GOAL: Raise awareness for prevention and screenings to help in the fight against cancer.
WHY I DID IT: I have been swimming since I was 12 years old and competitively swimming nationally and internationally for 75 years. As an avid competitive swimmer and founder and coach of the St. Petersburg-based U.S. Masters Swimming team, the Florida Mavericks, cancer was the furthest thing from my mind.
It was a very unusual discovery: I was at the dentist getting work done on my upper teeth, when the dentist pressed on my nose and accidentally broke the bone. As it turned out, the cancer underneath had weakened the bones in my face.
At the time I had no symptoms; I was training and competing regularly in Masters swimming events and managing the Florida Mavericks. I don’t know how I ever would have found out early enough, had it not been for the dentist. A closer examination led to the diagnosis of carcinoma in the cartilage in my nose.
While undergoing treatment, I had to commit to stay out of the water for at least six months. I spent the last seven decades competitively swimming, so this was no easy task for me. But I obliged, receiving surgery to remove the bulk of the tumor, then undergoing radiation therapy with Dr. Robert Miller at WellSpring Oncology.
HOW I DID IT: When I was first diagnosed with cancer, I thought my body was in such good physical shape to begin with that I could conquer this. What I was not prepared for was the mental stress that comes with it. Fortunately, I had great support from my wife, my teammates and WellSpring Oncology; they were there for me in my time of need.
After surgery, Dr. Miller walked me through the radiation therapy process. He explained each step in detail, describing the benefits and risks of each treatment option, and he made sure I knew what to expect during treatment. He explained that I would still be able to train, and that eased my concerns. Knowledge was power in this case, and I felt comfortable knowing I was in good hands.
Throughout my treatment, he and seemingly the entire staff of WellSpring Oncology, were there for me, both physically and emotionally. I’ve never been to any medical facility where everyone on staff is in sync with the patient, working through their needs at every visit.
I always understood the need to stay positive early in my swimming career, helping me through competitions and everyday stress. But staying positive through cancer treatments and the stresses of lifestyle changes was harder than I thought.
HURDLES: The biggest hurdle for me was staying out of the water. I was still at the pool daily coaching the Florida Mavericks, but after spending six months on dry ground, I had to find a solution to get back in the water.
I decided to use a mask that covered my whole face, sparing my nose from getting wet. Finally, I could go on to compete again nationally! When I placed in the top 10 in every race with that mask, it felt as if I conquered not only the races, but also the cancer.
GOING THE DISTANCE: I credit my survival to my physical condition, the expert care I received and the positive mental attitude I kept.
Now, with just regular follow-ups, I am still training, competing and teaching locally and internationally. I encourage all of my teammates to be healthy, wear sunscreen daily and get regular screening for cancer.
BEST ADVICE: I would recommend to anyone dealing with cancer to work on getting into a positive mindset, even though it can be tough. Your mental outlook is one of the more important things to get you through all the stresses you have to go through. Learn some techniques to block the negative things you will come across and work on getting your mind into a positive state. You will need all the tools in your arsenal to beat cancer. Support from family and caring medical providers will help get you through.