You’ll know from the opening pages of my memoir A Walk with Purpose that it was the day before Thanksgiving in 2015 when I first discovered a large lump on the right side of my neck. The discovery catapulted me on a journey that I never could have imagined, full of twists and turns and changing the very fiber of my being—physically, emotionally and spiritually.

A lot has changed in the past two years—some good, some bad, some perhaps downright ugly. But Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays—a time of reflection and giving thanks for the goodness of the season past instead of complaining about what we don’t have.

Throughout the process of writing my memoir, I was constantly amazed to see how all the gifts and experiences of this world came together like tiny puzzle pieces to reveal the bigger purpose of my life. In particular, how an unlikely career path to the biotechnology industry would help forge key relationships, open new doors, and help me navigate a cancer diagnosis and treatment through the knowledge gained over decades of service and leadership. Most importantly, how I could use all of the aforementioned to help others facing head and neck cancer caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV).

In some ways, my revelation was reminiscent of the first time I saw the movie Signs written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. In the movie, a father and former priest lives with his asthmatic son, his daughter who constantly leaves glasses of water sitting out around the house, and his younger brother, a failed minor league baseball player, on an isolated farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania (coincidentally where we have lived for more than 15-years…). The father lost his faith and gave up his priesthood after his wife died in a local traffic accident. Towards the end of the movie, a crucial scene reveals the unlikely connection between asthma, glasses of water, and the mother’s final words to her husband instructing his brother to “swing away.” At the end of the movie, the father is shown returning to his priestly duties, apparently having regained his faith.

During 2017, I was fortunate to write and publish (then rewrite and republish…) my memoir. Since my diagnosis, I’ve also published a total of 70 posts (gulp!) on my patient blog. Supporting these efforts, I’ve worked with a publicist and conducted numerous interviews and penned guest editorials for various media outlets. All of these actions designed to: 1) help increase awareness of HPV and its link to six cancers in men and women; 2) underscore the need for additional prevention efforts for HPV-associated cancers, including efforts to increase vaccination coverage; 3) correct the misperception that HPV is mainly a disease affecting women; and, 4) highlight how HPV can be spread in the fluids of the mucosal membranes, which line the mouth, throat and genital tracts. Looking back at my efforts, I hope you’ll agree it has been a productive year.

I’m currently going through my third treatment regimen (chemotherapy) with the simple hope of buying more time. My body is weary from repeated assault with toxic chemicals aimed to keep the cancer at bay—hoping to see the day when a better treatment option becomes available. Fortunately, my current quality of life allows me to continue my walk with purpose. In fact, today I am doing a couple of media interviews and meeting with a head and neck cancer patient support group in Princeton, New Jersey.

My next CT scan has been scheduled for the last week of November. The results of which will inform whether or not my cancer continues to shrink, stays stable, or is progressing. Regardless of the outcome, I strive to simply live in the moment and take advantage of the Thanksgiving period to consider how we can spread more happiness around, to look back at all the great memories and good people who came into our lives.

May the good things of life be yours in abundance not only during November but throughout the coming year. Thank you to everyone with an interest in my story for your continued support and for keeping in touch!

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Join the conversation! 13 Comments

  1. What a beautiful blog – I’m speechless. Again and again, I must say you are so brave, so strong and unbelievably graceful in your walk. You are the definition of an inspiration.

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  2. Two years gone and more to come!

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  3. Thank you for your reflections Michael. Thinking of you often. Best wishes for a happy holiday season with your family!
    Stephen

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  4. Nice to see that you are a) alive, b) moving forward and c) continuing your grasp on “HOPE”. Regardless of our health situation, we all have the opportunity to HOPE. And nothing can take that away. While I was reading this blog, the “editing” thought came to me Michael, that one could also have entitled it “Two Years Gained . . . And Counting”. Best wishes. Ken Godevenos.

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  5. Thank you for reminding me to think of my blessings I was diagnosed with ALS this week At U of P I’m getting another opinion on Nov 30 You are my inspiration Micheal We will have a blessed Thanksgiving with family and look forward to more blessed days One day at a time I am the sister of Jeanette Totten

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  6. Every day is a gift. Wishing you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving, and the best possible results on your forthcoming CT scan.

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  7. Heartwarming thoughts which remind us all how precious life is! Happy Thanksgiving to you and your sweet family! XO

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  8. This post comes at a critical time for my family, my sister, Chris Maguire, explaining why in her reply. As Ken mentions, hope is a such an important tool to putting one foot in front of the other. My family is clinging to it and trying to stay in the moment and the spirit of the holiday season. There is always something to be thankful for, even when we are faced with life’s challenges. Michael I wish you, Lorie, Rosie, and Meg a blessed Thanksgiving!

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  9. Well done Michael! Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family. Onward and upward!

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