The Cancer Comic You Need to Know Exists (and it's for sale)!

Published on by Matthew Mewhorter.

I'm thrilled to tell you that Cancer Owl isn't the only comic addressing the unique experience that is being diagnosed with cancer. And this particular comic, Perry Winkle, is the comic you need to know is out there.  While Cancer Owl pulls more from humorous webcomic inspiration, Perry Winkle is a straight-up comic book, and a beautiful one at that.  

Perry Winkle was created by English artist and Hodgkins Lymphoma survivor, Susie Gander.  Like me, she created her comic in the middle of treatment as a way to cope with her experience.  She's used her comic and artistic skills to run several cancer-based charities. She's a stand-up human being and her can-do spirit is completely reflected through her comic character.

Perry Winkle is an inspired take on her own true-life story.  In the comic, she is diagnosed with cancer, and in the middle of devastation is visited by a tough, beautiful, vivacious and bald superhero named Perry Winkle who's determined to give cancer the ass-kicking it deserves.   She is, obviously, the hero that lives inside Susie-inside all of us-that faces life's most notorious monsters with courage and gusto.  

What I love about Perry Winkle is that besides being a fantastic cancer ass-kicker, she's fun, sexy and positive. And of course it goes without saying that the artwork is stunning, exciting and fun. When you're diagnosed with cancer, especially at a young age, you're left with the choice of how you wish to approach it.  Susie Gander invites you to consider that there is a hero inside of you to remind you of what you're made of in the darkest of times...and you're made of more than what you think. 

And it's for sale!

The comic book is, unfortunately, not currently available in print in the United States. If you don't live in the UK, like me, the comic will be available for download this Saturday, October 14th by clicking here! Also I highly encourage you to "like" Perry Winkle on her facebook page.  I'm so glad this comic exists.  Please consider purchasing this work and supporting Susie in continuing to do great things in the cancer world. 

A Night of Hell, Resurrection, and the Birth of Cancer Owl

Published on by Matthew Mewhorter.

drawing CO.jpg

This is my story about how an awful night in the hospital led to drawing my very first owl with cancer.

It started with my second night in the hospital after my first surgery, which cut out my cancerous tumor completely, re-sectioned my colon, and fitted me with an ostomy bag. My whole abdomen was fresh with stapled wounds, and I looked like I got into a nasty knife fight. I was encouraged to get up and walk as soon as possible, and day one was such a challenge. I nearly fainted my first attempts. I was able to walk a lap, or two, but that was it. If anything, I was behind in my recovery until night #2.

The second night was pure hell. I shared a room with an elderly man who just discovered he had cancer. He wasn't doing well, and he was coughing and gagging all night. And as for me, I began hiccupping. And the hiccups came hard and furious, and I couldn't stop. Each hiccup made my whole abdominal area feel as if I was ripping apart, and it worsened as it went.  The pain was blinding. The hiccups wouldn't stop for at least another 3 hours. 

And I rolled in my bed, sweating, high off oxy and tormented by the gagging next to me. I asked the night staff to rehook my equipment to my stand so I could walk. The nurse walked me a lap and I told her I would take it from there. The most I did previously was about 3 laps.  That night, I walked for about 2 hours (best I can recall).  And I'm certain I agitated the night crew, walking in the dead of night, hiccuping over and over. My God, the hiccuping was painful. But I kept walking, and walking, and walking. Until the hiccups quit. The gas I was filled with from surgery finally released, and close to 5 AM I went to bed. 

The next day I was reborn.  It's hard to put it into words but I felt so much better. My recovery happened swiftly after that, and now with the cancer removed and a sheer night of hell, I came to life.  After eating a big breakfast, I grabbed my sketchbook.

And I drew this: 

Blue lines compliments of my daughter.

And then I remembered the encouragement from my therapist to begin art journaling my experiences. The first thing to come up was a cute little owl with a cheesy slogan:

And this was the birth of Cancer Owl.  Drawing this started off my new life, rebirth. A celebration. That little owl felt like a gift entrusted to me, and it just felt so amazing.    

Suffering in this life is inevitable, and when you're told you have cancer, you will probably suffer in one way or another. I've learned that it matters is what you do in the suffering. And what you choose to do is completely up to you.  

This isn't meant to be a guide to success when diagnosed with cancer, because each experience is so individual and unique.  I can only speak for myself, so take from it what you will.  But in the middle of hell, I chose to get up and walk, and it made all the difference.

Mesotheli....What?! Expand You Cancer Knowledge With This Rare but Deadly Disease

Published on by Matthew Mewhorter.

I gotta be honest and say that I've never heard of this before. I was approached by Chris who runs this website to raise more awareness to an important issue that so few know about. As a cancer survivor, I think it's crucial to expand your knowledge, and so here is another piece for your library...complete with video!

Mesothelioma Cancer & Causes

Mesothelioma is an aggressive type of cancer that affects the lining, also
known as the mesothelium, of the body’s internal organs. The purpose and job
of this lining is to surround, cushion, and protect the organs from harm.
Mesothelioma is considered a rare disease with 2,000-3,000 cases diagnosed
per year in the US alone. There are four types of this cancer of the
mesothelium, with the most common being pleural mesothelioma accounting
for 75% of all mesothelioma diagnoses. The more rare forms of mesothelioma
include:

 pericardial mesothelioma
 peritoneal mesothelioma
 testicular mesothelioma.

What causes Mesothelioma?
The main risk of developing mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos. Asbestos is
made up of a group of six minerals: amosite, actinolite, tremosite, crocidolite,
chrysolite, and anthrophyllite.
Asbestos fibers are very resistant to various chemicals, fires, or heat. They
tend to penetrate inside of the human body and human clothes as well,
leading to a chronic inflammation of the affected tissue. Usually, lungs are the
one affected as asbestos fibers are inhaled during exposure to asbestos.
Prolonged inhalation of asbestos fibers is very hazardous to human health.
Once the asbestos fibers are inhaled, the human body can’t eliminate them,
leading to a buildup in the lungs and abdomen over time.
The main problem is the prolonged period of disease development after
exposure to asbestos. It takes years and mostly decades for the disease to
develop. Usually, it takes about 20 to 50 years for mesothelioma, or lung
cancer, to develop after asbestos exposure. Once it occurs, in the early stages,
the warning signs and the mesothelioma symptoms look a lot alike many
other diseases of the respiratory system. This leads to a misdiagnosis or
diagnosis when the disease has already developed into its terminal stages.
Regardless of the diagnosis, the prognosis is not good. In general, there is no
cure for mesothelioma and treatment is only focused in relieving the signs and
symptoms of the disease.

