Can a cancer diagnosis positively affect a person? Now in remission, Todd Seals thinks so.
The year 2006 was the best of times and the worst of times. I was head over heels in love and putting the pieces of a shattered life back together.
Then I was diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer. However, it changed my life for the better.
As I sip my morning coffee nearly 16 years after my cancer diagnosis, I reflect on the man who was and how I became the man who is.
Life before prostate cancer
At 42, I was a twice-divorced, bitter, self-absorbed workaholic. I took vacations only when forced. I found no joy in life and was incredibly cynical and sarcastic.
I’d struggled for the 3 years prior with drug addiction and self-destructive behaviour. The root cause was loneliness. Addiction numbed the pain, yet it always returned.
I wanted to die. Life was a bitter disappointment, and suicide seemed like a viable option. I attempted and, fortunately, failed.
I resolved to leave it all behind me and put my life back together in August 2005.
But the following winter was hard on me. I hadn’t been feeling very well and was tired. All I could do was finish my shift at work and go home. I rarely ate dinner and went to bed early, but I didn't have much appetite anyway.
I rationalised my symptoms and somehow managed to explain them away in my head.
My cancer diagnosis
One morning in late May 2006, my world came crashing down. My urine stream was crimson red. I really was sick. Sicker than I could ever imagine.
On June 6, my primary care provider ordered a chest X-ray after a lengthy discussion involving a recent emergency room visit for pneumonia. We stared at the film of my tumour-saturated lungs an hour later, fearing the worst. My practitioner ordered blood tests.
I received the news that would change every aspect of my life the next day. My doctor called with the test results: late-stage prostate cancer.
Further imaging confirmed the cancer had metastasised to my bones, lungs, and lymph system. My doctor gave me a prognosis of living for 1 year at most.
A change in perspective
My entire life before cancer was based on “someday.” Someday I’ll take a vacation. Someday I’ll work less. Someday I’ll spend more time with my family.
The diagnosis was a slap in the face. I felt so ripped off. It just wasn’t fair.
Two weeks after my diagnosis, I stood atop a bridge some 50 feet tall. The waters below the bridge were deep and calm.
It was a famous swimming hole for decades, but I was always afraid to jump. That day I realised I no longer had anything to fear. The worst that could possibly happen had happened. I jumped.
A transformation occurred as the waters rushed up to greet me. Something changed. I emerged from the water a changed man.
I was determined that cancer would not have power over me from that day forward. I’d no longer live in fear. Cancer had become a turning point in my life.
Surviving and thriving
On the 1st anniversary of my diagnosis, my oncologist pulled back my shirt collar and proclaimed that he did not see an expiration date. The cancer became hormone-resistant in the fall of 2011. I received immunotherapy in May 2012 and changed medications once. My prostate-specific antigen remains undetectable today.
I’ve now lived with the disease for well over a decade. I married the love of my life a year after my diagnosis, and I promised her 30 years together on our wedding day. Failure is not an option. I intend to dance at my grandchildren’s weddings.
Cancer is a scary thing, but it can also be a gift.
Realising that I might lose my life gave me an appreciation for every moment. I am a better husband, a better father, and a better man. I am so blessed.
How I changed my mindset
My journey hasn’t been easy. At first, it was intimidating lying under the big machines. I was afraid at times. I often wondered what it would feel like to die.
Ironically, I thought I wanted to die just a year before my diagnosis. Facing my mortality showed me how much I wanted to live.
I had to be strong because everyone else in my life was falling apart. I was determined not to allow this disease to beat me. I worked through the treatment's side effects until my body adjusted to my new normal.
I started to see life as the wonderful gift that it is. I gained a new respect for all forms of life. Even spiders!
Here are my tips that helped me to change my mindset and make it through cancer treatments:
Revisit your perspective
Life is measured by the moments, so I decided to stop letting them pass by.
No one is promised tomorrow. I count my entire life before cancer as wasted time.
Choke the life out of every single day. I try to hold fast to my faith and hope for tomorrow.
Write about your journey
Several years into my journey, I began writing a blog to give hope to others. It became much more when I realised I was helping men follow in my footsteps. To this day, I’m contacted by guys who've read my work and are inspired to beat this disease.
I later understood that writing was also therapy for me.
You don't have to publicly share your journey on a blog. You might find that writing your thoughts in a private journal is helpful for you. Some people feel comfortable writing about things they can’t talk about. Writing may help you to express and process your emotions and journey.
Nobody should have to walk this journey alone. But, sometimes, our nearest and dearest are struggling with emotions of their own and can’t be there for you.
I reached out to others in similar situations via many online patient-to-patient cancer forums. They’re a good source of information and moral support.
My story eventually became a source of hope for others. I began working as a patient advocate.
Live life to the fullest
That might mean writing a bucket list and scratching things off one at a time. For me, it means trying to live in the moment. I aim to do the things I always wanted to do.
We know that one day we’ll all die. I don’t want to be the guy lying in a hospice bed with a heart full of regret. Love deeper! Speak kindly! Be the best you can be.
Prioritise the important things
Work is no longer the meaning of my life. I’ve figured out how to put aside my job to do what matters the most to me.
My wife and I invested in a ski boat and, nowadays, spend as much time on it as the summers in Southwest Washington allow. We take tropical vacations as often as our savings allow. Mostly, we spend time together and with the people we love.
I don’t wish cancer on anyone. But as Tim McGraw sings, “Someday I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying.”
The information presented is solely for educational purposes, not as specific advice for managing personal aftercare after cancer treatment. Please consult a professional who can apply best practices and appropriate resources to your situation.
NPS-IE-NP-00276 JUNE 2022