This week I am posting parts of an interview with Kalisha Frazier of UV Skinz about my book and battle with cancer. UV Skinz makes clothing and other products that protect the skin from ultraviolet rays. The interview was “live” and posted on their Facebook wall. Kalisha asked some good questions.
Q. You have been down a long road – do you have any advice to those in the midst of battling cancer?
A. Joe: I think my best advice is to embrace your weakness. God never intended for us to handle cancer alone. When I was in the midst of the roughest times during my fight, I tried so hard to be strong. The problem was, I had become so weary, I had no natural strength left to fight. I was frustrated with myself that I couldn’t rise above the pain and sadness. I kind of beat myself up, because I thought I should be stronger. It was OK for me to admit I was weak, even though I was a big, tough guy from Pittsburgh, the Steel City. One of my favorite Bible passages is 2 Corinthians 12:9 & 10, “And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”
Q. You mention that you developed a “spiteful awe of cancer” during this experience. Can you explain how it affected your outlook on beating your disease?
A. Joe: When I began the surgeries and treatments, I wasn’t totally committed to the battle. Stage IV melanoma is a very, very serious disease, and it is unwise to fight it in a half-hearted way. Early on, I had a type of denial, that I was going to get through this very fast, and I didn’t need to “baby” myself. After my two surgeries on the lymph nodes under my arm, I kept pushing myself. I didn’t want to miss either of my two kid’s (Jesse, son, & Amy, daughter) high school basketball games, which complicated recovery. I was running around in the rain and cold and got a staph infection which carried over to the surgery to remove one third of my stomach. I really didn’t want to be in the battle, but to fight well, I needed to surrender to the fact that I needed to get my heart into the fight. Still, in the end, I don’t claim to have beaten the disease myself. In May of 2003, my doctor told me I had days to live. The melanoma had spread to both sides of my pancreas, lung, kidney, pelvis and several other sites. He had given up on me. Only God could have stepped into turn my case around. I look at it this way, Stage IV melanoma was way bigger than me. I have no problem admitting that it kicked my butt. But God is way bigger than any disease. If He decides to keep you around, you will stay. It took a miracle for me, and I am blessed to have received one.
Q. What were your feelings when you found out that you were one of the rare cases of melanoma that did not have a “primary” source of cancer and that it had spread directly to your lymph nodes?
A. Joe: My huge disappointment was complicated by the fact that I was misdiagnosed by my family doctor for months. He has apologized for missing my diagnosis, and I forgive him, but he said twice during appointments about the growing lump under my arm, “Whatever it is; it isn’t cancer. It is too soft to be cancer.” Frankly, I would have preferred to catch the disease as a skin lesion in Stage 1, but God had other plans. I can see now why He allowed it. But, people should know, melanoma is very, very squirrelly. Always get checked once a year and always get second opinions on any lumps on your body.
Q. What changes have you made to your lifestyle to continue to boost your immune system?
A. Joe: I eat a whole lot better. Less food overall; and a lot less sugar. I have worked less and slept more, as I have some serious workaholic tendencies. I also work on not getting worked up about life’s frustrations as stress wears down our immunities. I have learned to cast my anxiety and frustration on the Lord more. That helps; He is my Stronghold in hard times and in every day life as well.
Q. How has cancer become a gift in your life?
A. Joe: During my battle, when someone first mentioned to me that cancer was such a gift to her, I thought that was one of the dumbest things I’d ever heard. Now though I see how the Lord has used my cancer battle in many ways. A short list:
1) I have much more compassion for weakness and for suffering than ever. We launched Stronghold Ministry because of this. We help cancer patients through their battle.
2) I learned so much about the Lord and grew closer to Him. I now share this knowledge of Him with everyone I can, and certainly with cancer patients and caretakers.
3) I learned how fragile life is, and respect my own health more.
4) I have reconnected with old friends from college and high school. They were instrumental in encouraging me and inspiring me to hang on. I also reconnected so much deeper with my seven siblings and my mother as they were a huge support to me.
5) My wife, Terri, was such an angelic gift to me. We definitely have been changed by the whole experience, and the battle has helped our marriage. We appreciate each other more for sure.
Q. The day you found out you were cured…what was that moment like?
A. Joe: At first I didn’t believe it. We had taken the PET scan images home after the test and concluded the cancer had spread even more. We misread the scans obviously. Then when the radiologist’s report was read that I was NED (no evidence of disease), it was surreal. Eventually the news sunk in and we got very happy. My doctor was so cautious though, and said, “Now you have nine months to live.” But I proclaimed myself cured and told him all chemo would cease immediately. He talked me out of that, and I finished the remaining three rounds. I had several false alarms in the last seven and a half years where the doctors said the cancer has come back or probably come back. Five years is the official medical threshold when they consider you cured. It took about that much time to feel cured. But almost every day along the way, I thanked God for His kindness to me.
Kalisha: I invited Joe here to be apart of our LIVE FB interview so that you, the fans of UV Skinz, could hear the inspirational story of Joe Fornear. Raising awareness about skin cancer and finding the strength to fight it is all about the exchange of personal struggles and triumphs. The more we talk about it the more people will hear.