An exposure over a long period of time, especially to higher doses of asbestos,
increases the risk of developing mesothelioma as mesothelioma has a dose –
response relationship to asbestos.
Certain people are at a higher risk of developing mesothelioma than others.
These usually are asbestos miners, factory workers, railroad workers,
shipbuilding workers, and construction workers. As asbestos was commonly
used in the construction industry, carpenters, roofers, plumbers, and
electricians are at a higher risk of developing mesothelioma than others. Even
their partners and families are exposed to asbestos, as asbestos fibers are
transmitted on clothing.
Even though asbestos minerals are no longer used in the construction
industry, many houses and public buildings built before the year 2000 have
been constructed with asbestos products.
The best way to prevent mesothelioma is by protecting yourself. This is
especially important for people working in the construction industry as well
as all those who have a possibility of being exposed to asbestos.

Empathy Fail! Heather Duff's Story About Her Manger's Awkward Attempt to Understand

Published on by Matthew Mewhorter.

I love this story by Heather Duff about how her line manager attempts to relate to her pain in incredibly awkward ways. Check it out:

I was 27 when the doctors diagnosed me with a rare and aggressive form of cervical cancer. At the time I had recently completed my first marathon and was playing national league hockey. Being a non smoker, who rarely drank with an exemplary diet I thought I was immune to cancer. I was wrong!

The lasting effects of treatment has catapulted me into early menopause and left me infertile. A bitter pill to swallow but it could be worse. When I returned to work I chose to confide in my line manager. The conversation went like this...

Manager: How are you?
Me: Honestly? The life I know has gone - I think it'll take a while for things to settle.
Manager: It must be awful. I imagine it's like when you find out Santa's not real.

After an awkward silence I continued the conversation and assumed her response was a nervous one. We got onto the topic of colleagues, several of whom were pregnant at the time:

Me: I find it a little difficult. I'm still coming to terms with infertility and I can't help but feel that is something I'll never have.
Manager: I know what you mean. I can't take a tan. It's like when people come back from their holidays all bronzed showing off their tans. It's so tough!

I stopped talking to my line manager from then on!

Check out Heather's awesome blog, FU Cancer at http://fucancer.co.uk/ 

Milking the Cancer Card: Turning Pain into Opportunity, by Minnow Nguyen

Published on by Matthew Mewhorter.

Should you use your cancer diagnosis to your advantage? Cancer survivor and Physician Assistant, Minnow Nguyen thinks so (and I happen to agree with her). Here's her story:

I was diagnosed with leukemia at age 16. Prior to that i was a pretty good honor student in high school with a close to 4.0 GPA. I missed half of my Junior year in High School and had to learn at home and take many make up tests. I was mostly upset that I couldn't be with my friends daily, couldn't participate in sports or clubs, basically be a normal teenager.

After 6 months of chemo, I was back to school with a bald head. Junior year is when kids start applying to colleges. With my grades and extracurricular activities I was pretty competitive to begin with. As a cancer survivor, I TOTALLY believe in milking the cancer card. Why the fuck not?! as long as i'm not trampling over anyone else - I should be able to play the cancer card to my heart's content! So of course, my college admission essay was about surviving leukemia.

I got into all of the colleges I applied for: UCLA, Berkeley, UCSB, UCI, UCSD. After hearing the news, one girl in my class said those exact words "I wish I had cancer too!". She wasn't an AP/Honors student, she wasn't the worst student either and I was horrified to hear her say that at all. I know as teenagers we say a lot of dumb things without thinking, but it really struck a nerve. If I had the chance to get into college without having to go through cancer.... trust me, i would have. 

Finding Humor in Disease and Turning it into Jaw-Dropping Art: Elizabeth Jameson

Published on by Matthew Mewhorter.

© Elizabeth Jameson

Okay brace yourselves, this blog post isn't about cancer (collective screams)! But I just had to feature Elizabeth Jameson, a friend I made when I was at the Stanford Medicine X conference in April. Though I was diagnosed with cancer and she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), we both took the same medicine: art.

When I first met Elizabeth, she was surrounded by a large crowd of devoted fans. She had actually found my work first, and sought me out the night previous. Jameson, a Stanford alumni and once powerful attorney, turned to art after she was diagnosed with the disease that would eventually confine her to a wheelchair.

Elizabeth took her brain scans and transformed them into stunning works of art, which are now displayed in little known places like Harvard, Stanford, Johns Hopkins, Berkley, and several other locations.  Oh yeah, and she also does Ted Talks..no big whoop. It is an honor to get to know such a powerful mind and artist, and even more of an honor to feature her jaw-dropping art...some of the most compelling stuff I've seen in a long time.  

But let me shut up so you can read her blog and see her work:

I am an artist living with MS, and I transform my brain scans to create work that celebrates the imperfect brain and body. Through my work I explore the complexities of living life with an illness and disability – the depression, struggles, celebrations, hopes, and humor. Yes, humor. While typically sardonic, dark, or “inappropriate” to some, it is humor all the same! Life with MS can be hysterical(ly funny). This is not to say it is a fun ride, or to paint happy faces on our experiences. My art has allows me to glimpse humor by pushing myself to see the world through different vantage points. This is what Cancer Owl has done with his comics; it is what every artist has done who lives with illness, disability, or socio-culturally imposed imperfections. Turning the typical imagery or expectations upside down is where humor lives. In that spirit, I'd like to share two of my images where I unexpectedly found humor in my imperfect brain.

Bird Brain
 

© Elizabeth Jameson

This image still makes me laugh, even though I discovered it years ago. The spots that you see are lesions in my lower brain stem that probably have resulted in my quadriplegia. Not really laughing material… but, they also look like birds. Growing up, my siblings always referred to me as a bird brain. Well, I refuse to confirm or deny it on the grounds that it may incriminate me… but I do have documentation of it now, so take what you will from that.

Good Egg

© Elizabeth Jameson

This series also made me laugh when I created them. I'm not really sure why. My studio assistant thinks it's because there's so much classification of someone as a “good egg” or a “bad egg.” And since my imperfect brain might be assumed to be in column B, this series pushes back. But maybe explaining the joke sort of ruins it… so I'll let you decide why/if you might find the Good Egg series amusing.
 

Everyone knows humor is important. So why not put more of it out there in the world? Especially when we are dealing with illness… which we all inevitably will, in some way, whether it is you, your loved ones, or someone you know. So, why not see the humor in this crazy ride??
 

 

 

 

My Friend Linda on How She Used Humor in the Thick of Cancer Treatment

Published on by Matthew Mewhorter.

This is my friend, Linda.  She's been a devoted reader and encourager of me for almost the entire duration of Cancer Owl. I can almost always count on a great thought or comment from her whenever I post something new.  Linda also has a great perspective on life about dealing with a challenge like cancer.

And it's my pleasure to share this brief but funny story that she submitted to me awhile back!

The last radiation series I had last April landed me in the hospital for 6 days. So all docs, techs, nurses, phlebotomists, pharmacy personnel, radiologist tech etc., have become a very close family to me. I have a great rapport with my radiologist techs and call them The **MES ~~Mike, Emily, Suzanne and the "T" in they is Tammy who now works behind the scenes.

Many times I get Mike for my prepper and all four of these wonderful medical staffers are all very professional in their work and concerns for their patients. Radiation requires always minimal changes~~in the dressing room, prior to the radiation room you remove your jacket or coat if it is cool weather, your top & bra and put on a gown opened down the front. And then in the radiation room for my routine was take off your glasses, your shoes, take off your wig if you are donning one at that time.

