I am a former Navy All-American football player and have worked as a consultant and motivational speaker for students, adults, and business professionals. I was living and working in Saudi Arabia when I began to feel extremely fatigued. On a normal day, I would usually go to meetings, return to my office, type up notes to send back to the United States, and continue with executive tasks. Over a couple of months, I noticed I felt tired no matter how much I slept. After my meetings, I’d stretch out onto my couch for a 20-minute nap that could turn into 30 minutes, 45 minutes, or even an hour, and I’d still feel tired. The doctors initially thought I had the flu, but after weeks of no change, a loss of appetite, and extreme weight loss, I was finally diagnosed with plasma cell leukemia. It’s a subset of multiple myeloma that is deadly.
I was told I was near death – death was imminent three different times. Yet here I am in all my glory.
Dr. Gandhi, my oncologist, and Dr. Siddiqui, my palliative care physician, are both excellent doctors who have my trust and loyalty. They have made me feel confident I’m receiving the best care possible by thoroughly explaining complex medical terms and answering my questions in ways I understand. They both have excellent bedside manners and should be considered the gold standard for others in their field.
The rest of the team at Virginia Cancer Specialists has also made me feel comfortable with my treatment plan. Nurse Practitioner Helina Williams never hesitates to offer advice on managing my disease while ensuring I understand my treatment plan. The phlebotomy team, infusion nurses, and receptionists are always professional and have come to feel like friends.
If I had to rank the VCS team on a scale from one to 10, I’d give them an 11.
The fact is, I have cancer, and it will kill me one day. Statistically, it should have killed me three years ago. I’m caught in between right now. It’s about being comfortable and having a good prognosis in this moment. I did a TEDx Talk recently, and I opened by saying, “Cancer does not have to be a death sentence, even though your doctor says it is.” Research has shown that a positive mental attitude can help reduce depression and extend your life. Words can be powerful. Before I even knew what I had, I was trying to think with a positive attitude.
What got me through was my wife, who is my caregiver. She called my brother when I was diagnosed, and he came to meet us within a matter of days. He boosted my morale and helped my wife avoid caregiver burnout. Between the two of them, they were by my bedside 24 hours a day, and they were always there to tell me I was going to be okay. Prayers got me through—the hospital chaplain, nurses, and volunteers sat and prayed with me. Modern medicine, a competent medical staff, my positive attitude, and my faith are the reasons I’m alive.
I’ve also learned to listen to my body. Eating and getting a good night’s rest are so important. Coming from the Navy, you have to get used to challenges and learn to persevere. I commanded six different warships when I was in the Navy, so I’m used to being under pressure. But at sea, and in sports, you get used to very little sleep. You get tired, but you push through it. That attitude from the Navy and football are the reasons why I pushed through it when I started feeling fatigued in Saudi Arabia. Ultimately, you have to listen to your body.
With cancer I am always tired, always fatigued, but all things considered, I’m doing well. Happy to be alive.