Commissioner Nick Fish in The Oregonian, Sunday, August 4, 2019
Two years ago, my doctor called me at work. The test results were back. I had stomach cancer.
It was the ultimate sucker punch. Without warning, my world turned upside down. My thoughts turned to my dad, who died of cancer, my family and my future.
The doctors at OHSU’s Knight Cancer Institute acted quickly. A port was implanted in my chest, and I started to receive regular and aggressive chemotherapy infusions. They warned me it would be a marathon and not a sprint.
Two years later, we have prevented the spread of the cancer. In fact, as the old cliché goes, the cure is often worse than the disease. Each treatment knocks me out for a few days; I rely on drugs, acupuncture, and massage to manage the side effects.
About 17 million Americans deal with cancer every day, according to the American Cancer Society. Some are in remission, others are in treatment. It’s the second leading cause of death in our country – we lose about 600,000 people a year.
Lots of survivors have shared their inspiring stories with me, and I’m using my platform to advocate on their behalf. For example, I have spoken out about the perils of going backwards on health care. Millions of Americans with “pre-existing conditions” are at risk of being treated as second-class citizens if Obamacare is repealed or struck down by the courts. That would be a catastrophe.
So, what has changed in my life, and what have I learned?
First, it would be an understatement to say that cancer changed everything. I never thought I’d be living with a chronic illness at 60. And while certainty about the future is a luxury nobody enjoys, uncertainty is a constant companion.
But I will not let cancer set the terms of my life. I work a full schedule, fueled by my passion for my work as a city commissioner. I cherish quality time spent with my family and friends. And I try to take the bumps in the road in stride.
Second, I have learned some powerful lessons during this journey. Here are a few:
- Stay positive. We are surrounded by too much negativity and divisiveness.
- Live every day fully. We are all living on borrowed time.
- Focus on the things that really matter and bring joy to your life. For me, it’s the little things like browsing independent bookstores, listening to jazz and searching for the perfect bagel and lox.
- Take control of your treatment. Be an empowered patient. Ask questions.
- Accept what you cannot control.
- We all need support. A lot of people, especially older adults, go through their cancer journey alone. Offer to be a “cancer buddy” and spend some time with them during their treatment. It will make a big difference.
These powerful lessons have deepened my sense of gratitude for the blessings in my life – especially for the love and kindness of others.
I am grateful for all the doctors, nurses and practitioners who have helped me, and for all those who believe in the mission of the Knight Cancer Institute. And I am grateful for everyone in our community who has lifted me and my family up during a challenging time.
My dream is to continue my public service, watch my son graduate from high school, support my daughter as she makes her way in this world and share my life with my wife.
Cancer is a formidable adversary. But so is my team. I will continue to fight the disease with every fiber in my body. And I intend to win.
Here is my hope for the future: that Portland leads the way in finding new cures for cancer. Millions of people like me are counting on it.