Guilt Is Good, Says One Cancer Survivor


Kevin unleashes his inner guilt for the benefit of you, gentle readers.

I'm the victim of a rare cancer called mantle cell lymphoma (MCL). A small percentage of cancers overall are lymphomas, and an even smaller percentage of lymphomas are MCL. When I was diagnosed in 2005, the current treatment gave me about a 50/50 chance of making it three years before relapse, little certainty of effective re-treatment and a significantly shortened life span. Thanks to receiving the best medical care in the world, backed by top-notch benefits and keeping right on the edge of medical science, almost 13 years later I'm in remission for the third time, feel great, am running 5K (and longer) races, hiking in the woods with my wife, and working full time at Kennedy Space Center on human spaceflight. I live a full and active life, even though “The Beast” still lurks inside.

This article begins a series where I, like all the great authors on this site, try to set down what we've learned through our trials and tribulations.

I am the original science nerd, and the first thing a true scientist learns is that discovery happens by taking odd pieces that don't fit, or are not quite provable, and assembling them into a coherent theory. These pieces will lay out “Kevin Berry's Theory of How To Minimize Your Chances of Getting Cancer, and If You Do Get It, How to Increase Your Odds Of Beating It.” (I need a slightly sexier name, and maybe a pronounceable acronym. That will come to me, I'm sure, in a year … or seven.)

For my first offering, I'm addressing our friends and family that don't have cancer. To make my point, I'm going to talk about the amazing, healing powers of guilt!

I need to make it clear that I'm not comfortable with guilt. Giving it, I mean. Very well. Hey, I'm bred from a long line of solid Midwestern farm stock, where both genetically and culturally, guilt has been refined into a family value. But I prayed and meditated and truly feel I have a one-time, God-granted, dispensation, even though I'm a Methodist. So just this once, I'm going to admit, I don't cause your guilt. You do. Deal with it. (Please!)

Question to our loved ones: do you drink, smoke, have some extra weight, exercise too little, manage stress poorly, skip checkups, eat processed foods, drink milk, like sugar, eat and drink foods with preservatives, go outside, use lawn care products, get too little sleep, worry too much, or live unhappily?

Remember, if you are male, you have a 1 in 3 chance of getting cancer, and a 1 in 5 chance of dying from it, according to the American Cancer Society. Women? 1 in 3 and 1 in 5. Yeah, that's right: 1 in 3. What if you follow my tips? What are your odds? I have no clue, but maybe they’ll be better. Your mileage may vary. But I know which way the variance will be, and so do you.

So, pay close attention to KBTOHTMYCOGC, AIYDGI, HTIYOOBI (made you look back, didn't I? I really do need a better name for this).

The first step: Get the checkups. All of them. Regularly.

My cancer was found during a yearly visit to my allergist to get a prescription renewed. Many of us are initially diagnosed by medical professionals in the course of visits for reasons having nothing to do with cancer. Need to be motivated to get those checkups? Let me give you two ways.

The Easy Way: Visit your family doctor. If you don't have one, get one. Have them list the things you need done, including getting an annual checkup. Take that list, get them done, and present it to your most loved one on their birthday. Repeat annually. Here's a start (not all are annual tests, but risk factors and recommendations change):

  • Annual checkup
  • Chest X ray
  • Mammogram
  • Pap smear
  • Prostate exam
  • Colonoscopy
  • Dermatologist visit
  • Dentist
  • Eye doctor visit

The Hard Way: Men, don't like the prostate exam? Women, don't like mammograms? I can find you 1,000 people, by name, in your home city, who would prefer to have one daily rather than what they are going through. I personally would take two colonoscopies over a ride in the chemo chair any time. Or seven. Or eleventy-twenty.

Motivation time. Remember that "your guilt is yours" deal? I'm cashing it in. I have my own version of the "Scared Straight" program. I've had cancer for 12 years. I've had over 75 days in the chemo chair so far, over two dozen surgeries or procedures requiring anesthesia (for a "non-operative” type of cancer!); 24 radiation sessions, two bone marrow transplants and four booster transplants and 13 different treatment types. The pain and suffering of my family cannot be imagined.

"I don't like to get blood drawn because needles scare me." - heard it. Go find any diabetic, or any cancer patient (one or the other lives on your block) and ask them about needles.

"I don't have time for checkups. I hate doctors anyway" - heard it.

"You just get sick at the doctor around all those sick people" - heard it. You cannot make an excuse I can't top.

So, if you live within driving distance of me, come on over the first and third Thursday of every month. You and I are going to share a ride on the Chemo Express. If you live farther away, call your local infusion center and ask to come in and observe. I mean this sincerely and honestly. Do it. I absolutely guarantee one thing, or double your time back in some sort of service from me: You will change your life after just one session.

So that's step one of my theory, along with a bucket full of motivation. I hope it was worth your time. And, just this once, I hope you feel REALLY guilty.

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Dr. Lauren Pinter-Brown