By Kenneth Woo, cancer survivor and Anderson Network volunteer
It was almost 19 years ago when I first got the news. At a local hospital, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease, a type of lymphatic cancer. I was told this was the best kind of cancer to have if you have to have cancer! I immediately asked to be transferred to MD Anderson Cancer Center for treatment.
After rounds of chemo and radiation, I was in full remission.
Luck of the draw
It turns out that this cancer was so good that I ended up having it twice within three years -- lucky me!
Because of the heavy dosage of chemo and radiation from my original two treatments, I was diagnosed with another more aggressive cancer, acute myeloid leukemia (AML) eight years ago.
This one hit me like a death sentence. At the time, I had started on my career path as a young architect and the proud parent of two young daughters.
I can still remember my doctor telling my wife that AML probably wouldn't kill me, but the treatment might.
After the AML diagnosis, my wife and I went home to tell my mom and our little girls the bad news. We hugged, cried and prayed together. We pledged to fight this as a team. No matter what the outcome, we would try to be a "channel of blessings" for others.
Immediately, I enrolled in a clinical trial to fight the battle. I learned that because two of my chromosomes were mutated, a stem cell transplant would provide a better chance of survival. I was fortunate to find a perfect match from my family.
From patient to survivor
It is certainly not easy to transform from the mindset of a cancer patient to that of a cancer survivor. These are very personal journeys for every survivor. Some choose to flip the page, never look back and not mention the cancer experience again. Early in my treatment, I chose to not let cancer dictate my life, but instead to be an integral part of my daily life. I decided to be an active volunteer at MD Anderson.
In 1999, I took part in an MD Anderson marketing campaign and signed up to participate in the Anderson Network, a program of Volunteer Services at MD Anderson. For Anderson Network, I participated in the telephone support line program and served on the Anderson Network steering committee for six years.
With Anderson Network, I've had to go far outside my comfort zone, but the members of the steering committee quickly embraced me and I served as the committee chairman. Last year, I also chaired the annual patient/caregiver survivorship conference.
I always look for opportunities to give back to the hospital and community. Be the Match, a marrow donor registry, is also dear to my heart. This group has organized several donor drives that resulted in matching donors. Being an active survivor is part of my life and my family's lives.
It was a long road for all of us, these past 19 years. The cancer experience definitely changed the landscape of my family. It taught us to not only look at my personal misfortune of having had multiple cancers, but to look outside our box to see what we can do to help others.
We certainly would not ask to have the cancer experience again, but I would not trade anything for how it has actually enriched our lives.
"Be a channel of blessings" is the motto of our lives.