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The Road to Becoming a Cancer Survivor

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billbauntrack.jpgBy Mindy Loya, MD Anderson Staff Writer

According to the National Cancer Institute's Office of Survivorship, your journey as a cancer survivor begins the day you're diagnosed with the disease. Since the 1980s, cancer survivors and their doctors have tried to describe the stages that cancer survivors typically experience.

Bill Baun, a wellness coach and patient at MD Anderson, says the journey through survivorship starts with an attitude.

"My journey began when I decided cancer wasn't going to rule my life," Baun says. "It's very personal because it's a state of mind that no one else can give to you."

Baun was diagnosed five years ago with stage III prostate cancer. He had a Gleason score of nine and his prostate specific antigen (PSA) test result was a 14. He had open surgery, 33 radiation treatments and spent two years on hormone therapy.

Living with cancer
Baun says he'd been preparing for his cancer journey his whole life. His mother died of colon cancer when he was 18 and his father died of prostate cancer in 1992. After receiving his diagnosis, his first concerns were to calm his wife and go for a walk.

"The first lap, I cried and thought 'why me.' The second lap, the fear set in and I thought, 'what if I never see my grandkids.' Finally, on the third and fourth laps, I thought about my mother and her strength."

Baun says he realized he'd been taught how to be a survivor. 

Living through cancer
For Baun, it was hard to think like a survivor when he was in the thick of treatments.
"There were just so many concerns following my surgery -- pain, weight loss, erectile dysfunction, incontinence," Baun says. "It's easy to be negative and let cancer consume you."

But, pulling on lessons from his parents, he chose to reach out for support, from his family and from MD Anderson.

"One of the great things about MD Anderson is the layer of resources we have," Baun says. "Sometimes you need information, sometimes you need to hear other people's stories and sometimes you need some hoopla to remind you where your head should be."

Baun got those things from MD Anderson's Cancer Survivorship programs, attending events and sharing his story with other survivors.

Living beyond cancer

Baun now manages his health as if he has a chronic condition. He gets screened regularly and goes on and off hormone treatments depending on his PSA. And he takes care of himself, eating a nutritious diet and exercising regularly.

"You have to realize your body is still healing and it's your job to maintain an environment in your body that doesn't undo or fight against your treatment," he says.

Baun works with the institution's Survivorship Committee to develop those resources and events he found valuable along his own journey.

"You may not be on the journey you expected to be on, but you're going to meet a phenomenal set of people that you wouldn't have met otherwise," Baun says. "And you'll have a whole new perspective on what living is all about."

For Baun, living is now about enjoying his first grandchild.

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