One time when I got Mike for radiation in the hip & pelvis area for breast cancer in the bone, I gowned up as they have to use markings they tattoo on your body to line you up. I took off glasses, shoes, sweater, and then got to hop up on the lowered table, and lie down. Then they have to shuffle you up & down ~ left and right to get you aligned just right. Once on the table, to view the area to be radiated and because I was being radiated in the hips & pelvis, the pants come down to your knees. Once set up, he steps outside to start my radiation which doesn't take too long. The arm of the big machine radiates from the top and then swings underneath to complete my radiation ~ less than 5 - 8 minutes. Mike stepped back in to lower the table so I can safely get down, looked at me and said, "I'm all done with you now~ you can pull you pants back up! I looked at him almost laughing and asked him, "Are you sure you are done with me Mike?" His face turned beet red from the top of his head all the way down to his neck ~ We both laughed as to what he had said and I reminded him of how important humor is during cancer. 

**I am sure names cannot be used, but I like that I call them "The MES." They are like family!

Patient Stories: Barista or Bucket List? Belinda on Her Cancer Diagnosis and Living Life on Her Terms

Published on by Matthew Mewhorter.

This is Belinda not brewing coffee.

So you're told you might not even live through the next year. What do you do? Learn how to make lattes and take it easy, or jump out of a plane?  Belinda Weihen was faced with this, and she's an inspiration. Here's her story: 

Back story. So I'm 26. I had been diagnosed with metastatic bowel cancer incidentally (no fhx of anything like this). Told i had to have my abdominal lining stripped as i had peritoneal (plus ovarian and liver- go hard or go home!) secondaries which is apparently pretty nasty. I had to see the oncologist that works with the surgeon who does this procedure (he's the only surgeon in my state that can do this op and he can only do 72 cases a year so you've got to be up shit creek but still operable).**

This oncologist sits me down and tells me that without this operation I will have 6-12 months. More than likely closer to 6 given the spread (later discovered that when they opened me up i was technically past their "operable" pci limit and my bowel was days away from exploding and killing me. So i was really up shit creek). 

I ask if he sees any issue with me going skydiving prior. He gives me this horrified look. "Do you know how dangerous that is??". I replied while gesturing my hands like scales "risk of me dying from jumping out of a plane with a parachute" *lowers hand* "and this cancer killing me" raises other hand. So then he looks at me, still with some confusion. "Why don't you do a barista course? That is safe. Much safer than skydiving. Thats so dangerous!." 
 

"Okay. So i have this surgery, i do a barista course.. which isn't a bucketlist item.. with no bowel can i drink coffee?" I asked.  "Probably not.. you'd have to see" 

Wtf? You can't tell a young person they're going to die within a year without surgery (5yrs with surgery). Then tell them to do a "sensible, safe" course that means they will be taunted by what they can't have. I think skydiving was one of the tamer and safer ideas a dying person can have. Could've decided to take up sword swallowing or dabble in hard drugs. 

Ps. Went to Hawaii before i was booked for surgery. Didn't die.
I had 14 hour surgery. Had a internal bleed (close to 7L over 5 days of blood/fluid).. and sepsis. Skydiving was definitely safer, more enjoyable and cheaper!

Read more from Belinda and her bucket list at https://www.facebook.com/belindasbucketlist/

Howard Katz's Light-Hearted Colonoscopy Story

Published on by Matthew Mewhorter.

One thing I believe cancer patients and survivors must learn to do is find a sense of humor in the midst of suffering.  I was encouraged by Howard Katz's ability to somehow make jokes about prepping for a colonoscopy, which is no easy feat!

Take it away Mr. Katz!

This is the light-hearted story of my first Colonoscopy. Let’s start with what happened after the test…

After my Colonoscopy was finished they had to wake me up from the anesthesia. At the time of the test I had been up for over 24 hours, and the anesthesia was a welcome deep sleep for me. They asked me if I could dress myself, and I said sure. I’m still not sure how I managed to do that without injuring myself, because after the nurse guided me out to the car where my girlfriend (now wife) waited, I couldn’t even fasten my own seatbelt. I tried to buckle up, flailing away. After more than a few misses, my girlfriend gently reached over and buckled me up. She then asked me what the Dr. said. I told her I remember him saying that they were sending a biopsy of a tumor out to a pathologist. She asked why no one had told her. I had foolishly (quite foolishly) told the Dr there was no one else to tell the results to. In my defense for this we weren’t expecting a tumor- and we had only been together for a few months- so why would she need to be told? Just a tip to anyone out there- if you’re in a relationship with someone, let the Dr. tell them what’s going on- for the rest of your health. As you may or may not know, they don’t release you after the Colonoscopy until you’ve passed gas. I don’t remember doing this, but my girlfriend tells me that I told her (which I also don’t remember) I was “blowing the place up” right after they finished, which I emphasized by verbally making the noises for her. Ah dignity, why hast thou forsaken me?

At this point I was famished so we decided to go get something to eat. We went to a diner I know, because I wanted corned beef hash and eggs. I lost 7 pounds during the prep for the Colonoscopy- time to get some of it back! Most of the diners there were senior citizens. In I walk with my girlfriend- who is several years younger than me. As we’re being seated, still feeling pretty happy from the anesthesia, I leaned down and whisper to my girlfriend, “How does it feel to lower the average age in here to breathing?” My girlfriend has since told me that I was not whispering at all, that I said it in a Christian Bale inspired Batman voice- that carried. She says that more than one of the older ladies in the restaurant gave me death glares.

We order, and as we’re waiting for our food, I realize I have to urinate. So I get up and somehow manage to get myself to the bathroom. At this point I don’t trust myself to do that standing up, so I use one of the stalls. I then return to our table. After eating my first meal in 36 hours, I find that I have to urinate again- go figure. So back I go into the bathroom- I still don’t trust myself not to pee everywhere so I sit in a stall again. It’s when I’m done and washing my hands that I look around and see there are no urinals in the bathroom. That’s when it hits me- I’m in the Ladies Room- for the 2nd time. Amazingly there were no women in either time, and no one came in while I was there. After we pay the check my girlfriend drives me home where I relax for the rest of the day.

This all started when my Primary Care Physician told me to get a Colonoscopy after I was having problems with constipation. So, I went to my Gastroenterologist to have a consultation and we made an appointment for the procedure the next week at 7:30AM. At this point my biggest fear was the preparation for the Colonoscopy. We’ve all heard (and some have experienced) horror stories about the prep for a Colonoscopy. Drinking a gallon of foul tasting liquid, and then spending hours on the toilet while your body cleans itself out. Well, I got lucky. My Dr. prescribed Prepopik. And while I’m not saying I want to drink this regularly, it is much easier than the older, more standard prep. Basically after you’ve been on a clear liquid diet for 24 hours (just like all other preps) you mix the Prepopik powder with 5 ounces of water and drink it at 5 PM. It tastes like stale Tang. You are then instructed to drink 5 8-ounce glasses of water in the next 5 hours. At 10PM you drink another 5 ounces of Prepopik, and have to drink 3 more 8-ounce glasses of water in the next three hours.


