If Cancer Didn't First Try To Break Me Down, I Wouldn't Have The Strength To Build Myself Up


I am  Scott Whiteis and I have stage IVa medullary thyroid cancer (MTC).  That word, cancer, is most often associated with the negative.  This includes the negative impact it has on the friends and family of the afflicted, the negative consequences it brings upon the mind and body of its hosts and the negative drain that it can be on the bank accounts belonging to all involved.  

I read stories and testimonials every day that seem to focus on only the negative impact that cancer has had, and continues to have, on so many individual lives.  My story has all of those things - the bank account drain, the depression, the anger, and the fear.  But my story has also changed.  You see, this disease has been a part of my life since 2011, and it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.  

Cancer didn’t make me a millionaire or a celebrity.  It did help enlighten me as to what I truly wanted out of this life and set me on a path to happiness.  That is something I wouldn’t have said before my diagnosis or in the immediate aftermath of it.  Thinking back to my initial diagnosis at the age of 28, I was not prepared for cancer.  After learning that MTC was an untreatable form of cancer and that I required a full thyroidectomy and sternotomy in order to remove a tumor the size of a Quarter Pounder from my neck and chest, I broke down.  In the time surrounding my operation, I was depressed, angry, terrified and confused.  During recovery from surgery, I suffered withdrawal after accidentally being administered too much opiate during my extended stay at the hospital.  I asked “Why me?” more than once and I drowned my feelings with television and alcohol.  Despite having an incredible network of friends and family, I was withdrawn and sat isolated in my apartment for a time.  What’s happened since then has been a pleasant surprise.

Some time after my surgery, on a day in which I was feeling particularly down, I got up and walked into the bathroom.  As I sat staring at myself in the mirror, something changed.  I had justified the depression and anger by saying “Of course I’m depressed and mad, I have cancer and it sucks.”  In that moment, I resolved to get out of the hole that I had put myself in.  I had cancer and I was not going to let it define my life.  So I began to dig.  The first step was going to have to be to fix myself so I committed to exercising every day and to start treating my body with respect.  I would ditch the alcohol for an extended period, stop eating McDonalds and pizza for dinner and be sure to smile in the mirror every morning.  I soon discovered a love for cooking that I never knew I had, and joy was brought into my kitchen (and my stomach!).  A short time later I started noticing that I was seeing the world clearer and understanding myself better.  

Over time I healed physically, and as I continued to do positive things for myself, my mental and emotional being started to heal as well.  I got comfortable meditating and tapped into my inner self like I never had before, revealing insight into my situation that has helped me to see what I want out of life.  So when the opportunity to start a company with a friend presented itself, I recognized the opportunity and completed  a life-long goal of owning a business.  And when difficult situations arose, I reminded myself that there’s nothing to worry about until there is something to worry about, and once there is, it’s too late to worry so you'd better deal with it.  Thus there is never anything to worry about.  Without cancer first breaking me down, I’m not sure I would have discovered the strength to build myself up again.  Nor would I have had the strength to endure a recurrence in 2014.  

This time I was ready.  I didn’t cower or ask why, I simply said “bring it on”.  My friends and family told me we were going to beat this and then showed me how.  Friends brought meals and stopped over to break up my day while family cared for me, making sure I knew that I was loved.   They had been with me every step of the way, remaining positive and delivering hope from the very beginning.  

Their presence and actions inspired me, so after another major surgery in 2015 I chose to dissolve my company and explore what was next.  This time cancer sent me on an outward journey to help others.  I believe this was made possible as a result of the work I had put into myself and the example set by the people around me.  I was then able to recognize a whole host of new opportunities.  These were small moments like seeing someone who might need a hug, picking up trash that I normally would have walked past or simply just recognizing the opportunity to do something nice for another person.  Because I had taken the time to strengthen who I am, I listened to those internal and external voices and discovered my purpose.  Those small moments have grown into larger ones, and with the support and encouragement of others I was inspired to further that purpose by starting a charitable organization, Do Positive.  I am no longer spending time just on myself but am using that time to help others and improve the world around me.

Now I have cancer again.  This time it’s an even more serious diagnosis, yet I’m happier than I’ve ever been.  I thank my cancer every day for showing me this happiness.  We’ve all been touched by this disease and whether you have it, had it or are on the team of a loved one who has it, it’s important to know that you own it.  Cancer is a life changer - take control and thrive with yours.  


Image courtesy of Unsplash