Living with more than one type of cancer

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.

Skip Hewitt

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.”

Wow, indeed.


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]

6 thoughts on “Living with more than one type of cancer

  1. I am a 42 year old male, who had Papillary thyroid cancer and renal cell carcinoma clear grade 2 at the same time last year. Had a partial nephrectomy and lobectomy last year. Recently classed with follicular type of thyroid cancer. Getting ready to go back and have more surgery.

    1. Interesting. I’ve had thyroid, non- Hodgkin’s lymphoma, kidney and recently, colon cancer which I have to have another chemo for. I was also genetically tested and whatever DNA they tested, it came back negative.
      Just wanted you to know you aren’t alone in these battles!

    2. I’ve just been diagnosed with stage 4 bladder cancer and a non related breast cancer. I begin chemo next week for the bladder but the breast has been “placed on the back burner”. I am still in shock.

  2. I had a melanoma 25 years ago. It was caught early and removed from my upper left arm and then more tissue was removed with no cancer cells present. I had my left kidney removed 3 years ago because of renal cell carcinoma. Since I have one kidney, I have stage 3 CKD and hyperparathyroidism. In two weeks one of four of my Parathyroids will be removed. This past week I had a nuclear scan of my neck which revealed the defective Parathyroid, but also showed a lump in my left breast. A scan of my abdomen showed a mass where my left kidney use to be. It was biopsied, and I’m waiting for the results. I pray always and have a joyful life in spite of health issues. I also am thankful that my Hubby has given me extra insurances!

  3. I have urothelial carcinoma that first presented in the right renal pelvis. A radical nephrectomy was preformed by robotically assisted surgery. Prior to the nephrectomy, there were no other tumors. After recovering from the nephrectomy, a follow up cystoscopy revealed over 40 small low grade papillary tumors in my bladder. These were removed with TURBT out patient surgery. After healing from that, I began BCG immunotherapy treatments, but continued to grow tumors though signicantly fewer of them. These were removed & the BCG treatments were started over again. Those treatments eventually worked. I have grown no new tumors in well over a year. I am considered in remission, since there is no cure for this type of cancer. I receive annual CT scans & biannual cystos. My last CT revealed masses in the lower right lobe of my right lung & a calcified granuloma in my left lung. A thoracic CT revealed three distinct masses of unknown quality. I just completed a PET scan & I need a consult about the results. The pulmonologist reviewing my case must think strongly that it is cancer since he immediately assigned me to an oncologist, whom I have yet to meet. I am waiting for a needle CT biopsy . I stay informed & study closely all possibilities. For those of us developing multiple cancers and being assigned doctor after doctor, it is not always easy to keep them all on the same page. If we do not stay actively involved in all levels of diagnostic & therapeutic procedures, we risk having redundant procedures performed that waste precious time & money. It is nerve racking to say the least. I have no problem facing these challenges once I know what I am dealing with, but not knowing increases any anxiety I feel. I am a 61 year old male who was exposed to a significant amount of second hand cigarette smoke since birth. I then proceeded to smoke around a pack a day until about 8 years ago. The cigarette smoke is probably the primary reason for these serious health issues.

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