The Power of Words
How one patient is coping with treatment by telling his story as he lives it
"If you're going to have cancer, this is a good kind to have."
The irony of hearing he has "a good kind of cancer" isn't lost on Marcus Calverley. The 28-year-old was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease in August 2014. A cancer originating in white blood cells called lymphocytes, Hodgkin's disease is highly treatable, even curable, with current therapies.
"I could appreciate what my doctor meant, but it still sounded strange," says Calverley, a former Michigan State University football player who manages a popular bar and restaurant in East Lansing. "I remember thinking 'if it's so good, you can have it.'"
A conversation with Calverley is a lesson in taking on life's most serious moments without taking oneself too seriously. This is a man who laughs easily at the world and at himself. His keen ability to find humor and meaning in his cancer experience comes through in his blog, Cancer, My Dog, and My Beard. Calverley created the blog at the suggestion of a friend, who suggested it might help him keep loved ones updated on his treatment.
For Calverley, that treatment plan includes consecutive rounds of a four-drug chemotherapy regimen followed by a stem cell transplant. Although his prognosis is optimistic, the journey will be anything but "good." That’s the common ground he shares with other cancer patients and the story he's telling, as it unfolds, on his blog.
Clearly, he's striking a chord. Since his first post on Oct. 7, 2014, his blog has had over 120,000 page views. No one is more surprised than Calverley.
"It never occurred to me that people around the world would find things I had to say interesting and keep coming back," he says. He jokes that the blog's popularity "has little to do with the writing and everything to do with people wanting to see pictures of my dog Griswold."
Calverley's experience has highlighted more than a few truths about facing cancer:
Words can help (even if you only talk to yourself). While blogging may not be the right option for every patient, Calverley recommends writing as a way to make sense of cancer. "I've kept a journal for years," he says. "I know how helpful it can be to talk yourself through tough times, even if you never share what you write."
Like lots of things, cancer is scarier in the dark. Through his blog, Calverley brings cancer out of the shadows for himself and others, including many who have lost loved ones to it. "I'm as scared of cancer as anyone else," he says. "But if you can look it in the eye and even make fun of it, it loses some of its power."
We need a new cancer vocabulary. Calverley echoes the sentiments that combat analogies are overused in cancer. "We're all used to hearing about 'battling cancer,'" he says, "and I know people mean well when they tell me to 'keep up the good fight.' But for me, calling it a fight limits the outcomes to win or lose, and it isn't that black and white. The people I know who have passed away from this disease didn't do so because they didn't ‘fight hard enough.' If anything, it's about accepting how little control I have, trusting in the best science available, and finding a way to get through it."
Be honest (curse words optional). The words and images in Calverley's blog can be coarse and irreverent, but are always honest and unvarnished. "Sometimes my language can be a bit colorful," he admits, "but I think it's important to stay true to myself through my blogging. It reminds me that there are parts of me that cancer can’t touch."
Read Calverley's blog: Cancer, My dog, And my Beard
Learn more about hodgkins lymphoma, stem cell transplant and other survivors' stories
- U-M Lymphoma Program
- U-M Bone Marrow Transplant Program
- The Transition From Patient to Survivor
- What Cancer Patients Should Know About Preserving Fertility