Loyal, strong, determined, resilient, compassionate, honest, and brave. Charles Frederick Porter II was born in Oxford England to an English mother with Jewish roots and an African American father from Annapolis, Md. Charles thrived in sports as well as academia and eventually received a full athletic scholarship to Duke University. Sidelined with a back injury at 23, his dreams of professional football faded. Almost a decade later, in 2010, he was diagnosed with stage IV Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. In May of 2015, he had a relapse but it was caught at an early stage.
Charles, please tell us about your cancer diagnosis and your symptoms.
In April of 2010 I was diagnosed with Stage IV Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The disease had metastasized to bones to the point where I had broken ribs, partial erosion of my pelvic area and was thought to need a steel rod implanted in my spine from tumors eroding the area as well.
Needless to say there were symptoms which I, being a young man of 30, ignored thinking that it was anything other than Cancer. I had night sweats. I thought my blankets were too heavy. I had itchy skin where the tumors were. I thought that the west coast air was drying my skin.
I had soreness and pain from tumors implanting themselves in my bones and breaking some along the way. I attributed this to old football injuries. The only thing that really scared me was the extreme fatigue. I just couldn’t figure out why I was so tired.
You have a strong opinion on your “battle” with cancer. How did it keep your life in perspective?
After eight days in the oncology unit I was given my diagnosis. Of all the cancers that it could have been we were told that we were fortunate because at this late stage, it was still treatable and most importantly, curable. Still, the reality of the situation was that it would take an extreme amount of treatment, eventually leading to a stem cell transplant, to eradicate the disease.
My life, from that moment of diagnosis, would never be the same. With each dose of chemo therapy I became more and more away of my mortality. Going into the treatment centers of an oncology unit should make everyone aware that there are no guarantees in life. You make “cancer buddies” and you share your new life together and one day that buddy is gone. Survivors remorse sets in as once again you realize that we are not here infinitely.
Over and over again I was reminded just how blessed I was to have the time on earth that I have had. To this day, over six years later and currently undergoing treatment during my second battle with this disease, I am thankful for each second.
What is the key to survival when going through cancer treatment?
There are many facets to cancer survival as each individual has their own experience. For me, coming from an athletic background, I wanted to stay active. I played football at Duke University and have always kept a competitive edge. My mindset was I will battle this cancer with all I have but I will also live life to the fullest of my capabilities.
I traveled when I could. I walked when I could. My mother and I would play golf and shoot basketball in 100 degree weather so I could sweat out the chemo. I stayed up to the second with my nausea medicine so that I could eat as much as possible. A healthy dose of salmon, vegetables and berries on a daily basis to give my immune system encouragement and support. My thinking was that if my body knows that I am going to help fight the fight then it will give the extra effort needed to win as well.
Staying positive was another factor to my survival. I didn’t allow anyone who visited me to cry around me. No one could speak of negativity. As hard as it was for my loved ones to see me physically change before them, the one thing that remained constant was my smile. I watched Coming to America and Entourage everyday. No exaggeration, that movie and those episodes were on constant rotation.
I spent the first five months away from my home in Los Angeles receiving treatment at Duke University in North Carolina and Entourage brought me back to LA every time. Coming to America needless to say is one of the greatest comedies of all time. Laughing heals!
How important was your support network to you?
In my experience I would have never made it out of Cedar Sinai’s doors if it were not for my family and loved ones that made up my support system. My then girlfriend and now wife, was the one who convinced me to go to the hospital in the first place. Then my mother dropped everything and came out of retirement to be my personal nurse as she is a registered RN.
My best friend set up a network of my closest friends and allies to let them know what was taking place and the seriousness of my diagnosis. Through that network my family was given information to funds, charities, support groups and anything else that could potentially have a positive influence to the desired outcome of my prognosis. Being that I went to prep school since the age of twelve and then on to Duke University, news of my situation spread fast throughout the country and thus we were happily flooded with ideas, suggestions, recommendations, care and most importantly love and well wishes.
Prayer, no matter if you are a believer or not, helps and works because those who are believers are praying for you as well.
My advice is to not be shy about your diagnosis. The more people who know the better chance that you will eventually meet someone who has been through a similar diagnosis and knowledge is power. They can then pass off information to you about what worked and what didn’t work thus saving you time and money.
