Cancer: The Grand Journey

Cancer and Depression: Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) blog series announcement

Later this year, in May, I’ll pass through a milestone of 7 years since my cancer diagnosis, treatment, eventual remission and the fight that followed. That fight is still being waged today against a body that never fully recovered. As a result of chemotherapy and the various related maladies that befell me. I now suffer from chronic fatigue, major depression disorder (MDD), pernicious anemia, decreased nutrient absorption (even more so than bariatric surgery causes), Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, not to mention relationship and career issues, etc.

I started to reconsider having typed all that information especially given my intention to post this as a blog series. My initial thoughts of privacy are overshadowed by a desire to ensure that knowledge of the aftershocks of cancer treatment are known. There have been many advances in treatment options in the last 7 years – I’d hope, right? One of the biggest developments I’ve noticed is that realization by the overall medical community and the general public that cancer and the aftereffects doesn’t end with remission or a clean scan.

The reality is that for many cancer survivors some of the impacts on your life can feel almost as bad as the treatment and the diagnosis. We suffer silently because after a while your doctors tell you that these after cancer symptoms are just “your new normal” and there’s nothing they can do besides prescribe anti-depressants and additional medications that potentially leave you feeling worse.

I’ve grown tired of this repetitive silence and cyclic attempt to feel better. I’m trying something new this week. I’ve been doing some research into TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation).

The results seem promising but as with many treatment options, the depth of knowledge isn’t there. The article I linked to even notes: “Though the biology of why TMS works isn’t completely understood, the stimulation appears to impact how the brain is working, which in turn seems to ease depression symptoms and improve mood.”

I’m not advocating for this treatment currently. I do not yet know if it will have positive effects. I begin treatment on Wednesday, January 22, 2020, and I wanted to start this blog series as an effort to catalog any changes that may occur as a result. To that end, I’m defining the following parameters for the 36 posts to measure perceived changes and document how I’m feeling.

Each entry will include (at minimum):

  • Sleep: How’d I sleep? How many hours? Quality?
  • Appetite: How’d I feel about eating? What did I eat?
  • Physical Activity: What did I feel capable of doing? What did I ultimately do? How did I feel after?
  • Motivation: How much proactive motivation did I have? What motivated me? What were my goals? Did I hit them?
  • Baseline Mood: What am I feeling as a baseline.
  • Happenings: What’s happened today that may impact my baseline?
  • Reactions: What were my reactions to the happenings?
  • Learnings: What did I learn, observe, etc?

I hope this post series will feel helpful to anyone considering the TMS treatment option and look forward to the opportunity to connect with anyone who may have thoughts or questions about the experience. I’d also love to hear from survivors who have had success with other treatments and methods.

Best of luck to us all


Stolen Samples – Cancer Diagnosis

It seemed like an eternity had passed. The doctor had left with stolen samples of my neck tissue. Laura, my wife, rocked on her heels, waiting and watching for the door to crack open and spill the truth about my diagnosis. Her hand searched out mine and found it grasping firmly. I looked into her eyes and lied to her for the first time in my life, I said, “It’s going to be fine.”

The doctor returned wearing a professional and yet somehow cold smile. Her lips parted and out rolled the sum of her expertise.

“Mr. Sedberry upon my initial examination you have cancer. I cannot tell you what specific kind you have until the test results come back on Monday,”

My sanity began to waver but I caught sight of Laura. The look on her face was terrifying. I could see in her eyes that her world was crashing down around her, all of her hopes and dreams were shattered upon the floor. Her eyes were swelling to the brim with tears and she broke into a sobbing, blubbering mess.

I reached out and pulled her deep into an embrace. As her tears soaked my shirt,  I realized that I must stay strong for her and I instantly buried all emotion. I tell her “We will get through this.” I don’t know that I believe it but my words help Laura regain her strength. As Laura grows stronger I felt myself tightening up and sealing in the edges.

Laura kissed me, looked deep into my eyes and said, “Don, I love you, we will get through this, I promise.”

I make the effort to look unconcerned and say with finality, “I know, I love you so much..” I had never felt such fear in my life. I thought that I was going die almost immediately, like I had run out of time, I couldn’t catch my breath and I felt like I was falling fast to the ground. There’s nothing more dizzying than a cancer diagnosis. Worst of all I felt I had to hide those feelings from Laura, that was a mistake I would never redeem myself from.

It all starts somewhere…

The descent into Cancerville began on a week like any other. The only difference was that my throat had become a little ticklish and I had an occasional irritating cough.  There wasn’t any real indication of something dangerous. My week was a simple schedule, no work, my biggest concern was choosing between two job options. I had just graduated from college and I was either going to work for The Prosper Group or for Givelify. I was on top of the world; I was excited for myself that life was just working out..

