A Funny Thing Happened on My Way to Chemotherapy

Thursday, August 29, 2019 - 8:27am

Dan Shapiro, PhD, is a cancer survivor, clinical psychologist and the Vice Dean for Faculty and Administrative Affairs at the Penn State College of Medicine. Join us on Saturday, September 14 for Chapter 2: A Cancer Survivor’s Workshop for Living Your Best Life, where Dr. Shapiro will deliver the keynote address, A Funny Thing Happened on My Way to Chemotherapy, a series of stories about life with cancer.

When I was 20 years old, I was studying at the National Theatre Institute (NTI) in Connecticut pursuing an education that I hoped would lead me to become an actor or writer. That’s when it all happened. I had a bad cough, some difficulty breathing, night sweats and a pain in my shoulder anytime I drank alcohol. I saw two or three doctors before one of them finally decided to send me for an x-ray. After finding a large abnormal mass, I was immediately sent to an oncologist. That was the end of my academic career at NTI, but it was just the beginning of everything else.

I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and spent the next five years in and out of treatment. Cancer obliterated my early 20s. It shaped me as a person, shaped my family and changed the entire landscape of our lives. At a time when I should have been studying and hanging out with my friends, I was sitting in waiting rooms and going through some of the most difficult cancer treatments available. None of it was easy; it was extremely difficult. But every single one of those experiences shaped my life into what it is now.

There are so many different ways to cope with this disease. When I was going through treatment, I wrote everything down. I used writing as my emotional radar and eventually compiled all my notes into my first book. Now, as a survivor, I find that sharing stories is a very powerful tool, especially for cancer survivors because we’ve all shared some of the same universal experiences.

There’s something extremely validating about hearing your experience come from someone else’s mouth. To be in the presence of a room full of other people who understand that vulnerability — who have visited the edge of human experience — is extremely moving.

I want the survivors who come to Chapter 2 to feel validated, understood and comforted. I want them to appreciate the importance of spending time with other patients because no matter where you’re at — if you’re newly-diagnosed or a 20-year survivor — the things we learn from each other can have a profound impact on our lives.

I hope that sharing my story makes others laugh and feel buoyed. My story will be funny at times and moving at others, but if we can laugh together, all the better.

Editor’s Note: Cancer patient outcomes and experiences may vary, even for those with the same type of cancer. An individual patient’s story should not be used as a prediction of how another patient will respond to treatment. Roswell Park is transparent about the survival rates of our patients as compared to national standards, and provides this information, when available, within the cancer type sections of this website.