On Tuesday, January 28, a renowned New York City surgeon diagnosed me with cancer, confirmed by a two-page pathology report from a top Weill Cornell oncologist. A week earlier the surgeon had removed a mass from my hip and the oncologist declared it a sarcoma, a malignant tumor generally affecting the fat tissue around limbs.
On Wednesday, February 5, the Dana Farber Cancer Center in Boston corrected the diagnosis. The mass was an angiomyxoma, a benign tumor involving the blood vessels that can be excised with little likelihood of recurrence. I did not have cancer.
The misdiagnosis was understandable. Angiomyxoma can present itself deceptively. My gender and age lined up with a sarcoma diagnosis and my father had just been treated for prostate cancer, therefore establishing a family history.
When I first heard the word, I became light-headed and nauseous. A nurse helped me onto a bed and I was given the details: the margins of the excision aren't clean; it's unclear if the cancer has spread; and treatment includes more surgery and most likely radiation. I ultimately collected myself and walked out of the physician's office.
I had a business meeting scheduled for that evening, then parent's night at my middle son's preschool and finally dinner with my wife and another couple. I decided to keep the appointments. The night ended up being calmer than I could have ever imagined lying light-headed in the surgeon's office. And the calm continued into the next day, through the next night, and into all the days until the original diagnosis was overturned.
Why? Why did I feel so calm?
I am generally a strong person, but I was experiencing a strength I'd never felt. It started when I collected myself and walked out of the surgeon's office. I realized that millions of people had done just that, millions of times before me. They heard the word, got scared, collected themselves, and walked out to face the fight before them.
I thought of my father, 25 years my senior, who had left Hope Lodge at Dana Farber just three months prior with a report of complete remission; a close friend and contemporary who successfully battled cancer; and a close colleague, almost 10 years my junior, who fought it off in his 20s.
As I made my way downtown for my evening of appointments I noticed the subway signs, the bus-side posters, the t-shirts and the pink ribbons. Signs of cancer struggle, support and survival are everywhere in our culture. The strength to collect myself and walk out of that doctor's office was a strength given to me by all the people who had come before me, a reservoir they built that I was now drinking from. As the week went on I got a glimpse of how deep that reservoir is and also a sense that it deepens further with every person that decides to fight, and with every poster and pink ribbon.
Cancer is like few other diseases. You can have it. You can have it and not know it. You can have had it. And even with the best physicians in the world you can think you have it and then be assured that you don't. Cancer is insidious, sneaky, indiscriminate and generally ornery.
Fortunately, this time, I don't have to test the depth of the reservoir and for that I am extremely grateful, but I am now committed to helping deepen it in any way that I can.
Bo Peabody is an entrepreneur and investor with Greycroft Partners in New York. He founded Tripod, one of the original social networks and was chairman of Everyday Health. He wrote a book for entrepreneurs called "Lucky or Smart?" published by Random House.