My throat progressively got worse and a lump developed on the side of my neck and I eventually went to an immediate care clinic, run out of Community East Hospital, to check to see if I potentially had strep throat or something similar. The doctor looked perplexed and suggested that I had a goiter. I didn’t believe his diagnosis because in my mind a goiter is caused by a lack of iodized salt and I live in America… land of the salty goodness. It started to worry me that I didn’t know what was actually wrong with me, though had no idea that cancer was a consideration at this point. I remember being afraid, but not knowing why, or what to be afraid of.

It was ultimately a good thing I didn’t believe him. Within a day, the lump grew in size to the point that it started to crush my windpipe and it increased the pitch of my voice considerably. I spoke high-pitched like a small female child. I remember becoming something just short of terrified as we rushed to the emergency room.

This also caused Laura to panic. While I was at the Community East Emergency Room, Laura informed the physician’s assistant that I had taken pain medicine and drank a bit of beer (honest mistake, I poured it out as soon as I realized it was a bad idea). However, that’s all it took for the physician’s assistant to assume that my high pitched voice was the result of that stupid sip of beer and not of a larger issue. She refused to care about the massive lump in my neck and continued with the assumption that it was a goiter and a subsequent allergic reaction. I was extremely frustrated and did my best to let the physician’s assistant know it, but she never let me talk to the actual doctor because I wasn’t deemed important enough. I will never forget my treatment at Community Hospital and I will never ever return there for anything.

If you are certain you are right, or that your questions and illness isn’t being properly cared for, speak up! Don’t let assumptions ruin your health care!

We called my primary care physician and let him know about my condition. He recommended an ear nose and throat specialist and he in turn ordered a biopsy be performed after looking down my throat and noting no internal reasons for the swollen lymph nodes.

Greetings from the world formerly known as Cancerville

The only thing that sucks more than living through cancer is dying from it. That may sound morbid, but it is absolutely true. Before I survived cancer I had absolutely no idea how powerless I was capable of becoming.

It’s amazing how weak chemotherapy can make you…more on that later.

It’s hard for me to accept that anyone, even my wife Laura, could possibly understand what I have been through in my fight against cancer. I don’t want to come off as arrogant or pompous. I have a difficult time explaining all that I have been through so it follows that it might be difficult for someone who hasn’t been through it to understand.

That’s what this is about. It is my intention to explain what I have been through both for me and for others. It is my hope to generate understanding in those who have been by my side and to help prepare someone with a new diagnosis of cancer for things to come.

I have the benefit of a highly logical and analytical mind as well as a deeply caring heart. Over the next several posts, I will do my very best to be as thorough and transparent as possible, giving a complete emotional and analytical breakdown of the story.

I also want to offer up an “open email policy.” My contact information is available on this website and I offer up myself as a resource in the future. Please reach out to me via email with any questions or comments. I promise to respond to any requests for additional information and fellowship.

I am looking forward to getting this off my chest and out of my head… I hope it does some good in this world.

Donning New Perspectives

I’ve read this story before, long before I wrote these words. You see it often when people have slammed into a wall and been greeted with their own mortality. In my case, the wall was cancer, a word I never expected to hear that day. Yet, I think it was something I had been preparing my whole life to cope with.

I have jokingly told my friends that I made a deal with God to live forever for as long as I could remember. It was my way of deflecting my mortality and believing that I was ready for anything. I wasn’t, of course. At some point, before the word cancer, I began donning a new set of perspectives.

If you’re like most people you have a need to control every aspect of your life. You guard yourself from being hurt, from change, from anything that doesn’t fit your ideal circumstance. You may not admit it, or even see it, but there it is guiding your every movement through life. Most of the time, you don’t even notice this particular perspective. You’re so used to it that it seems perfectly natural to hide in the safety of it.

I realized that I didn’t have control and more importantly didn’t want control. Life is beautiful in the way that it moves like a river, either carrying us along or moving around us if we get in the way. You can drown in that river or you can go with the flow. We’re told that going with the flow is a form of weakness. It is actually the most sincere form of strength to allow life to grant you opportunities to seize.

When you allow life to carry you along, you begin to see that you have a purpose that life intends for you to accomplish, to change, grow and meet new challenges with a fresh perspective each time. My wife shared with me a beautiful narrative about change that demonstrated personal transformation through the eyes of caterpillar.

Change. Caterpillars go into themselves and melt, reprograming each and every particle into a part of the butterfly that it will eventually become. That melting stage is crucial, that’s the stage when you question all that you are and use it to build the person on the other side of the perspective shift. That’s what I’ve been going through lately.

Laura, my wife, bought me a book titled “Believe” while I was in the hospital. The following quote really touched me.

“We won’t always know whose lives we touched and made better for our having cared, because actions sometimes have unforeseen ramifications. What’s important is that you do care and you act.” ~ Charlotte Lunsford

Cancer saved me from a life that I would hate, in a career that I would despise and allowed me one final opportunity to let go of the puppet strings of my life. While sitting in the hospital listening to the stories of all the nurses, doctors, and family members visiting their relatives I changed a little more each day. Is it crazy to be grateful for cancer? Maybe. I’m applying to pursue a doctorate so that I can follow through with becoming a professor, so that I can make a difference.

Make a difference. Today.