Ithaca resident Skip Hewitt was diagnosed with leukemia in 2004, bladder cancer in 2009, and lymphoma in 2011.
He told me, “When I was diagnosed with my first cancer, I cried. When I was diagnosed with my second cancer, I cried again. When I was diagnosed with my third cancer, I was just pissed off.”
More than a few people are living with two or more separate cancers.
Sometimes the cancers are connected by an underlying genetic condition such as Lynch syndrome or a BRCA mutation.
Other times, the cancers are related to the same behavioral or environmental exposure. Most everyone knows that smoking is the primary risk factor for lung cancer. Fewer know that smoking is also a key risk factor for developing bladder and other types of cancer.
The second cancer is sometimes caused by the treatment for the first cancer. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy can be life-saving, but can also increase the risk for developing other cancers years later.
In many cases, the second cancer is just bad luck. Having one cancer doesn’t exempt you from developing other cancers. It doesn’t seem fair, but that’s the way it is.
I asked Skip if dealing with his second cancer was easier or harder than dealing with his first cancer. He replied that the second cancer was more difficult. He said, “One was enough.” He also knew what was ahead in terms of treatment. While cancer treatment is more manageable than most people expect, it isn’t fun.
“You need to focus on getting through each day at a time, “Skip suggested. “Sometimes, it’s a matter of getting through each hour at a time.”
In spite of his multiple diagnoses, Skip is active in our community, serving on a variety of boards – including that of the Cancer Resource Center – and is a regular attendee at our Men’s Breakfast Club.
We often begin our breakfasts with an “organ recital” in which we introduce ourselves and describe our cancers. Skip always talks longer than anyone else. When he finishes, someone usually says, “Wow.”
Reprinted with permission of the Ithaca Journal.
Original publication date: May 9, 2015
Bob Riter is the Executive Director of the Cancer Resource Center of the Finger Lakes. He can be reached at [email protected]