There are many great foundations out there such as Team Continuum. This charity helps by paying phone bills, rent, car notes and such which helps to alleviate some of the stress that may come up during your battle. Cancer is a costly diagnosis, physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially.
Was insurance coverage/costs an issue for you? How financially damaging is cancer?
Insurance and cost were absolutely an issue for me. I was covered under SAG insurance before I was diagnosed. At the time I was in the best shape of my life. I was working out two hours a day, running mountains and jumping rope all throughout the day. As a thirty year old in great shape, it never occurred to me to get a yearly checkup.
Well SAG insurance only lasts on a yearly basis if you do not make the allotted amount necessary to join in the first place. With only thirty days to call and join Cobra, I was literally one day too late. So now without insurance and not working consistently enough to qualify for my union’s insurance plan, I definitely did not have the money to pay for a check up. God forbid they found something. This was the ignorant mindset that I had as a “healthy” young adult.
Weeks later I found myself in the emergency room and later the oncology unit with a cancer diagnosis and no insurance. Again without the network of friends and the outpouring of love and support I can affirm that my survival would have been unlikely. I needed donations.
My mother and I filled out every form possible for funds, charities and the like. Five months into treatment the doctor from Duke University told me that there was nothing else they could do aside from a stem cell transplant that we couldn’t afford. So we packed up and got on the road back to Los Angeles in hopes that Medical would kick in so that I could get a transplant at UCLA.
It did and on March 23rd 2011, after three weeks in the hospital undergoing full body radiation and salvage chemo, I was in remission. I was released a week later. It took about two and a half years to recover from the transplant.
Unfortunately I was diagnosed a year or so later with a recurrence. My present situation is stable as I have been on a trial drug for the last fourteen months which has stabilized the disease to almost a full remission. While on the drug, I have maintained a healthy lifestyle accomplishing one of my greatest physical achievements to date, summiting Mt.Rainier in the great state of Washington.
From your cancer experience, what important points would you like to send to other men who are just diagnosed or who may be in the future?
My biggest lesson from my experience is two fold. One is on the preventative side of things. Most cancers are the luck of the draw. We can be as healthy as we want and unfortunately some of us will be stricken with this challenge. Eat accordingly, exercise daily and eliminate as much stress as possible but most importantly get yearly checkups. No matter how young you think you are, it is imperative to get a jump on any potential problems. Take it from me, who put it off to the point where I almost was too late. Had I jumped on it sooner rather than later who knows what the outcome could of been.
Secondly if you happen to be diagnosed with a cancer, immediately source out groups, chats, blogs of supporters with the same diagnosis. When I had a recurrence the first person I called was my friend and agent who also has battled cancer twice. Hearing her say that she did it and that I can do it too was all I needed at that time to feel that I would be okay. It may not seem that way at first but you will understand if that unfortunate time comes around.
Lastly don’t self diagnose. Googling and WebMD only lead to anxiety. Been there, done that. I was, thankfully, wrong every time.
Lastly, how important is compassion in everyone’s lives? Can you give us some examples?
The second most important thing that I’ve taken from my dose of diagnoses other than time is of the essence, is compassion and empathy. My ability to get in the fox hole with others who are facing life’s threatening situations. I’ve spent a large percentage of my thirties in and out of hospital doors and I see everyone that I pass and I think about their story now.
I used to go in and out of the hospital doors for a check up and be upset if I had to spend more than an hour there. Not realizing that some people may never leave and others have to spend weeks or months there. Then I was one of those people who had to spend a month straight in the hospital. I couldn’t even expose myself to fresh air due to my weakened immune system. It was like being on a spaceship but once I left I was so grateful.
I have never forgotten the feeling of being freed from the hospital with a new lease on life. I wish that for everyone I pass in the hospital and in daily life on the street.
We all have a story and struggle with something. I want people to know that they truly are not alone. I myself thought that I was the only cancer patient who feared a relapse and was constantly scared that death what was around each corner. Until I spoke up in oncology therapy and was told that most patients experience the same fears and at greater levels.
We, as a human race, are in this thing called life together. My goal is to use my journey as a teaching point to those in the struggle. To prove that there is life beyond the diagnosis. No matter how long we have on this earth, make it count. Much love and never quit.