Local cancer survivor sharing his story
Terry Healey never intended to write a book about his battle with cancer, but after sharing his story and scars with other people dealing with the disease he realized he could help inspire them to be survivors as well. Healey, a part-time Truckee resident and author of At Face Value: My Triumph Over a Disfiguring Cancer will speak tonight about his experiences at Tahoe Forest Cancer Programs newly-formed cancer support group. How and when did you discover you had cancer?I was 20 years old at the time, a junior at UC Berkeley living life on easy street and out of nowhere this bump formed on the right side of my nose. It took a while before I went to the doctor and was then diagnosed with a really rare fibrosarcoma. Mine was a rare type of fibrosarcoma, but ultimately the doctor said it (the cancer) was caught early and could be treated. I was referred to a doctor in San Francisco and four or five months later I was given a clean bill of health. About six months later I ended up having a procedure that removed half of my nose, the shelf of my right eye, the muscle and bone from my right cheek, part of my upper lip on the right side, and six of my teeth. Fibrosarcoma is a pretty aggressive type of cancer and its best treated with surgery. The goal was really to save my life and thats what they felt was necessary. The weirdest part was not knowing what to expect after surgery.What did you see when you looked at yourself in the mirror post-surgery?It was pretty frightening and it was pretty devastating. I went from being a homecoming prince to being the elephant man. The good thing was that my doctor was an upbeat type of guy. Hes one of the guys that I really trusted and that was critical. It kept my hope that it wasnt going to be a long-term thing. If he had told me, Ya, this is pretty tough, it would have been difficult, and at that point I was so weak and down. What was the recovery process like for you?The recovery process was pretty slow. The hard part wasnt really the recovering and getting back to normal life. When I left the hospital I realized other people were shocked by my appearance. The doctors and nurses at the hospital see this kind of stuff everyday. I realized people were staring at me and kids were giggling at me and that was the hardest part. I didnt know how to deal with that. Fortunately, I was surrounded by positive people but it probably took five to six years.Are you healthy now?Yes, I am in good health now and I think the best part about it was that I am blessed for what happened because it showed me the value of life and how to deal with insecurities. Sometimes the best-looking people in the world are insecure. I became so insecure so fast that I was like, I have to deal with this because I cant go hide forever, and I think Im a better person now. I can help others. I would never wish cancer on anyone but when you go through a major adversity, you survive it.Since surviving cancer, do you now live your life by any personal philosophies?I try to live my life based on a number of principles taking control of how you live your life, a lot of people dont do that. Im a very trusting person. I am always trying to think about a fear I have. I try to think about one that I can address and with that I am able to focus. Visualization and positive-imaging are things I utilize in my day to day life.Have you experienced any memorable moments while speaking to an audience?I think probably one of the things that stands out was when I was speaking at a high school. I start out not really telling them anything about me. I have them write down their impressions of me and at the end I tell them to write their reaction to me and I never ask anybody what they wrote. This one girl came up and she was incredibly shy and incredibly insecure and she told me she had lots of problems at home. She was crying and then she smiled and hugged me and said, You dont know how much of an impact you made on me today, and I almost started crying. Clearly, I think something struck a chord with her and made her feel better.Why are cancer support groups important?I truly believe the support groups I attended were a huge turning point for me. A lot of people are resistant to these types of things. I just say (to people dealing with cancer) that if people experience it, its pretty amazing. You usually hear more laughter than tears.