Ian Tait asked me to speak at the North Delta Terry Fox Run this year because he knows about my cancer history, something I haven’t shared with a lot of people. After my 3 minutes, I met some runners who asked if they could have a copy and it seemed that posting it was probably the easiest way to do that. That said 1) feel free to scroll past and 2) pardon the spotty structure, this was written in the very suspect way I speak 🙂
“As of this fall, I have been medically declared cancer-free for 28 years. In 1990 I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Yeah, I’d never heard of it before either. Turns out it is the most common form of cancer for males under the age of 30. Do me a favour and tell all the young men in your life to google ‘testicular cancer self examination’. That’ll be a slightly weird but good conversation, trust me.
One of the things about cancer is, it’s really inconvenient. It tends to come up at the most inconvenient times…I’m sure that almost everyone who’s been diagnosed with cancer would say the same thing. You were busy, you had a whole life going on, things to do, deadlines to meet, people who were counting on you.
And then oh, yeah, by the way you have a disease that could, and if left unchecked probably will, kill you. So you’d better start rearranging things. Cancer now gets to sit at the top of the priority list. It is, among many other adjectives, inconvenient. Terry Fox was an 18 yr old freshman at SFU who, I have heard, was delighted to have made the best varsity basketball team in the province when he was diagnosed with the cancer in his knee that started his incredible journey. Terribly inconvenient, terribly important.
I was 27 years old when I was diagnosed. Six months previously I had moved thousands of miles away from all my friends and family to take a morning radio job in a city where I knew no one, Windsor. It was SO not the right time or place to be diagnosed with cancer. The speed with which it all happened still astounds me. This was no long, drawn out exploratory process. In was my first appointment with the urologist not even 10 minutes had gone by when he had finished examining the growth and said said he was booking me into surgery for the next morning. This was terribly inconvenient. I naively said, “oh, that’s not possible…I have to work tomorrow morning”. And he replied that it should come out tomorrow morning because it couldn’t conceivably be anything but cancerous. 5 minutes later I was in my car, driving home without looking at the road.
Less than 18 hours after that, I was in a hospital room recovering from surgery, the initial tumour already gone. In spite of the anesthesia I remember waking up in that bed with vivid clarity, my head a jumble of questions that barely had time to form before being brushed aside by dozens of others. What did this mean? What was testicular cancer? What had caused it? Had it spread? How would be find out? What would be treatment then? How badly does chemo hurt? Would I still be able to have kids? Again, thousands of miles from anyone I could talk to, no internet to get information, floating in a sea of confusion that felt like it was swallowing me.
From there, my story is honestly so much easier than many cancer stories that it doesn’t even compare. Eight months later, I’d had a 2nd much more involved surgery to remove the lymph nodes along my spinal column that would have been the next location any cancer would spread to. They happily found no cancer in those nodes and every year since then a series of doctors have told me that I continue to be cancer free.
I am very aware that it sounds way too casual to say cancer is inconvenient. It is, however, an effective way to frame all the things we think we have to do every day that seem really really important until something really really serious gets in the way.
I know you have a ton of other things you could do with your week. Even early on a Sunday morning in September, there’s a long list of musts you could and should be attending to. But you’re here. In spite of all the really important duties in your life, you came here to make Terry Fox important, to make fighting cancer important. And on behalf of everyone who’s ever had cancer, thank god you did. We really appreciate it. And for those family and friends who have a cancer battle coming up that we don’t even realize yet and who need the Terry Fox Foundation to be strong, thank god you’re here. They REALLY appreciate it. God bless and have a great morning.”