GUEST POST BY SCOTT P. ALCOTT
For my 40th birthday, I got stage four cancer. A small lump under my cheek turned out to be a rare, high-grade sarcoma. The doctor said I would need immediate surgery and a year of heavy radiation and chemotherapy, assuming I made it that long. I was told to “make arrangements.”
The first copy of It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life came from my neighbor, a retired surgeon. If you haven’t read it, that’s Lance Armstrong’s inspirational cancer book. A college friend sent me a second copy wrapped together with one of those yellow “Livestrong” bracelets that Lance’s cancer foundation sells to raise money. When you get cancer, you get a lot of Lance Armstrong stuff!
Lance’s book was immensely moving to me and his character and fighting spirit was inspiring. But could I measure up to him? He set the bar very high. I knew I didn’t have Lance’s bravery, stamina, pain-tolerance, competitiveness, focus and physical gifts. I felt inadequate and ill-equipped for going into the same fight as him. Did people expect me to be that heroic, brave and committed? Is that why they gave me the book?
Because I’m not Lance, I entered his club with a negative outlook and the presumption of defeat. A regular person feels subordinate to the infamous and all-powerful cancer. I pretty much quit on myself. I wasn’t up for the drama. Fighting for a year with pills, doses, appointments, injections, nausea, radiation sickness, baldness and toxicity…for a coin toss shot at surviving? I doubted I could do it mentally or physically. The disease I have hits less than one in a million. I felt beating it was like trying to out-run lightning. It felt predestined. Maybe Lance Armstrong could stare down such a mountain but I never did anything impossible before.
I’m in remission now. The disfiguring surgery and nearly a year of toxic chemo and radiation—that’s three rounds in the ring with the world’s meanest killer, and I am still standing. So are many of the brave people I met along the way in chemo and radiation rooms. Unlike Lance, no one is telling me I beat it yet. They scan me twice a year looking for tumors. Lance’s life story is like a Hollywood movie with a triumphant conclusion. But I know that all too often, it’s not such a happy ending. I hope I beat it. I sure did some hard things to get this far.
All of us with cancer are fighting our own dramatic and heroic battles. We’re hoping for our own come-from-behind victory like you see at the Tour de France—an against all odds type of thing. At 53 months, my battery of PET, CT, and MRI scans are just back—and all remains clear. When the report came back, I thought to myself, “Maybe I’m not Lance, but I can take a punch too.” Score one for the mortals!
As far as how I made it through the battle, I decided that depression, anxiety, and self-focus would defeat me. I elected to channel that energy instead into helping other patients and their supporters. I found there were many medical, technical, spiritual, alternative medicine, and celebrity survivor stories out in print and on the web. So I wrote a different book about what happens when regular people and their families find themselves in the very irregular situation that is cancer. It’s an experience and survival guide for the rest of us. Based on the letters and reviews I receive, I’m Not Lance! seems to help people around the world and it raises money for an excellent charity. Doing something positive with this negative experience helps me get through.
Scott Alcott is a husband, father, and Ewing’s Sarcoma survivor working in telecommunications. His first book, I’m Not Lance! A Cancer Experience and Survival Guide for Mere Mortals is getting rave reader and critical reviews; all proceeds are donated to the Liddy Shriver Sarcoma Initiative.