Howard Bressler, husband, father, son and distinguished lawyer, was diagnosed in August, 2000,at the age of 33, with Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia (APL). His daughters were only three and a half and just under one year old. He had his whole life ahead of him: a loving wife, successful legal career, house in the ‘burbs; everything that should make a person happy. As he lay in the hospital thinking about what he should be doing with his daughters or spending time with his wife, he went through extensive treatment, including high-dose chemotherapy and extended hospitalization, incorporating a then experimental arsenic trioxide treatment, which is now incorporated into the regular regimen for APL patients.
As he thinks back about the journey he began in August of 2000, he realizes now, almost 14 years later, that the steps he took to take charge of his cancer and his life post-cancer, while long and arduous, in the end allowed him not only to live, but to thrive. Trying to break down the science behind his cancer and treatments, the episodes of Stevens Johnson Syndrome (an extreme and painful skin reaction) he experienced in his post-cancer years, researching, changing his diet, adding complementary approaches to assist in his recovery and connecting with other cancer survivors all have played an important role.
Notwithstanding all of the obstacles he has faced, Howard continues to work and his family and he are thriving. But the experiences he had during and since his cancer ordeal will forever be with him. He has written a book entitled The Layman’s Guide To Surviving Cancer: From Diagnosis Through Treatment And Beyond. He wrote this book to provide a roadmap and encouragement for other cancer patients and their loved ones to help guide them through the often confusing and frightening world of cancer treatment and survival. Endorsed by leading oncologists and cancer survivors, Howard’s book will be available in print form toward the end of June, 2014 and in E-book form at approximately the same time.
Howard also runs a blog, where patients and their loved ones can get together and help each other out, learn about new studies and news related to cancer research and treatments and find healthful, tasty recipes for cancer patients.
In an interview with Howard, he was asked why he waited 14 years to write his book. He responded: “The idea of writing a book describing my experiences and to help other patients was something that ruminated in my head for a long time since my diagnosis, but life kind of retook me after I finished my treatments, so the idea of writing a book kind of got put on the back burner. Still, over the years I counseled with other patients, and then was reconnected with an old friend who was fighting lymphoma. I counseled with him over the course of his treatment and, ultimately, he was able to beat his cancer. However, shortly after going into remission, he contracted pneumonia and, with his system so beat up from the years of cancer treatments, he was just too weak to overcome it and passed away. His passing had a very profound effect on me and I realized then that I needed to take what I had been doing with patients one-on-one and try to do it en masse. In truth, it’s probably better that I waited several years to write this book. I think it’s a more mature work now than it could have been in the haze of a recent cancer fight.
I have experienced so much since my cancer treatment, watched my young daughters grow into young adulthood, passed my 20th anniversary with my wife and have gained a lot of perspective on the long-term effects of cancer on a physical, emotional and spiritual level. The years have also given me time to do a lot of research, connect with many oncologists and additional patients and craft the book I wish I had when I was first diagnosed and going through my treatments.
But working in the cancer community is not easy, Howard concedes: “Dealing with other patients, many of whom are scared, confused, angry, etc., is heavy, emotionally. I feel a tremendous responsibility when I provide whatever guidance I can to those who ask me for it. It’s something I take seriously while at the same time trying to add levity and humor whenever I can, because I think it’s so important to be able to laugh and experience joy even, and especially, during difficult times. But, while I think I have a lot to offer and I am willing to help where I can, and that’s why I wrote the book, I am not a doctor or a psychologist, and there’s only so much I can tell or give to someone, so I always encourage people who come to me to reach out to specialists who deal with the particular physical or psychological issues they may be facing. Ultimately, cancer is a team effort. With all of us pulling toward the ultimate goals, survival and cure, we are more certain to get there.”
You can hear more about Howard, his book and the work he does in a recent interview he did on the Cancer Support Network with Joni Aldrich (posted April 23).