Stories of Hope
Attitude Is Everything to This Three-Time Kidney Cancer Survivor
Article date: June 25, 2014
"When you get cancer, you've got no choice. You have to face it. But you do get to control your boundaries and control your attitude. You get to ask, 'How do I want to feel?' I can live my life, or I can feel very sorry for myself. I certainly know which choice I'm taking."
By Amanda Dobbs
Brian Waddington is a serious squash player. He is an affectionate husband and father. He is happily retired. He also happens to be a cancer survivor facing his second recurrence of renal cell carcinoma, the most common type of kidney cancer.
The disease has been a part of Waddington’s life since he was first diagnosed in 2005. Facing cancer for a third time, however, has helped him reflect on one of the most important things he has learned from the disease: how you live your life with cancer matters.
When Waddington was first diagnosed, it was an unusual swelling in his testicle that sent him to the doctor’s office. Expecting to get treatment for a simple infection, he learned instead that the swelling was a result of a tumor growing on top of one of his kidneys. The news, says Waddington, “was completely out of the blue. It was devastating.”
His doctors recommended a radical nephrectomy, and Waddington soon underwent surgery that removed his left kidney as well as his left adrenal gland, his spleen, and a piece of his pancreas. Although it took him 4 months to recover, he says that once he had the surgery, he thought to himself, “Ok, I am good to go. No more cancer.”
It was not until a few years later that he learned that his cancer had returned, this time in his right adrenal gland. “Every time I got another diagnosis, that’s when the fear factor increased,” says Waddington.
He endured another surgery, and this time around, he found some new tools, which along with his naturally positive attitude, did a lot to help him cope. “I starting writing a diary of sorts on my iPad,” he says. “Before each of my visits, I kept track of what I was feeling or what was going on and I would write it down. I found that to be really helpful.”
He also relied on his sporting spirit and his talent for playing squash to balance the stresses of the disease. “I am a very competitive person on the courts,” he says. “My recovery time is slower because I’m missing some body parts, but I still compete. In fact, it’s because I’ve had cancer that I want to work harder and play harder.”
He also found that educating himself about cancer helped him conquer one of the mental challenges that many survivors face: answering the question, “Why me?”
“I was always the healthy one. Why did I get cancer?” he says. As he read book after book about the disease, however, he realized that cancer truly doesn’t discriminate.
“Cancer is a very humbling disease,” he says. “Now I am a lot more at peace because I have a better understanding. I have learned to eat well and do the things I need to do to take care of myself, and I can pass those positive things on to my children and the people around me.”
It is Waddington’s core sense of gratitude and positivity that has perhaps had the biggest impact on how he has coped with cancer. “Life is wonderful, and it’s about the choices. I wasn’t dealt the best hand health-wise, but I‘ve gotten better from it, and I’m a lot more appreciative,” he says.
That gratitude extends to the medical team that has brought him to where he is now. In fact, he still keeps in touch with the doctor who performed his initial surgery. “Each year, I give him a gift and write him a note saying how much I appreciate what he did for me. I mean, this is the guy who took out the cancer and put me back together again.”
Waddington is now facing a third cancer diagnosis, and he acknowledges that his health may change. But his attitude concerning how he wants to live his life hasn’t changed at all. “When you get cancer, you’ve got no choice. You have to face it. But you do get to control your boundaries and control your attitude. You get to ask, ‘How do I want to feel?’” he says. “I can live my life, or I can feel very sorry for myself. I certainly know which choice I’m taking.”