I didn’t know how long it would take for the Prepopik to kick in, so after about 45 minutes with just a bit of a grumbly stomach, I called the Dr. Before he could call back saying it takes about an hour for it to start, I had my first hint of the cleansing to come. If you haven’t done it, just think of it as someone turning on a faucet that comes out your ass. And it proceeded to do that off and on- but mostly on- until about 5:30 the next morning. Without getting too graphic, it was not a pleasant experience. Of course the tumor they would find during the test didn’t make things any easier. I’ve been told I’m full of shit, but after that long night, no more!

Want to read more from Howard? Read his blog at http://semicolonnotes.blogspot.com/

Patient Stories: Cancer Survivor's Struggle With Mother Over Life After Cancer

Published on by Matthew Mewhorter.

An anonymous cancer survivor sent me this story about her and her mother, and the kinds of things her mother just doesn't get:

I was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer during my last year of graduate school. The number of times I heard "your too young for breast cancer" was unreal but surprisingly that isn't what this story is about. I went through chemo and then surgery and then radiation. My husband had to keep working full time but went to all the chemo stuff. He just didn't have the time off available to him when I had surgery so my mom came down to help out.

I learned to cope with cancer (or get away from it for a while) by playing boardgames. We played through long hours at the infusion center and in the evenings after I had a really shitty day. Once I was up and moving around a bit from surgery, we decided to teach my mom to play a game. It was a cooperative game and things got really intense. We were so close to winning but we were about to trigger nearly all of the lose conditions. I was getting really animated and involved in the game.

At some point, I grabbed some snakes and casually made a joke that I was "stress eating" because of the game. My mom turned to me and said "you get really into this". My response was "well, I don't have a lot going for me right now". She turned her nose up at me and responded with "you just beat Stage II breast cancer,".

Well, yea, but that doesn't change the fact that it sucked. I was 28 with cancer. I had to put my life and my career on hold. All of my classmates had graduated and gotten jobs and moved on. I lost my hair, my breasts, and a year of my life. I hear this a lot in various forms. I should be "happy" that I get to live.

I AM happy. I'm thankful. I want to believe I'm living my life to the fullest and appreciating every second BUT that doesn't mean I'm not angry and sad and scared. That doesn't mean that I don't get to have negative feelings about what happened. Cancer changes you, for better or worse, and telling someone going through treatment (especially when you have no experience with it) how they should feel is just wrong.

Patient Stories: 6 time Cancer Survivor Talks About His "Trial By Fire"

Published on by Matthew Mewhorter.

I'm pleased to share this remarkable story by Andrew Kuzyk! I'll let him take it away!

TRIAL BY FIRE

Story Of The World's Only 6 Time Cancer Survivor


Each year right around Christmas, I post a simple message to thousands of folks I've never even met, telling them essentially, "I'm still alive." My oncology doctors told me years ago that "I'm the only six-time cancer survivor in the World" Within days, a tremendous chorus comes back, 175 voices, 500. Many ask, "How did you survive?" They sometimes begin, "Tears are flowing". A few answer back in kind; "Right there with ya". It's now eight years and I am still on this Earth.

Surviving cancer once, twice, maybe three times may be rare, but six times is simply unheard of. What is in a human being to survive is beyond explainable. We have all heard about survival instinct, but until you are put into a survival situation you have no idea what you are really capable of. I am truly a remarkable fighter who has beaten cancer SIX times, also suffering from Lupus and Alzheimer's I have defied any and all expectations to reach my 53rd birthday! I am still fighting despite enduring a multitude of cancer operations, including two my surgeons thought I would not even survive. I have every wicked surgery scar to remind me of my 6 multiple battles with deadly cancers.

Being a feisty father & grandfather from McDonough, Georgia I have fought through so many medical issues it is mind boggling. My health issues began when I was diagnosed with malignant melanoma at 8 years old. Then an acute cancerous appendix at the ripe age of 17, I required emergency surgery just before the organ would have ruptured, causing fatal infection to my body. Appendix cancer tends to be rare, affecting an estimated 600 to 1,000 Americans each year. Unfortunately, appendix cancer often remains undiagnosed, like mine was until my emergency surgery. Appendix cancer mysteriously has no known cause. At the time I had no idea I would tangle with cancer yet again soon. I had always been a physically active person. A few months after the bout with appendix cancer, I had several episodes of pain in the upper right quadrant of my abdomen. I thought I may have gallstones and decided to avoid high-fat foods because a high fat diet increases gallstone risk.

Later that year, however, I started having steady nausea that became constant. I was also having some coronary artery issues and was scheduled to have several stents surgically inserted. It was in the recovery room after the cardiac stent procedures when I felt unbearable pain in my midsection. My doctor ordered an abdominal ultrasound, which showed irregular thickening of the gallbladder walls. "They couldn't rule out carsinoma" A surgical specialist reassured me that "cancer was highly unlikely". "He had done thousands of gallbladder surgeries and rarely saw gallbladder cancer. He said, "It was very rare, and if that were the case, you would probably be dead by now". Well, my surgeon removed my gallbladder laparoscopically, but the news wasn't good. Unfortunately, the pathology came back showing T2 gallbladder cancer. I fought the disease by having my cancerous bladder removed before the cancer could invade my entire system. "The statistics for gallbladder cancer are not very reassuring. I went into surgery hoping to live two years." My wife and five chihuahuas were very supportive during my treatment. "My wife was a blessing to me, always making sure I stayed positive and being so supportive".

Two years later, I went to a dermatologist to have a mole examined. I have a condition called displatic nevi syndrome, meaning I have a higher potential for skin cancer than others. My moles are darker than average and tend to turn into the deadly malignant melanoma. Two shave biopsies were performed and pathology tests showed very deep Breslow depths with tumors present in deep margins as well as peripheral. An oncology team referred me to a general surgeon after reviewing my poor prognosis. With deadly stage 4 malignant melanoma, a wide excision surgery was the only radical treatment known to attack and remove the cancer. It is a miracle in itself to survive a stage 4 cancer attack. The cancer left my back looking like a cruel battleground of scars. The surgeon cut as deep as possible, but still did not know if he got it all. I would have to be examined for the rest of my life for the possible return of the deadly malignant melanoma cancer.

"The toughest one was the renal cell carsinoma "kidney cancer" surgery." Having a kidney removed was the most difficult of any of the 6 cancer surgeries" Just one year previous, I was forced to have my left leg surgically sawed in half and almost amputated because of infection, to remove a malignant bone tumor lodged in the center of my leg bone. The recovery period for these two surgeries was intense and lengthy. My body now looks like a battlefield with scars everywhere. A major skin graft was taken from my upper thigh tissue to cover the wide excision scars on my back. Somehow I fought through these cancer surgeries through prayer and perseverance. "After one operation, I opened my eyes and the surgeon actually told me the operation was over, but he wasn't certain if I would pull through, due to serious infection concerns. My 6 multiple cancer diagnoses don't appear to be based on genetics, just dumb luck.

