One in a series of stories asking former patients to reflect upon their experience ...
Like many who face a cancer diagnosis, Kurt Deetz struggled at first with isolation, fear and depression.
Told in 2009 that a malignant lump on his tonsil had spread to a lymph node, he worried about all that he would lose. Would he get to see his son, 7 years old at the time, grow to be a young man? Would he be able to continue his career as a helicopter pilot?
His outlook changed when Deetz, of Burbank, Calif., arrived at City of Hope. He knew that in the person of Ellie Maghami, M.D., he was under the care of a top head-and-neck cancer doctor. He resolved to never give up, to fight the disease with all that he had.
His positive attitude saw him through treatment — “the hardest thing I have ever done in my life,” according to Deetz. Chemotherapy and an intensive course of targeted radiation at City of Hope drove his disease into remission. Today, he is cancer-free, back behind the controls of a chopper and enjoying life with his family.
We asked Deetz to look back at the time of his diagnosis and to ask himself what he knows now that he wishes he’d known then. What wisdom, soothing words, practical tips or just old-fashioned advice would he give his newly diagnosed self?
1. Never give up, no matter how bad it goes.
It’s easy to give in to pain. It’s easy to give in to “woe is me.” You have to fight. You have to let the bad stuff that’s in your body know that it has no chance of winning.
Through the pain, never give up. I never gave up. I was determined to kill those cancer cells. My mindset was: Put my head down and fight, fight, fight!
2. Don’t let people feel sorry for you.
It drove me crazy. I understand they were trying to help. However, I felt that their sorrow was going to make me sad. It was going to allow me to give in and feel bad about the situation. In my mind, it was going to weaken me, make me soft and make me want to give up.
I loved when people said things like, “You look good. You have a good attitude.” Those were words that kept me strong.
3. Laugh as much as you can.
I found humor in everything. Even when it took me almost three hours to drink an 8-ounce Ensure, I laughed. It hurt like crazy, but you have to make fun of it. It’s only temporary.
4. Be as positive as you can.
Cancer hates positive people. I think this mindset goes hand-in-hand with not giving in and laughing at everything. I truly feel that I am cancer-free today because of my positive attitude.
5. Just because a doctor says “this might happen” during treatment doesn’t mean it will.
I heard horror stories for other people getting treatment. I heard how your skin blisters, peels and gets very hot from the radiation. None of that happened to me. I heard how you will need a feeding tube. I never had one. Just the thought of a tube made me eat as much as I could, no matter how long it took. I really learned a lot about my body and how not everyone is the same.
6. Post-treatment life is so important.
Once I was done with treatments, I was hiking and getting back on track as soon as I was able. You have to keep your body healthy. It’s just my opinion, but I feel that it gives you the upper hand on keeping the cancer from coming back.