Learning to Live With Cancer: A Survivor’s Story

November 30, 2023
William S. Laird

William S. Laird is an appendiceal cancer survivor and the author of Not Me Cancer. With a college education in business administration and years of manufacturing and marketing experience, he is currently the president of an equipment provider and systems integration company. William and his wife, Victoria, reside in the countryside of Kentucky and are parents to a total of 5 children between them. They share love for each other and for the various farm and domestic animals that live on their sprawling estate.

Cancer does not discriminate, and it can happen when you least expect it. For me, it was appendiceal cancer found in 2015 while I was on a road trip to Michigan. Without much advance notice, I was having abdominal pain and nausea. The pain I was having was from a kidney stone, which led me to the hospital. There, the kidney stone was confirmed, along with a tumor in my appendix. 

While it was a bit disturbing to hear the news, “You have cancer,” I did not let it rattle my emotions.  When the doctor told me I may have 2 years left to live, I took his information in, but I did not let myself get in a ditch mentally over the news. My focus was kept on the challenges ahead, staying positive, and maintaining spiritual faith on the possibility of surviving.

Undergoing cancer surgery

After receiving my diagnosis, I learned that it doesn’t take too long to become a biology expert when you need to. Besides the information that I was getting from my doctors, there were many other online resources that gave me some knowledge of my cancer type and how it was most commonly treated. However, because I had a very rare cancer with less research published on it, it made finding this information a little more difficult.

After learning that my appendix and parts of my intestines would need to be surgically removed, I decided to stay away from any online videos of surgical procedures. My thought was that I did not need to see any horrific surgical videos to understand what I would be facing. I already had a pretty good idea of what would take place and the difficulties that would come along with it.

Surgery to my abdominal core was difficult, but I was on my feet quickly after the procedure. As soon as I was able, I would pace the hallways of the hospital often, slowly increasing my distance each day. It was days before I could eat solid foods and before my digestive system would kick in. The small gains I made daily were just the encouragement I needed to push even harder in the days ahead. I pushed myself to recover as quickly as I could to get back to my home in Kentucky.

Facing a cancer recurrence

Following my initial surgery, I had a little over 2 years before an imaging scan found that the cancer had reappeared, this time in my abdominal cavity. After consultation with multiple doctors, I took their recommendations for additional surgery. I was signing up for an abdominal debulking surgery followed by a hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC) procedure. The debulking operation involved surgically opening my abdomen and removing all of my internal organs. My organs were then carefully inspected, and any cancer would be removed from them wherever it was found. After this, the medical staff ran 107-degree chemotherapy through my abdomen for an hour and a half while nurses pushed from the outside so that the medication would make it to all areas on the inside.

So, how did I feel after all of this? As you would expect, weakened and a bit fatigued. But that didn’t stop me from pushing hard daily to try to get back to baseline, whatever that would be going forward.  There are many unknowns when you face something like cancer, but one thing I did believe was that I would get through it all. Fear had no place in my mind. Only positive thoughts were given permission to reside in my head, and any thoughts that did not fit were evicted without notice. I would also pray often for strength and inner peace throughout this difficult time in my life.

Learning to live with cancer

There are always choices to be made in life. My choice was to not let cancer have the better of me, and I would fight hard for my survival and for a return to normalcy in my life. Since my surgical recoveries, I have had cancer return many times. The cancer had made a path through my blood and now showed some spots in my lungs. Again, it was not the end of the world. I spoke with doctors, assessed my options, and then made an action plan to survive. I have learned much over my lifetime about surviving, and I have applied these things over and over to break the rules. For me, surviving is about being able to physically push, keeping your head in the right place, and praying to God for his helping hand. 

I am now going on my 8th year of cancer survival. I don’t know if my cancer will ever go away, but I have learned that I am a very good warrior. I am always battle ready for whatever the next chapters of my life will bring. I have accepted cancer as part of my life’s journey and now look to use my testimony to help others and be that example of hope that so many need to see.

To date, I have had multiple very aggressive surgeries, a series of radiation treatments, multiple rounds of oral chemotherapy, and 38 chemotherapy infusions. Sound like a lot? Yes, it is for sure. I will tell you this though: I work daily running a business, managing a farm, nurturing relationships, and, from all outward appearances, I look healthy. If you are facing a cancer diagnosis, my advice would be to never settle for the diagnosis with inaction, and work toward avoiding depression. Keep moving forward.

The author has no relevant relationships to disclose.

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