Two years after the grim Stage 4 diagnosis, I confessed to a close friend that the doctors had said I realistically only had two years to live, tops. I had kept this information to myself because if I were to say it, then it's true. I now continue to hold my breath, now that I am now past that deadline. I have spent the last 8 years holding my breath, as I enact every New Year's resolution, past and future. There's a small subcategory of people with Stage 4 cancer, it turns out, who live for years after being diagnosed. This group constitutes about 2 percent of all cancer cases. Doctors can't predict who will fall into this category.

I told them "I'm a fighter". Somehow I have managed to fend off the infection and slowly recovered. I pulled through because of my fighting spirit, belief in God and the skill of the surgeons who performed the procedures to remove the deadly cancer. I now fight a myriad of daily health issues including Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, lupus, heart disease, peripheral neuropathy, and needing both knees surgically replaced. I now live with my wife and chihuahuas in a small basement as the camper we were living in burned down recently, we are barely hanging on to survive these days.

"I've had it tough with the cancer and other ailments I guess" I cannot really do much at all these days. I consider himself a cancer "frequent flyer" being operated on now for 6 bouts with different cancers. "how many people can say that?" I try not to let my physical and mental conditions run my life, but it takes everything that is within me to get through another painful day. If you want to help a friend diagnosed with cancer, just be there. Friends can't make the fact that you have cancer go away. They can't make it all better. They can, however, help you feel safer. "when your scared, it's important to know that someone is there".

Where the Owl Flies Next

Published on by Matthew Mewhorter.

I'm not going to lie. Doing a webcomic for free while having a full time career (therapist) and being a husband and father is very hard.

The reality is that making a single Cancer Owl comic takes a lot of time, and it costs me money. There's no regrets because I love the craft and love the impact my comic has.  This comic has already given me so much, and I credit much of my recovery on creating it during cancer treatments. But saying yes to the comic means I say no to other things. And I did some very deep soul searching as to if it was time to say goodbye to my feathered friend. But Cancer Owl is not ready to fly away. It's not time. I feel that there is more yet to try and to be done. My wife helped me see this. 

And one thing I have not really attempted is set up a merchandise shop. I've been asked by fans so often to do this. And I feel it's been unfair to all of you to not provide for you a great way to have a piece of Cancer Owl that you can have at home or in the hospital.  I have been selling Cancer Owl cards, but I've had to arrange all the printing, packaging and shipping. It takes a BUTTLOAD OF TIME! Time that I just don't have. And the thought of expanding the store is exhausting to think about. I also set up a Patreon account for donated funds, but was overall unhappy with the whole thing. 

Which leads me to....

 

 I am setting up shop....which will be launched very, very soon. I've decided to go with Threadless, who will take a fair chunk of my sales but save me all the headaches of resourcing, packaging, shipping, etc.  I will be selling shirts, hoodies, throw pillows, mugs and more. I create the products and the company does the rest. I'm really excited about these products, and the fact that they can serve as a tangible purpose for those who are going through cancer treatments. The thing I'most excited about are the pillows, which give you a chance to give the Owl a hug or punch Cancer right in the face. There is simply not a lot of cool products out there for cancer patients...especially patients under 40 years old. 

Pillows to hug and pillows for punching! Plus a pillow to take with you on chemo days!

So besides being able to further support what I do (and at this point, I need to start doing that) I feel like I'm getting started on filling a void.  

I will continue my goal of creating a comic a week (with occasional breaks like this week) and 2 comics for I Had Cancer every month.  I will continue to illustrate true stories from patients, survivors, ostomates, and caregivers.  And setting up shop is the newest chapter.

So stay tuned.  I'm thrilled to finally offer ways that Cancer Owl can be right in your home or with you during cancer treatments.  

Patient Stories: Colette on how Cancer Can Heal Your Life...

Published on by Matthew Mewhorter.

I really wanted to share Colette's story as she wrote it:

Cancer can heal your life if you let it. It will bring you to the depths of your being and test you to see if you really want to be here on this earth. If you decide stay (and there is always a choice) then that comes with a responsibility. A responsibility to take your health into your hands and responsibility to share with the world how you did it. You will feel the extreme highs and lows of every single emotion possible. You will have to face grief for all that cancer changes in you but you can also feel such joy at being alive. Life becomes so precious and every single moment feels worthy of exquisite poetry. You will suddenly notice the birds circling in the sky at sunset or the little robin that appears each morning. You will never take anything for granted again. And then there is the LOVE. When diagnosed with cancer, you get to experience something that normally only happens once one has died, at their funeral. You get to see how much you are loved. By those around you who will literally do anything to make you smile. And you will become an observer in how your diagnosis changes the lives of these loved ones. This has certainly been my experience. I can feel this love in the dark of the night when I'm scared and I can feel it with each more confident step I take without the zimmer. It floats around me in the air in a pink swirl and helps me breath when the fluid on my lungs gets too bad. It soothes me when I have to have my withered breast photographed and held my shaking arm when the stupid nurse hit a nerve in my shoulder while fitting my pic line. It cheered me on as I shouted at all the oncologists, doctors and nurses and banned them from my room so I could meditate. And it held my heart so very very gently as I prayed it was healthy.

Patient Stories: Tamara's Mom

Published on by Matthew Mewhorter.

I get stories in my email almost every day, and while the purpose of submissions is to hopefully turn them into a comic, not every submission works well in a comic format (at least my comic format). So I have determined that I will try to share the story submissions that moved me and share them in text (and in this case, also picture) form.

So please enjoy Tamara Cryderman's story, and get a tissue. 

This story is not mine, it's my mother's.

November 2015, my mother finally broke the news to her children that she had been diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer.  And she was declining treatment.  My mother was always the type to face something head-on, never sugar coat things and do the best with what you have.  She faced every day of her life with a level of wit and badassery that carried her through many a dark year. From a lifetime of abuse and bullying, depression, suicidal thoughts, times of mental instability and days where she went hungry to feed her own children, she's been a fighter with an ever broken mask of humanity and a warm, inviting heart.   But I know it was also hard.  Especially after this.  She told me she wasn't surprised at all.  She told the Doctor, "Well, I guess it's about that time." And she got to work. Sadly, I lived almost 1000 KM away and didn't have the funds to make frequent trips.  I called her often and depended on my local family to take care of her.

We talked about options, treatments and outcomes.  We talked openly, and I appreciated that about her. She told me, "Honey, this isn't my first rodeo.  I've been at the bedside and put too many friends and family members into the ground from cancer.  Doctor says even with chemo and radiation, I've barely got a chance. (I think it was 12-20% total, but my memory is fuzzy) If I've only got so much time, I want to LIVE it, not being sick all the time. I'm doing this on my own terms."  We respected that choice and we treated every day as another only a little different.  The cancer was a constant back of the mind item, but it stayed there unless discussion was needed, and then the doors were pulled wide open.  No secrets.  No hiding.   We hadn't had a family Christmas in many years, but we made it happen that year.  It was joyful and very hard.  And of course, full of laughter.

