This is very personal, but I feel sharing it is necessary. This happened in December 1982. On Christmas Eve, I felt a pain in my stomach. Because I work out quite a bit, I thought I pulled a muscle, so I backed off from my sit-ups for a few weeks. A couple months later, the pain was still there.
Being the brave guy that I am, I finally found enough courage to go to the doctor and check out the situation. First, he wanted to do an ultrasound. I knew this was a painless procedure, so I said, “Fine.” Next, he wanted to do a CAT scan. I asked if this procedure involved any needles. Again, I said, “Fine, let’s do it.”
The results were devastating. When he called me into an exam room and said he wanted to speak with me, I still thought he was going to tell me I had pulled some muscles and he would give me some ointment and send me on my way. Instead, he laid this bombshell on me and explained I have terminal cancer. The lymph nodes throughout my abdomen were enlarged and were positive for cancer. This was not what I wanted to hear.
The doctor explained the course of treatment would be eight to nine hours of intensive surgery to remove the lymph nodes, followed by eight months of chemotherapy. I didn’t want to hear this, especially with all the undesirable side effects. He also said if I did nothing, I had five to six months to live. Surgery and chemotherapy would improve my odds to 30% or so. I said I needed a little time to think about this dilemma.
Here’s why it is important to do your homework and learn as much as possible about the subject presented to you. I found in cancer research, someone does a study, called a protocol, and if it’s successful, then other doctors around the United States follow that protocol in their hospital. My search discovered an important author on my cancer was Dr. Larry Einhorn at the Indiana University School of Medicine. He was also the same doctor who worked with former professional road racing cyclist Lance Armstrong 13 years later.
I made an appointment to see him and took my test results to get his opinion on what to do. His words were simple, cold and right to the point: “If you do not do the surgery, you will die. End of story. Those are your options, your only options.”
I didn’t want to hear this. I was trying to avoid the surgery for many reasons. I came back home and went to Dr. Martin Resnick, who at that time was head of urology at the largest teaching hospital in Cleveland, University Hospitals. I asked him about the surgery and he said it was a serious surgery and recommended procedure. I asked a few questions. This was my life we were talking about and I had done my homework.
I asked, “What will cure my cancer, the surgery or the chemotherapy?” He explained the surgery was necessary to stage the cancer, but the chemotherapy, if successful, was what would cure me. I said, “Tell me more about the chemotherapy and why this will cure me and not the surgery.” After listening to his explanation, I asked the second most important question of my life. (The most important question was asking my wife-to-be if she would marry me.)
“Why not skip the surgery and just do the chemo, and we can see if the tumors shrink or dissipate by continuing to do ongoing CAT scans and then compare the results to the present CAT scan,” I asked.
To my amazement, he said the idea wasn’t the standard protocol, but had some merit. He said it was very risky and I was gambling with my life. I explained it is my life and the side effects of the surgery were too great and would not give me the quality of life I desired, especially as I was only 28 years old at the time.
That conversation happened more than 30 years ago, and it was a successful gamble. The bottom line is I went into a negotiation with my doctor. With a little knowledge based on some investigative work and lots of questions, I was able to make a very serious decision. The result could have gone either way. It could have been devastating or it could have provided me with a quality and fulfilling life.
This story proved to me in more ways than you can imagine the importance of questions in all aspect of life. The more you know about yourself and the other party will always be assets to you. Remember, knowledge is power. It may even be life and death.
Hal Becker is a nationally known speaker on sales and customer service. He is the author of numerous business books including two national best sellers “Can I Have 5 Minutes Of Your Time?” and “Lip Service.” Hal’s newest book on sales is titled “Ultimate Sales Book.” He can be reached at Halbecker.com.