“My Voice” by Bill Prentice

Bill Prentice - 'Survivor'

The world is an imperfect place, and I certainly contribute in my own ways to that imperfection. Yet life goes on, and for most people, they accept that they will get up in the morning, go to work, come home, do some chores, go to sleep, and do it all over again tomorrow. That is, until one day, a life changing event happens. Life changing events, to me, are events that create for you a whole new reality. There is no going back to the way things were. To me, these define the Survivor spirit. Survivors adapt to life changing events… others call it quits and fold. In my lifetime, I have had at least three “reality resets” … cancer being only the most recent.

My first life-changing event happened in 1971, when, at age 17, when I was critically injured in a house fire, with 55% of my body burned, and severe lung damage from breathing super-heated air. Although the burns healed over the following two years, and the lung damage improved a bit over a longer time, my life was irreversibly changed. The physical and emotional ashes of that event are with me still today. That fire defined the adult “Bill”, the Survivor.

The next reality check was the sudden death of my first wife, Margaret in 1984… from a stroke caused by undiagnosed myelocytic leukemia. This left me as the single parent to a hyperactive 3 year old son. To add to the confusion, I was in a brand new job, having relocated 1000 miles away from home and family only a few months prior. It was not a good year – there were many days when I wanted to quit and move back “home” to family and friends – a support system – but I toughed it out and stayed. In the process I learned a lot about being self-sufficient and even more about myself as a parent, and as a Survivor.

Fast forward 20 years… a long time of stability – remarriage, the birth of my daughter, several new houses, a new job, another relocation… you could almost get complacent! But then, the big “C” comes knocking… Medullary Thyroid CANCER! When I was first diagnosed, I did a lot of research, and discovered that I was a very poor candidate for surviving this disease… on all measures…

Stage 4C cancer with distant metastases – CHECK! 38 positive lymph nodes in my neck, and mets in my spine, my chest cavity, and my ribs.

Over 50 years old – CHECK! – 54 at diagnosis

Calcitonin doubling time < 6 months – CHECK! Currently at 16000 on the calcitonin meter

Other major disease present – CHECK! – COPD from lung damage from the fire, and diabetes

Translation: I have a fight on my hands! Better get busy.

I have always said that the house fire was the best thing that ever happened to me… it took me from being a high school punk with absolutely no direction to an adult man, living with purpose and a passion for life… but Cancer… how could I find the positive in that? Believe me, it’s there, if you just open your eyes to it. YES, it is life changing. NO, life will never be the same. But because of cancer, I have been exposed to many, many amazing people. From Bob, the radio DJ who had a brain tumor removed and is now dealing with a rare bone cancer – but who has found time to dedicate to the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation – to Becky, now in Florida, who is my illness’ Survivor Community Organizer… watch for her in the next presidential election… she’s a dynamo. I also draw inspiration from my Canadian friend Maureen, who has spent 20 years dealing with MTC, and Jamie, who turned her life over to God before ever knowing her illness was there, and who leaned on His shoulder to get herself through her treatments AND the current treatment of her mother for the same hereditary cancer disease! Amazing people, all… and let’s not forget Lori… raising a family of three pre-teen and teenage children on the west coast…while dealing with cancer. I KNOW HOW HARD SINGLE PARENTING IS!! And I was completely healthy through my single parenting days. SO yes, cancer has irreversibly changed my life – FOR THE BETTER!!!

You see, I AM a Survivor… I survive because I have purpose, and can see the silver lining where others might see only clouds of doom. I work harder to show that I love my wife, cherish my children, support my fellow survivors, and share my heart… all because of this STUPID CANCER. So, in keeping things in perspective… I thank God for giving me challenges to Survive, the opportunity to humble myself in front of Him… to show Him that I am capable of having faith in His direction for my life, and in appreciating the things I have learned from this experience.

I am now nearly 6 years past my initial diagnosis. I have had three surgeries, two radiation rounds, and now give myself daily octreotide shots to keep the calcitonin at bay. But honestly, I wouldn’t trade my life for anything right now. I have a beautiful wife and amazing marriage, independent adult children, caring friends, wonderful grandkids, a great job… and honestly, I might have had those things without the cancer, but being a Survivor has allowed me really take the time to understand that, and to appreciate them.