On February 12th, the day before her 64th birthday, she went into the ER.  Her lung had collapsed completely flat.  We almost lost her the day she went in.  They thought the lung was full of fluid and a young, impatient doctor tried to insert the wrong type of tube and failed, almost puncturing her heart. Instead, the tube came up and almost out her shoulder. All she wanted to do was get out of that damned hospital, but they kept her there a week.  She told me about the horrible food and the lumpy bed.  It makes me laugh to picture my mother raising hell as she was good at doing.  "Eggs," she told me.  "How do you screw up eggs? I told the nutritionist if you want me to eat, then bring be REAL food, not POWDERED eggs.  Then the one day it was spaghetti and meatballs.  It tasted good for the first couple bites.  I thought, finally, some real food!  Then, as I got down the container a bit, there was a half inch of water in the bottom. Gross." The first chance she got, she had my brother pick her up some fish and chips from a local restaurant.  It was her favorite treat and she was going to indulge every chance she got.   "And the bed!  There's a sagging hole in it and it hurts my back so much the only way I can sleep is to curl up on the bottom half like a cat." 

She went into palliative care after that, living with my Aunt and Uncle who were both retired. I'm happy to say we didn't respect one of her wishes, and she was also happy I defied her.  My now husband and I had had a quick discussion and there was a unanimous decision. You see, 5 years ago, we lost my sister-in-law to stage 4 cancer.  Treatment extended her life, but she didn't make it to her daughter's wedding. I didn't want the same outcome. We told her we were engaged on Valentine's Day and she was over the moon happy, shouting it throughout her hospital room, but she wasn't a fool and tried calling us out on our plans. Thankfully, I had had time to practice lying.  It wasn't easy with her.  Over the course of 4 days with the help of family and friends, we planned a small wedding 1000 km away.  Someone let it slip and it was an interesting phone call.  "Your godmother told me she would be coming back for the wedding in a few weeks.  What wedding?"    "Uuuhhh... Surprise!"   I could hear the twisted cone of emotion rise up in her throat.  The tears and joy barely held in by that wall of masks.  "I told you not to do that.  Don't do it because of me.   Have your special day the way you want it.  I'll be there in spirit.  Don't--" At that point I broke in.  "We are doing what we want.  We're doing this because WE want you there.  THAT is what we want. So frankly mom, it has nothing to do with what YOU want, we're selfish. We're doing this all because of us, just like you wanted."  That finally make her crack.  She laughed with her tears.  Then she gave us the OK. We booked the "VIP Room" off the bar of the local small town Motel and decorated it with items we found mere hours before at the next door second hand store.  I found a dress on my lunch break and pulled together everything else I could.  We dined on platters of bar food; pizza, wings, mozza sticks, fries and had a cake from the local grocery store.  My husband's immediate family hopped on a plane without a second thought and all my immediate family was in the area. My husband, his best man and my maid of honor made the long, early morning drive through a blizzard.  My brothers walked me down the aisle (my father, as well as most of the world, at this time knew nothing of mom's condition as per her wishes). And mom was there, smiling.   It was everything we wanted.    

As a side note, my Godmother didn't make it to the wedding because her own husband was fighting cancer in his neck.  He had been a survivor, but then it came back and there was no stopping it. We lost him a few weeks later. They were only the beginning of it all.  2016 has been a rough year. 

My mother had an incredible amount of strength, and that strength was in her tears as much as her smiles.  While discussing final arrangements, she told us, and I directly quote, "Don't you fucking DARE waste the money on a funeral.  What you can do is go out to your brothers acreage and have one last party on me."  When I asked her what she wanted done with her body, I could hear the 'don't worry about it' shrug over the phone.  "I've already taken care of it," she said.  "I went in and pre paid for my cremation.  You guys don't have to worry about a thing." Then she started laughing before coughing, then chuckled.  "He asked me if I wanted an urn and I said, no way! Haha. Don't spend the money on that. Put me in a cardboard box on the corner of the desk and someone will be around to collect me at some point."  We laughed.  "Spread my ashes on your brother's acreage, that's all I know for sure."   "Oh, I don't know, mom," I told her.  "I was thinking of sending your ashes to that company that presses you into a synthetic diamond."    "Oh my god, no! I don't think so!"   "Yeah, picture it mom.  You'd be the new family heirloom.  And there I would be, trying to shove you through the mail slot at my brothers saying,  'No, it's your turn to take her for Christmas!'" We laughed more.

At the beginning of June, my family said if I wanted that one last visit that I better get there soon.  I asked them how she was, what she looked like, as I had only talked to her on the phone and her voice was still the same to me, if not more tired.  They told me how she was skin and bones.  She looked horrible, couldn't get out of bed and could only talk for a bit at a time and slept most of the time.  I told them that my mother and I had already discussed that possibility.  I wouldn't be coming back.  I will remember my mom as she was at the wedding; smiling, laughing and full of dignity and pride.  I could pick up the phone and hear her voice, that's all I needed.  I talked to my mother again that day, asked her if she wanted me there.  She told me no, not to come on her account.  She completely supported my decision.

The week before the wedding, I flew down by myself to spend time with her and it was the hardest thing I've ever done.  There were masks everywhere and I found myself wearing my own.  There was a dedicated amount of love and patience that drained me.  When my mother got tired or didn't put her oxygen on it was like watching a rapid onset of dementia.  She got agitated and angry, forgetting conversations mere hours before, mixing up details.  Get her settled again and she was emotional but smiling and cracking jokes. She would remember clearly and apologize.  You're right.  It's hard.  It's so hard.  And as hard as it was for me, I knew it was a million times harder for her, so I smiled and gave her all my strength. I had to keep reminding myself; it's the cancer. It's the cancer.  That look, those harsh words aren't my mother.  They're the cancer.  Then she would laugh, and I would be so happy, I wanted to cry.  

I never did say goodbye to my mother.  I refused to.  When she told me she was canceling her cell phone because she couldn'toperate it anymore, I knew the time was drawing near.  I cast off all the veils that day and I told my mother everything I ever needed or wanted to.  We had laughed.  We had cried.  But never as much as we did that day.  She told me, and this will stick with me forever, "I love you to death." And then we laughed.  Then we cried.  I told her I'd talk to her later.  The next day, I talked to her, but she couldn't really talk back.  She was so up on pain medication at the moment that she could listen, smile and nod and mutter a few things while my Aunt held the phone.  I told her again, "I'll talk to you later.  Until next time, mom.  I love you."  The next day, my phone rang and I knew she was gone. 

