Leave a Legacy
Strength & Positivity: A Cancer Fighter's Unique Journey
As a fellow cancer fighter, I understand the overwhelming challenges you're facing while juggling personal battles and responsibilities. My journey involved battling stage 3 kidney cancer in 2013 and grade 3 brain cancer in 2015 while raising three young daughters, eventually leading me to establish a 501c3 nonprofit organization, tonyfoundation.org. Here are some insights into how I coped and tips for maintaining positivity during your cancer journey:
- Embrace the Power of Mindset: Your mindset is a powerful tool. Embrace a positive attitude and believe in your ability to overcome challenges. Visualize your success and focus on the moments of joy, no matter how small they may seem. My joy came from watching my young kids and realizing how much more time I was spending with them versus when I was working 50 hours a week. Sometimes just getting their big hugs when I was struggling to cope put a renewed sense of positivity in me.
- Create a Strong Support System: Surround yourself with friends, family, and fellow fighters who uplift and understand you. The unwavering support I received from my friend Greg who changed his entire work schedule to get me back and forth from radiation for 60 days straight was something I will never forget
- Set Realistic Goals: Break down your journey into manageable steps. Set realistic goals and celebrate your achievements, whether it's completing treatment milestones or spending quality time with your loved ones.I always maintained that I would play pool with friends, get in a nice swim with my kids, or go walk at the park with my dog on the days leading up to chemo treatments. That always felt like I had just been rejuvenated prior to taking in the poison days later.
- Prioritize Self-Care: Taking care of yourself is not selfish—it's essential. Dedicate time to rest, engage in activities you love, and nourish your body with healthy foods. I had a hard time eating during much of my cancer journey but I took healthy supplements (not just pain pills all the time) and I ate as much as I could. I also found that I felt better when I was constantly bathing, practicing good hygiene, and putting on nice clothes, not just sweatpants.:)
- Stay Informed, but Limit Information: Educate yourself about your condition and treatment options, but avoid drowning in information. Strike a balance between being informed and not overwhelming yourself with excessive details. I never searched the web for ways to deal w/ brain cancer but I always asked my oncologists and PA’s as many questions as I had written down throughout the week. I would get answers to everything I was feeling so I could be doing the right things when I didn’t necessarily have access to my doctors.
- Express Your Feelings: It's okay to have moments of frustration, sadness, or anger. Express your feelings to someone you trust, or journal your thoughts. I did both and eventually just became a long term client for my therapist. I still see her every two weeks to cope with the ongoing fight I can still face with my cancer journey.
- Find Joy in Everyday Moments: Amid the hardships, find joy in the small moments—laughter with your children, a beautiful sunset, or get away for a nice vacation with loved ones. I took a road trip to Lake Tahoe when I was sick and asked my dad and my brother to help drive me. It was awesome and for a couple weeks I kinda forgot about cancer…kinda..BUT, these moments provide you a mental break and remind you of life's beauty.
- Engage in Mindfulness: Practicing mindfulness techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, or whatever helps you stay grounded and manage stress. These practices enhance your emotional resilience. My mom was a psychologist so I was fortunate that she taught me ways of dealing with sleeping problems and stress management at a young age. These techniques of stillness and deep breathing techniques can be found by a click of a button but actually being disciplined and applying them to your daily routine could be a game changer for you like it was for me.
- Celebrate Victories, Big and Small: Celebrate not only the major milestones but also the smaller victories. Each step forward, regardless of size, is a testament to your strength and determination. When I finished my 8th month of chemo in 2016 (and still had several months to go) I went and played in a big State Pool tournament. I am a pretty competitive billiards player and have played in tournaments all over but never in the middle of cancer treatments. So I did it and it was a lot of fun and an amazing distraction. It made me feel like myself again, not just Tony with Cancer. I didn’t play well. In fact, I played pretty lousy to my standards but I got a lot of encouragement from fellow competitors that knew my story and a lot of huge hugs from those that had been through the cancer journey with close friends or family members.
- Focus on What You Can Control: Cancer can feel like an uncontrollable force, but you still have control over aspects of your life. Focus on your daily choices, your attitude, and your responses to challenges. I realized that my cancer was mine. Everyone has their own struggles and it would be wrong to think I was the only one in the world that was struggling, even if it felt like that at times. I controlled what made me comfortable each day and I even shut my cell phone off for 6 months. It was my way of controlling my environment because I did not want to be on calls every day. You can imagine how many voicemails I had when I finally activated it.
- Practice Gratitude: Even in the midst of my cancer journey I recognized the efforts and giving that was taking place around me. It will never be lost on me how many people chipped in when they could. I can never thank them enough. I think that is why I started Tony Foundation. Well also because one of my best buds, Scott Patterson wouldn’t leave me alone. He kept saying, “You should tell your story and you will help so many people.” Every time I wanted to tell him to go take a hike, I couldn’t help thinking back to a call from above I received at MD Anderson in Houston while recovering from awake brain surgery. The spirit (it may have been my gramps who was my best friend and also had multiple cancers and 3 daughters) hit me like a ton of bricks. They said “it was not about me anymore. You are going to use your story to do something life changing for others.” Some thought it could have been the morphine talking (nobody took it easy on me just cuz I was sick!) but I truly believed in my soul that I was eventually going to embark on a selfless journey. I just did not know when or how. I hope that the journey I have embarked on since Jan of 2018 has made a difference in a lot of people’s lives but the journey has just begun. In 5+ years, we have given out nearly a million dollars in grants to cancer fighters and there are so many more that will need our help in coming years too. I hope my ways of coping and my story helps more cancer fighters and helps inspire others to donate to our cause. We rely on the power and my experiences to help all these others that need it. I hope you too have a calling and decide to do something special for others because at the end of our life, I believe those will be the things that really leave a legacy.