I am a Stage IV cancer survivor and trailblazer on Cancer Mountain. I am alive today because of cancer breakthroughs, my access to great healthcare, and my amazing worldwide support group we call ‘Team Crafty’. I welcome you to share my story with anyone you think it may help. – MC
Originally published in Salesforce.com company blog, March 2020.
It was October 2017 and I was very late for an important date; 4 years, 5 months, and 21 days to be exact.
That’s the delta between the date recommended by my primary physician (along with the World Health Organization and leading cancer awareness/prevention associations) and the date I went for my colon cancer screening.
Four years earlier, my doctor told me it was time for a colonoscopy and gave me a referral card. I told myself I’d get right to it but so many other things in my life seemed like higher priorities.
I always had a perfectly reasonable rationale for moving that referral card to a different place on my desk … week after week, month after month, year after year!
During that time, I chalked up my stress and nagging fatigue to things other than my health. Cancer was the last thing on my mind. But all that changed when I began encountering the undeniable symptoms of colorectal cancer, which coincidentally arrived as I was getting ready for our 2017 Ohana BikeMS cycling event. I knew it was time to see my doctor for that long overdue screening.
The day after the ride, I made the call.
Almost immediately, I learned how foolish my delay had been: I was diagnosed with Stage IV colorectal cancer.
Before I could even comprehend what was happening, I went from being an average family guy, weekend warrior bicyclist, and busy tech worker — to full-time cancer fighter. Just 20 days from getting my diagnosis, I was sitting in a chemo chair, life-saving drugs flowing through a newly installed chest port.
Fast forward to today, more than two years later, I’ve been through four surgeries, 11 months with an ileostomy, 10 rounds of radiation, and 30+ rounds of chemo. I have left more body parts in San Francisco than Tony Bennett. My doctors and nurses at the University of California San Francisco Helen Diller Cancer Center call me ‘a walking miracle and the future of medicine’.
My cancer is in what’s called ‘partial remission’ and is in a ‘well-controlled state.’ This is where all cancer patients, short of those cured or in full-remission, hope to be. It’s like being on a good sandbar, where we can wait for new cutting-edge breakthroughs and cures.
There’s no such thing as a Cancer Trailhead Ranger — despite 125+ weeks on cancer mountain — but the life lessons I’ve learned on this trail go beyond my disease.
#1 Gratitude is Medicine
On my very first visit to UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital ( … adults get scans there too … ) I saw a sign in the hall that I’ve kept with me throughout my journey:
Gratitude is Medicine
Actively practicing gratitude can improve relationships.
Especially during stressful times, gratitude is medicine.
This has certainly been true for me. You can’t help but feel grateful and fortunate every time you walk in and out of a cancer center under your own power. I’ve learned that taking time to express gratitude to those around you opens up a new world that can help you, and others, tackle the many ups and downs of every difficult trail. It may not be a documented cure for cancer, but gratitude is always strong medicine for whatever ails me.
#2 You are Stronger than You Think
Early on, these two quotes became mantras:
“You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.” – Bob Marley
“Life is like a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.” – Albert Einstein
Early on, I asked my doctors “Can I keep cycling?” They said, “We love that goal! As long as you feel you can do it, keep doing it.”
They assured me that many patients are able to stay physically active during treatment, and I was one of them. What I learned through all of this is that, cancer or not, we are all so much stronger than we know.
Today, I’m still cycling, though now on pedal-assist e-bike. This month, I’ll surpass 2,000 miles on the beautiful roads of Sonoma County since my first surgery.
#3 Innovation, Breakthroughs, and Technology are the Keys to Our Future Health
It’s critical that we continue moving forward on cancer research, technology, and science … on local, state, national and international levels. This work has resulted in new immunotherapies, chemo blends, radiation techniques, and other treatments that improve outcomes for patients worldwide — patients like me.
Here at Salesforce, we have incredible resources available to us through Volunteerforce to support non-profit cancer initiatives. Personally, I’ve become a patient advocate for CONQUER CANCER, the ASCO Foundation which provides merit grants to cancer researchers, working on breakthroughs for all types of cancer, in 120+ countries worldwide.
#4 Your Team is Much Bigger Than You Know
The moment you hear those fateful words — you have Stage IV cancer, it feels like your world is turned upside, and the lights get turned off at the same time. I felt scared, disoriented and alone. When the lights came back on, I saw support from not just family and friends — but my doctors, nurses, fellow cancer patients, numerous cancer support organizations, along with my co-workers, partners, and customers. (I’ve been in the Salesforce Ohana for 15+ years and have a wonderful network of friends all around the world.) I’ve never experienced anything more humbling – or more powerful.
#5 You are Someone’s Superpower and Superhero
Just as powerful as any medicine out there, I’ve learned that love, faith, hope, family, and friends are the real superpowers we all have on this trail. Whether you’re a patient interacting with other patients, a friend, or a family member supporting someone who is diagnosed, know that your role is vital.
I hope you never have to face or take this difficult trail. But if you do, may your personal and professional Ohana surround you with the same level of superpower support that I have. They carry me every day and I have no doubt they will do the same for you.
You just need to ask. – MC
November 2021 Update:
– Mark is now a survivor of 4+ years on the nasty hill and continues to undergo treatment.
– Through a 2021 clinical trial with UCSF Helen Diller Cancer Center in California, Mark was among the very first patients in the U.S. to receive customized Car-T cell immunotherapy targeting solid tumors.
– This UCSF trial holds great promise for addressing Colorectal, Colon, Liver, Lung, and Head & Neck cancers.
– Oh, and one more thing, Mark’s now surpassed 4000 miles on his e-bike.