Even a 'Tough Guy' Can Open Up About Cancer

Men often decide to tough out their cancer alone, but tough guy Terry Bradshaw is starting to open up about his sometimes-rocky journey with the disease.

Men often decide to tough out their cancer alone, but tough guy Terry Bradshaw is starting to open up about his sometimes-rocky journey with the disease.

Bradshaw, the renowned Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback and NFL Hall of Famer, kept quiet about his first bout of the disease, bladder cancer, that thankfully was successfully treated. He said in an interview on NBC’s "Today Show” that he wasn’t the least bit afraid of his first encounter with the “Big C.”

He decided to keep his cancer a secret because he didn’t want to generate any pity, he said.

But when a second cancer diagnosis came his way within a year of his first one, he went public, telling the interviewer that “Cancer shows no favoritism.”

His second cancer, Merkel cell carcinoma, a rare and aggressive skin cancer, really scared the Fox NFL Sunday analyst. And now, with his revelation, Bradshaw has joined the broader cancer community, where we all stand together hoping for a cure, and earnestly looking for the best treatments science has to offer.

Our community offers not pity, but emotional support and loving concern for those like Bradshaw who are in the public eye, and ordinary people who are living with cancer.

I am neither a famous person nor a tough guy but, like Bradshaw, I initially decided to go radio silent about my cancer diagnosis and began to shelter in place against what I thought might be a flood of inquiries.

The last thing I wanted after getting the sobering news about my prostate cancer was to be put in an uncomfortable position, left awkward and groping for answers.

I did not want to be the center of attention or, like Bradshaw, be pitied for disclosing my diagnosis.

For cancer patients, particularly men, it may seem easier to deal with cancer with the rugged individualism that is seemingly built into our gender’s DNA. But I have learnedthat approach denies others the opportunity to weigh in with compassion, grace and sympathy. Look what we miss when we go it alone!

One bout of cancer is certainly enough, isn’t it? Many patients with cancer may receive a secondary diagnosis at some point, according to the National Cancer Institute. The fear of recurrence from the first diagnosis should be enough to weigh down our spirits and keep us constantly anxious. But with a doublewhammy of the disease, it becomes even more essential to let our inner circle in on our health struggles.

Still, the subject of a cancer diagnosis is a thorny one, so let’s credit Bradshaw and all men who decide to open up. It’s a mark of courage and strength, not weakness, when we ask for emotional support and understanding at a difficult time in our lives.

So, my message to all the “tough guys” out there harboring the devastating news that cancer has steamrolled into your lives: Take a hint from Terry Bradshaw, who has joined the “Cancer Survivors Team” and is enjoying every precious moment of his life.

“I may have 25 to 30 years left,” he told the "Today Show” interviewer, “but I’m going to act like I’ve got one.”

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