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The Process, Part 2

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Nov. 16, 2013

When you have cancer, or when, as in my case, you've had cancer (I'm being my usual optimistic self here), there always seems to be something you didn't expect. There's another doctor to see, another follow-up to schedule, another test you have to take and more and different types of treatment than you ever imagined. Then there are even more side effects from the first rounds that require you to see even more doctors, schedule even more follow-ups and be treated yet again.

So as definitive as I'm trying to sound, the truth is that I'm really just assuming this is going to have a happy ending and I'll survive.

This is not just my optimistic thinking at work: My doctors -- and there are a bunch of them -- have convinced me I'm going to beat this.

Of course that's what they said a year or so ago, when I supposedly had no more than a 10 percent chance of a recurrence. Now, after another surgery, a number of consultations with a variety of doctors and doing my homework, I've decided on a course of treatment based on much more than instinct or intuition.

What do I mean when I say "I decided"?

One of my most basic philosophies is that my health is my doctor's concern but my responsibility. I want all the expert advice I can get, but what I ultimately decide to do is my call.

To a certain extent, this explains why I've had such a hard time dealing with this disease. I'm used to being in control and cancer took... or tried to take... that away from me. In my regular day-to-day world, I'm the one who decides if and when I do something. To say the least, it was disrupting and dispiriting to have something happen to me that I wasn't expecting and to have it interfere with the many other high-priority things going on in my personal and professional life.

Taking control of a situation is both my usual behavior and what others typically rely on me to do. I'm a decision maker and suddenly having doctors, hospitals, nurses and insurance companies tell me what to do and how to do it because of a disease that didn't bother to ask if this was a good time to recur has been somewhat emasculating.

And this was anything but a good time for a recurrence.

I was diagnosed shortly after my brother and I convinced my 89-year-old mother, who had lived on her own the past almost 50 years, to move into an assisted living facility near our homes in Virginia, approximately 250 miles south of where she had been living in New Jersey. When she agreed, my mother, who had always lived independently, immediately became our responsibility. The fact that my mother's mental capacity was diminishing rapidly meant that there was an added burden and increased emotional issues to deal with.

My brother and I then had to sell my mother's co-op without her help or participation. At her insistence she left New Jersey without telling any of her friends and with little more than a suitcase. It was up to her two sons to do everything from moving her things, to arranging for 1-800-Got-Junk to take what we weren't moving, to turning off her cable TV and utilities, to getting the place painted and sold.

At the same time this was happening my firm was in the process of being acquired. I wasn't the driving force making this happen, but the combination of the emotional issues, the legal aspects of the complicated agreements that were required and the constant staff questions about what was happening added significant uncertainty at a time when, frankly, it was the last thing I needed.

In the midst of all this my largest client launched a big, new and very public venture. I had spent the better part of the last year on this deal, including spending most of the past three months away from home in New York City. I was even acting as the client's executive vice president for communications. It was great fun, extremely rewarding and one of those all-encompassing professional experiences you dream about. It was very important to me personally and exceptionally important financially to my firm.

It was during the week before the launch that I discovered the lump that put in motion the biopsy, the scans, the surgery, the consultations and the radiation treatment.

And all this was happening the month before the federal government was about to go through another shutdown and debt ceiling scare and, as a very quotable federal budget expert, I was very much in demand as a pundit and commentator. I was regularly interviewed on several programs and was a frequent guest host on others. I wrote and published an op-ed in USA Today and posted almost daily on my blog. I was quoted in many of the largest national newspapers. My Twitter followers increased by 90 percent. I did a minimum of 2-3 interviews a day and most days turned down at least the same number.

As I said, this wasn't the best time for this to happen.

This is a continuing series of blog posts by Stan Collender about his experience fighting cancer. "The Process" Stan is describing began last August.

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