In March of 2001, I learned about my diagnosis of cancer in three areas, esophageal, left kidney, and fungus of the stomach.
My wife and mother were with me that day in the doctors office as she continued to give the bad news, "You have this and its
stage 4, you have that and its stage 4."
Until my father passed with cancer in May 1988, we had no history of cancer in our family. I was always very
conscious about my diet and exercise. I kept myself in very good shape, 6 foot 3 inches tall, weighing 228, without any
fat. I developed a false sense of security about cancer: "It wont happen to me." "It cant happen to me."
Well, that day in Dr. Dicksons office, when the three of us heard that horrific word, I was stunned, confused,
angry, and temporarily disconnected from the reality of it. I was very embarrassed, and for the first time in my life, I felt
very vulnerable. I kept saying to myself, "This is something you should be told alone, not in front of your mother and wife."
And yes, I feared for my life.
I quickly learned that it helps to turn fear into action. In the war against cancer, we have the ability
to arm ourselves with knowledge. Education is a powerful tool, and we are blessed to have information at our fingertips in
this electronically connected world. We also have scientific experts who push themselves to the cutting edge of medicine in
order to bring greater knowledge and treatment options to people with cancer. One way we can help ourselves is by getting
screened for some cancers, eating healthy diets, and exercising. Taking that action and doing something positive ultimately
replaces fear with hope.
Another way to take action and cope is to join the fight and help spread the word about cancer. People need
to know that cancer does not have to be a death sentence. Education and prevention really can make the difference.
In my case, I made a conscious decision to expose my diagnosis to the public and allow it to serve as a learning
experience, not just for me, but for thousands of men and women who can and will benefit from early detection. Most cancers
are detected early, because of a mammogram for women and many other tests for men and women. The message of early detection
is very, very crucial.
Unfortunately, cancer still carries a stigma, which certainly is compounded in the black community and in
black families. I have always been a truthful person, so it took only a short time to realize that my illness could do a lot
of people a lot of good. I realized that if I could save just one life, my shared diagnosis would be worthwhile.
In fact, reaching out to others has been instrumental in my quick recovery from esophageal cancer. Knowing
that I was not alone, being able to share my fears and hopes with others, and talking with both women and men about the impact
of cancer on all of our lives made me feel like I was an integral part of the crusade. It gave me purpose.
Another saving grace in my recovery was the relationship I developed with my medical team, which included
my oncologist, nurse, radiologist, and radiation technician. Because of his or her team approach to my case, each player was
properly informed about every decision and issue relating to my health.
Through my sixteen radiation treatments, I never doubted that I was in the right hands. I was made to feel
like my case was unique and my feelings were special, not because I was a celebrity, but because I was a human being. They
gave me what every person around the world deserves; comfort, courage, respect, and the best that modern medicine had to offer.
So, if I sound grateful, its because I am. Ive been hanging around for 63 years, been all over the world
many times, only because its been Gods will. God has been so good to our families and me. Ive been blessed to have the best
support group. I have thousands and thousands of good, genuine Christians coast-to-coast praying for my recovery and my survival
The importance of a second opinion
A top medical oncologist stated that he never treated a person with cancer without a second opinion from
another doctor. If its worth seeing a doctor, then its worth getting a second opinion.
This is due to the fact that human error sometimes occurs and another doctor could see something that might
have been missed the first time. The cancer survivor is entitled to make an informed decision knowing all the facts. Being
told that nothing can be done, that surgery is required tomorrow, or to take these pills and come back in 90 days, is not
conducive to the cancer survivor making an informed decision.
There are numerous ways to accomplish making second opinions mandatory: by law; by action of medical association;
by insurance companies requiring second opinions prior to that treatment; by publicity about what can happen when second opinions
are not obtained; or by grass roots efforts to change public opinion.
Family members, oncology nurses and doctors all share a common bond. All have a powerful story or message
to tell. That message can be surviving cancer or its treatment, survival from a family members perspective, or sharing information
on the latest treatment, modalities and side effect intervention. Unfortunately many survivors, family members, oncology,
nurses and doctors never share their inspirational stories because of a fear of public speaking.
Why am I sharing our story with you? The Browns, Harpers and Watts have been family for over 50 years. And
black people are always the last to get word, I mean on everything, and then its too late. I believe its very important for
people to hear and see that there can be a wonderful quality of life after cancer. Whether you are the cancer survivor, family
member, or caregiver, when you experience cancer, your life changes forever, hopefully in a very positive way. I choose to
believe that our families have grown from our experiences. Now we are kinder to each other, look at each other with more compassion,
and value life so much more. And yes, its made us very humble and closer to God.
Every since I was a kid, I always heard, "In every cloud theres a silver lining." I didnt believe that saying
until I actually lived it. Something good can come out of all bad situations and experiences. My father and Mother preached
that to us constantly. All of our families were saddened and overwhelmed. We asked God to bring something from this terrible
He blessed me and gave me courage and ambition, and an innovative unique situation that would help me. And
all cancer survivors feel, not abnormal, but special and loved and encouraged.
Royce R. Watts Sr.
Harper Family Reunion Address, June 30, 2001