I came across your comics via Imgur after seeing your Hollywood Superstar comic.  I've since started at the beginning and read through every comic and message that comes with them.  They made me smile.  They made me cry.  I know your comic's existence is to bring light to the silent struggle of the various cancer fighters and survivors. To tell the world that it's not a simple cut and dry topic, not black and while, life and death, and I couldn't help finding my mother between the lines.  Because although her body didn't make it, her spirit survived.  Her voice, her laughter and wit has stayed with everyone she ever knew. She faced every day with a smile and a laugh. She would say, "It is what it is" and "Sometimes, all you can do is laugh". 

Years ago, before her cancer, she had hurt her back badly trying to rip up an old hardwood floor by herself.  She was on heavy duty muscle relaxants but it was canning season and there was a huge garden to contend with or else we wouldn't eat that winter.  I was in my room, and I heard CRASH! SPLASH! ... giggle giggle giggle.  I came out to find my mother leaning against the counter giggling her face off with the pressure canning pot empty on the floor and all the water around it and her.  She could barely tell me she had tried to lift it out of the sink and her muscles gave out. I asked her if she was ok and she nodded, saying, "Yes, I just... I just can't stop laughing because what else am I supposed to do?" I laughed with her, got some towels and helped her with the canning.

 

I had intended to share a short story reflecting the idea of talking openly about cancer, but it's gotten a bit long winded, I'm sorry. (I guess that's the writer in me coming out. It is, after all, my mother's story. Haha.)  Seeing your comics and comments, I was happy to see that people are breaking down the walls and changing out the DEATH SENTENCE labels for declarations of WE LIVE!

We see cancer as this thing lurking in the shadows and as long as we don't look, it's not there, or we don't have to deal with it or think of it, even if it's not our room it's in.  It's time we shed light on it and bring ourselves out of the darkness. It should cower in our presence, not the other way around.  No matter what, there is always a level of 'out of sight, out of mind' for everyone involved and that is part of the survival.  You can't live in constant dread nor can we pretend nothing's going on.  You can only live. 

My mother's life and time with cancer was not glorious.  It's not the victory story people expect to hear. While she was strong, she was not the ideal statue of stalwart composure under the eyes of the beast you read about in books or see in the movies.  Cancer may have taken her body, but it never ended her life.  She may not be so in the eyes of the world, but she's my hero. And so are you, and every other person who is or has fought the beast.

All in all, I wanted to say thank you for what you're doing. Keep up the good work, and please, don't stop.

Best regards,

Wendy's Daughter,

Tara

Where This Owl Flies Next

Published on by Matthew Mewhorter.

Front/back of the card

Inside of card

For the past 2 months, Cancer Owl has felt like it has been on autopilot. I've successfully maintained a full color strip once per week and created a daily sketch story on Instagram detailing my journey with colorectal cancer. I've certainly have been productive, but have felt like I've not had much forward motion. I've been feeling it, and I think you the reader have felt it too. Usually this feeling causes an artist to quit, or to evolve.

And in the last month, I've been getting the same question over and over: "When can I buy your artwork?"  I've decided that this is where I should evolve.

So it has been my joy to officially release the first batch of Cancer Owl Cards: greeting cards specifically for cancer patients and survivors.  While there are some phenomenal empathy cards for cancer patients out there already, I believe Cancer Owl Cards are in a league all their own...just like the comic. 

Navigating my comic has been tough because I've had very little to really compare it to. I'm drawing my own blueprint as I go.  I still struggle to define it. It's both exciting and challenging at the same time.  But I do feel like the next chapter for Cancer Owl will be to continue to provide free comics and blogs online, but spending more time developing a store that sells greeting cards and gift books for those dealing with cancer on any level.

So, if you haven't noticed yet, my store open, and I'll finally be able to give you the opportunity to get a one of a kind cancer greeting card for your friend, loved one, or fellow cancer peeps! I've only got 4 cards because I'm starting this thing from the absolute bottom!

The first 100 sales will get an autograph by me on the card!

Konmari, Spartacus, and Productivity: 3 things you should know exist!

Published on by Matthew Mewhorter.

image sourced from: https://www.etsy.com/listing/218211687/spartan-owl-watercolor-art-print-8x10?ref=shop_home_active_2

The month of April has been a busy, exhausting but amazing month for me.  It has been a cleansing of sorts...a rebirth. At the end of March, my colonoscopy brought back clean results. I was feeling great, and it was time to move forward. I put new things in place that have completely reinvented and jumpstarted my life. I feel happier, healthier and more in control of my day than I ever have before!

So here are 3 amazing things have started this last month that I think you should know exist:

1) The Konmari method will completely reboot your life:

 

Perhaps you have heard of this world-famous book about cleaning your house. It is called The "Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up" by Marie Kondo. What sold me on this book is that it goes far beyond merely organizing your stuff and instead completely reboots the  kind of relationship with your things. My wife and I did it last month, and the results are beyond stunning.

The author has NO repeat clients with her method, and maintains a waiting list several months long. The Konmari method (she named after herself) is designed to eliminate clutter permanently, which in affects all other areas of your life.

It took three 14-hour Saturdays of exhausting, non-stop work, but when all was said and done, we had a total reboot. We haven't had to "straighten up" in weeks and our place is constantly ready for company. Everything has a purpose and place, and our house never felt more like a "home". Since the reboot, I've been calmer, more productive and happier.

2) The Spartacus Workout is short, powerful and scalable

The Spartacus Workout is killer! But very doable! Being barely post-cancer treatments, I have to be careful how I re-introduce fitness into my lifestyle.

What I think makes this great is that it's fast, it's free, it's easy to follow, you only need dumbbells, and it's scalable. Basically, the workout is 3 sets with 10 minute-long workouts in each set. And each set takes about 11-12 minutes to do. Each set is intense, so you don't have to do 3 if you aren't ready. I started with 2 sets and my next workout I will give 3 sets a shot.

If you'd like an effective, scalable, well rounded workout you can grow into that doesn't require a gym membership, give this a shot. I personally listen to loud rock music while getting this done!

3) The Storyline Productivity Planner will reinvent how you do your entire day

The Storyline Productivity Planner, developed by bestselling author Donald Miller who made it to get himself out of a career-ending rut, is the best planner I've EVER used! Every morning that I use it is infinitely better than when I don't. I'm able to stay on task with my job, have more time with my family, and put the time into my comic.

I'd say this planner is best for artists' of any stripe, but anyone can try it. What sets this thing apart is that it reinvents the way that you structure your time. It utilizes time-tested psychological tools to sharpen your mind. It's meant for a 30-day period to reset new habits, but I continue to use mine. 

This planner is the best of both worlds: it organizes your priorities while making room for your passions and projects. I get up every morning at 5AM, make breakfast, do the planner, journal, then do self-care, which is either running, yoga, meditation, or the Spartacus workout.  Then I still have 30 minutes of "special time" with my daughter, which typically includes bike rides and blowing bubbles.  

Check these 3 things out. Especially if you'd like a major reboot to your life!

 

March is All About Dat Ass!

Published on by Matthew Mewhorter.

For those who are not aware, I'm a survivor of colorectal cancer.

Yep.  Ass cancer.

And this month, the month of March, is our month to bring awareness, much in the same way that we bring awareness to breast cancer. Only, instead of wearing pink, we wear blue.

