things we can do.

Yvonne Shortt on Growing Through Vision Loss

Grow Through It: Health Issues & Illness

Yvonne Shortt has had Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) all her life, but was not diagnosed until she was in her 30s. The condition is hereditary. Since no one in her family had it, she simply adapted to her vision differences, including night blindness as a child. She had no idea that anything was really wrong until she started to experience blind spots and symptoms of vision loss in her 30s, and was diagnosed with RP. She got through it by processing it over time, sharing it with colleagues, with the support of her family, and by mutual care-giving. She learned how adaptable and resilient she is as a visually impaired person, and recommends that newly diagnosed people reach out to RP support groups on Facebook, which were very helpful to her. She acknowledges how scary it is to lose your vision and encourages anyone with RP to know that they are not alone, and they will get through it.

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