02 June 2009

Breathing New Life: Mike Wooldridge's Lung Cancer Triumph

Note: This post is sponsored by the American Cancer Society; ACS has paid me to write the story and has purchased ads on the site. In general, I don't do sponsored posts because I don't want to mix the content at Parent Hacks with its advertising. Compensated product-hawking masquerading as blog posting isn't something I'd be proud to do, but this is a completely different story. Many people in my life have been and continue to be affected by cancer. I am honored to share a bit of that story as part of what I do here.

90121242_0a7149453f.jpgMike Wooldridge and I have always lead parallel lives.

He and I were friends in middle- and high school. We went to college at UC Berkeley together, then onto the Web, then to book writing and teaching, and finally plunging into parenthood side-by-side. Our sons were born weeks apart -- I still have the blurry picture of our two wrinkly newborns sleeping in their adjacent car seats.

And yet, throughout our almost 30-year friendship (which is saying a lot given that I'm 40), we're as different as two people can be. In school, while I was hunched over my books, he was riding his skateboard. While I backpacked through Europe, he camped out at Burning Man. I wrote an early book about Web publishing, and he wrote a zine and printed weiner dog posters. I started a parenting blog, he started Pets in Uniform.

The surface details look pretty different, so we've always chuckled about the similar directions our careers and lives have taken. But, at one crucial point, our paths diverged. While I was heads-down in the joyful and confusing details of family life, Mike was diagnosed with cancer.

What started as a minor cough ended in an oncologist's office with the news that Mike had a fist-sized tumor growing in his right lung. He had Stage 3 non-small cell lung cancer, and, because the size of the tumor made it inoperable, his chance of survival was 10-15%. Mike was 34.

20040503-096.jpgAgainst those sobering odds, Mike plunged headlong into his treatment. He learned everything he could about the disease, he relied on the support of his incredible wife, family, workplace and network of friends, and -- most importantly -- he kept his eye trained on his recovery. Doctors were flabbergasted when chemotherapy shrunk Mike's tumor to an operable size. They removed the tumor and a significant portion of his lung. A year and a half after his diagnosis, Mike ran the Vancouver International Marathon.   

Mike says that cancer has made possible a vitality and an immediacy that he never knew existed. Without cancer, he may have never had the motivation or courage -- or even the inclination -- to run a marathon, or climb Mt. Whitney, or hike to Machu Picchu. More importantly, the time he spends with his wife, Linda, and his son, Griffin, is a gift Mike never takes for granted. Mike's beaten cancer in that he's alive today. But he might say it differently: he's alive today because of cancer.

Your comments

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Congratulations to Mike! Cancer definitely changes lives. In the last month, we got news that a close friend's tumor was shrunk so far by chemo and radiation that it doesn't show on MRI at all - they may not even need to remove lymph nodes (caught just at the early stage-2 point). And a week later, a woman we've known for years died from complications of lung cancer that had spread to bone, brain, and liver.

Just going through a biopsy (my second was yesterday) is enough to make you sit up and take notice of your life, and remember to be present and passionate about it.

Hurray! Thanks for writing about this important issue; I know it makes ME appreciate the day I have with my children more, messes and tantrums included! :)

Thanks for being so up-front about the sponsorship issue and what exactly the advertiser is getting for its money. I so appreciate the full disclosure and the way you handled it.

Best of luck to Mike, and to everyone dealing with this disease.

hedra...I think I can speak for every PHer when I send you every warm, healing vibe I've got.

Susan: it really does take something like this to shock us out of our daily gripes, doesn't it? I wish that weren't the case.

Marjorie: Thank you for that. I always want to be upfront about the $ stuff. I've always had a prejudice against sponsored posts, but this felt different. In general, every moneymaking opportunity that comes my way due to Parent Hacks first and foremost must pass the gut test. I've turned down big ad campaigns for products that go against what we talk about here. And, in this case, I made an exception to my "no sponsored post" rule.

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