And so far, I don't see blue nearly as much as I see pink. I'm not seeing facebook profiles donning beautiful blue filters. Why is that?

Well...ass cancer. It's cancer. In your ass. Boobs=yay! Ass=ew!

And I've got to give props: advocates for breast cancer have done a phenomenal job of getting the word out . They really have. And my fellow colorectal peeps are finding new effective ways to get the word out too. Please check out fantastic organizations like Colon Cancer Alliance and Fight Colorectal Cancer for more information.

And ass cancer is every bit as important to get out, partly because it's quickly on the rise in people under 50. See, the crappy problem is that we're all told not to bother with a colonoscopy until we're 50, and well, it's possible that you could develop full blown stage 4 colon cancer well before you even learn what a colonoscopy is! And if you're under 50, overall pretty healthy (I was) and start showing bleeding symptoms, many doctors will assume that you might just need to cut back on dairy. 

And here's something even scarier to consider: my doctors told me that if the tumor found in my rectum started to spread, it would travel straight to my liver and lungs!! Colorectal tumors are typically nestled in a nest of lymph nodes that are a direct route to other critical parts of the body! 

So yeah, colorectal cancer is no joke, but jokes certainly help get people's attention. So that's why I'm liberally using the word, "ass" and Cancer Owl made a poster using cute kittens. And also why my blog title is "all about dat ass". Because the internet, while free in advertising, is very hard to get people's attention.  So, thanks internet for making me stoop low this year.

But we should be doing what it takes. Maybe it'll save a few lives. Because ass cancer, while one of the leading killers, is also very preventable and treatable...especially if you get it early. So let's be all about "dat ass" this month.

  

Cancer and the 40 Hour Workweek...

Published on by Matthew Mewhorter.

The old people at the cancer center always look at me funny.

"Why the hell are you here?" they seem to ask. And it it's a fair question. How the hell did I ever get cancer? I was 35 when diagnosed with a child not quite 2 years old.

In the waiting room, I'm always a third of the age of the other patients, many of whom stare off into into space watching Fox News on the wall. When they leave, they will go back home, encouraged by their doctors to take up gardening or something relaxing to make them happy.

After I received my treatment, I had to go back to work. And my work day would look like this:

Chemo is a hell of a drug!

Being a therapist while receiving chemotherapy, an ostomy bag, and radiation at the same time seems like a practical joke, but it's totally been my life.  My poor patients...this is what they've had to put up with:

 

Young adults, or at least this young adult with cancer, worry more about money than dying. We wonder if we'll be leaving our family with this huge financial burden. If I could have quit work for awhile so I could meditate, find myself, and just do my cancer comics all day long, I totally would have. But no such luck.  The benefits of working while fighting cancer is that keeping busy keeps you positive and goal focused. And sometimes it just sucks. And this is assuming a young adult with cancer can work. Many have to quit their jobs due to advanced staging and intense treatments. 

Want to help a young adult with cancer?  Money's certainly nice. Or hook them up with fantastic organizations like Stupid Cancer and Critical Mass. Their whole goal is to connect young adults to resources and organizations that address medical and financial issues. I just had a month's rent paid for because of an organization Stupid Cancer helped me find.

Cancer isn't just an old person thing. It's a very real young person-who-has-small children-a full time job-and all kinds of bills thing.  

Society just isn't ready for so many young people getting cancer, so we kind of have to find our own way in it all.  As for me? Maybe I can make some money doing cancer comics! That'd be nice!

 

 

 

Cancer Super Power: What Cancer Patients Gain That Others Don't

Published on by Matthew Mewhorter.

Read the rest of this comic here.

You know, for all of the crap us cancer people go through, there is some serious silver lining in the whole deal.

A blessing, if you will.

Or perhaps, a curse?

In my latest comic this week, I share what must look like utter madness to most people. The idea of being blasted with so many different emotions must seem like a kind of a hell.  And well, sometimes it is.

But sometimes...

Well, let me put it this way: My therapist shared with me that all human beings, from birth to death, will experience a wide spectrum of experiences and all the emotions that come with it. But people facing chronic or life threatening illnesses, experience an entire life's worth of these emotions in a much smaller window.

This means that those who stare death in the face in the way cancer patients do, are given a sort of foresight into a perspective that is normally only granted to those in old age who look back on an entire lifetime of experience. 

So young adults who are faced with the very real reality of our lives coming to an end much sooner than planned, are given the previous revelation that so many yearn to aquire: the knowledge about how to truly live life without regret at the end of it. 

That's right, I'm saying that we cancer patients learn the meaning of life...or at least get a real taste of it.  

So yeah, we can be basket-cases sometimes...passionate one moment and a blubbering mess the next. But that's because we're hit all at once with the kind of perspectives that takes a normal human being a lifetime to achieve if they're lucky.

So yeah, we're kind of awesome like that.

Now excuse me while I laugh/cry myself to sleep.

Going There...

Published on by Matthew Mewhorter.

Putting up my comics sometimes takes a lot of courage. Take my last comic for instance (that you can read here), which involves a scenario that is hilarious to people with ostomy bags but could be horrifying to anyone else.

Don't be drinking anything while reading this...trust me.

Don't be drinking anything while reading this...trust me.

But "going there", and putting out stuff that risks offending (or grossing out) some people is the exact kind of tension that Cancer Owl lives in. To do any less is cheating fellow cancer patients, cancer survivors, caretakers and ostomates out of the opportunity to experience and tell the truth about the challenges we face every day. Because the realities of cancer are offensive sometimes, and gross.

Yesterday, I received this humbling message:

Hi, I am a 23 year old redditor with cancer. I just wanted to say that nothing else I've read or seen has resonated with me on the issue of cancer like your comics have. It's tough to put into words how this whole thing makes me feel sometimes, but when I read through your comics I find myself saying "oh yeah, that's EXACTLY what that's like!" (especially about the different types of people you meet when you have cancer). I love the humor you bring to the situation, it feels really good to laugh at something that people approach with such grave seriousness.
I went to school for music, and am an active composer. I know what it can be like to create something and put it out to the world and be wondering if your ideas are reaching anyone or making a difference in someone's life. I wanted you to know that your ideas reached me, and brought a huge smile to my face during a difficult time smile emoticon so thank you!

Had I censored myself at all in any of my comics, I would have cheated this wonderful person out of the chance to be comforted, to have someone out there that can say what is so difficult to voice...and in the process create a smile. But I'd be lying if I didn't say that telling the truth takes guts I don't always feel like I have. I sometimes wonder if my next comic will be the one to turn away readers for good. But I found that the more truthful and bold I am, the more I have my fellow cancer patients and survivors thanking me for doing it. And really, they are who I do this for.

So, dear reader, I implore you: tell your story, and tell it truthfully. It's scary, but a hell of a ride. And for every one person you offend, there are ten out there who needed to hear what you had to say.

Freedom, joy, and connection always accompany truth, as well as the occasional turbulence. Go ahead. Go there.