Bill C Potts: I Survived Cancer and Here Is How I Did It
An Interview With Savio P. Clemente
Own your cancer journey. Every step of the way. It is your life, so you need to own it. That means advocating for yourself. Doing your homework. Deciding where to go for care. Getting second opinions. Developing relationships with your care team. I learned this the hard way in 2002. My thyroid oncologist recommended another round of radiation because he “thought” my thyroid cancer was back. That did not make sense to me, as I had no thyroid then. So, I moved from a local, for-profit oncologist to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. MD Anderson confirmed there was no need for another round of radiation treatment. I am certain had I not worked to get a second opinion, and had received a second round of radiation, I would not be alive today.
Cancer is a horrible and terrifying disease. Yet millions of people have beaten the odds and beat cancer. Authority Magazine started a new series called “I Survived Cancer and Here Is How I Did It”. In this interview series, we are talking to cancer survivors to share their stories, in order to offer hope and provide strength to people who are being impacted by cancer today. As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bill C Potts.
Bill C. Potts is the author of Up for the Fight. How to Advocate for Yourself as You Battle Cancer from a Five-Time Survivor. Bill is a motivational speaker, creative business leader, energetic community builder, and dedicated father and husband. He has held executive positions at the IRONMAN Group and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, and lectured on marketing at Tulane University, where he earned his MBA. He is the co-founder and a managing director of marketing agency Remedy 365 and an IRONMAN triathlete.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! We really appreciate the courage it takes to publicly share your story. Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your background and your childhood backstory?
I grew up in Houston, Texas, with an awesome childhood, full of sports, music, travel, and time with my family and friends. I went to the University of Texas and played trombone for a year in the Texas Longhorn Band. I graduated from UT and then went to Tulane University in New Orleans to get my MBA.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Own your journey.” This is relevant in every aspect of life. Whether with your work, family, friends or health. Life is your journey — so own it.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about surviving cancer. Do you feel comfortable sharing with us the story surrounding how you found out that you had cancer?
I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2002. I then had the thyroid removed and went through radiation ablation treatment (Iodine-131.) I assumed my cancer journey was over, but I was wrong. In 2008, I was diagnosed with Stage 3 lymphoma. My lymphoma type is not curable — yet. The lymphoma came back in 2014, 2019 and 2020. Also, in 2020, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. So, five times beating it, #6 (the prostate cancer) on hold, and #7 coming at some point in the future.
I am very grateful for both the MD Anderson Cancer Center and the Mayo Clinic for helping me beat cancer so many times. They are also supporting the book, which means a lot to me.
What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?
The scariest part was in 2008, during my first lymphoma infusion treatment. I had an unexpected infusion reaction that was quite sudden and dramatic — and life threatening. That incident was the first time I realized that the cancer or the treatment could end my life. It changed my perspective on my battle, forever.
How did you react in the short term?
After the realization of the seriousness of my situation and that dying was a possibility, I became laser focused on owning my cancer journey. I started treating my cancer journey like a job. That change in mindset has and will continue to help keep me alive.
After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use? What did you do to cope physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?
I rely heavily on my Christian faith for direction on the large number of decisions required to be made when going through the cancer journey. That faith is important in other ways, too, for example, getting my head and heart around the potential of dying.
Beating cancer is a team effort and I am fortunate to have a great team helping me through it. My Care Team and my friends and family provide great support. I am in some Facebook Groups that provide a safe outlet for sharing, too. Many don’t realize it, but the impact of surgeries and treatments is physically, mentally, and emotionally cumulative. It gets harder going through the journey, not easier, despite what I have learned.
In 2020, I pondered giving up the fight, but re-connected with my whys with the help of the Mayo Clinic staff. Those reasons why I continue to fight include my family, friends, and my work on the book. Plus, to make God proud.
Physically, I have an amazing diet and exercise regimen. The exercise is a great form of therapy for me.
Having a purpose for my life really helps me cope. My purpose during the last lymphoma treatments became writing the book, so I could help others in their journey. I re-prioritized how I spent my time so that I could get it completed. That purpose helped me get through the emotional roller coaster of my latest chemotherapy treatments.
Each day I set small goals. For example, during treatment, I use counting to help set goals. I count the treatment days. I count up until the half-way point and then count down until they are complete. This meant each day of treatment was a small goal accomplished. I could let out a “booyah” and celebrate that small goal. The small goals will help me achieve the big goals.
Is there a particular person you are grateful towards who helped you learn to cope and heal? Can you share a story about that?
It is important to have a cancer buddy to help you in a wide range of ways during the cancer journey. My wife Kim pushed and pulled me to get to the finish line with my cancer treatments. She has a sixth sense as to how I am feeling — and always seems to know what to say and do. Kim has also always kept a positive attitude. As I am a severely immunocompromised patient (due to the cancer and the chemo), Kim has not only helped keep me from getting sick, but also has encouraged me to get out and safely see people. That socialization is important.
In my own cancer struggle, I sometimes used the idea of embodiment to help me cope. Let’s take a minute to look at cancer from an embodiment perspective. If your cancer had a message for you, what do you think it would want or say?
Cancer is like a civil war. Cancer is the bad me, trying to kill the good me. A battle over life or death. The cancer is saying to me “I am coming for you Bill C Potts! Fight me as hard as you can. Do everything you can to beat me, because I am doing everything I can to beat you and kill you. If you win, congratulations. In the meantime, take what you are learning from the fight and apply it to other areas of your life. But be ready. I will come after you again.”
What did you learn about yourself from this very difficult experience? How has cancer shaped your worldview? What has it taught you that you might never have considered before? Can you please explain with a story or example?
Cancer has changed my perspective dramatically. It has taught me that no matter what challenge I face, if I own the journey, treat it like a job, stay positive, and stay focused — amazing results can be achieved.
I have also learned to live in the moment. I spend less time scrolling on my phone and more time just living in the moment.
I also generally don’t let the small stuff bother me, as it did before.
My cancer journey changed my relationship with money, too. Now, I want to spend money on creating memories with my family and friends. I care less about material things and much more about relationships with others.
Most importantly, I have learned that what really brings fulfillment to my life is helping others.
How have you used your experience to bring goodness to the world?
Providing counsel and support to other cancer patients has been a great source of joy. But the book I wrote is my big effort to improve the lives of cancer patients and their families. This is the book I wish someone else had written. Like “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” — but for cancer. Turning my pain into purpose, with the release of the book, will be a major accomplishment of my goal of bringing more goodness to the world.
What are a few of the biggest misconceptions and myths out there about fighting cancer that you would like to dispel?
That the medical care team owns your cancer journey. The patient needs to own the journey and manage it every step of the way. The care team will respect it and likes an engaged patient.
Also, a positive attitude helps in many ways, but it alone cannot save you. I have heard this so many times “Bill, you will beat it because of your great attitude.” That is not true.
I struggle greatly with the use of survivability odds. The odds don’t count. If the “odds” are one in a million you will beat your particular type of cancer and you beat it, then you have 100% lived. Odds should not be discussed with patients.
The misconception that during cancer treatment the patient does not have to be concerned with diet and exercise.
That cancer treatment is predictable and linear. It is not! It is a zig zag journey, full of twists and turns and unexpected issues. Most cancer patients are not prepared for the unexpected during cancer treatment. Being prepared for the unexpected is critical.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experiences and knowledge, what advice would you give to others who have recently been diagnosed with cancer? What are your “5 Things You Need To Beat Cancer? Please share a story or example for each. These can be found on my YouTube Channel, too, at Bill C Potts.
- Own your cancer journey. Every step of the way. It is your life, so you need to own it. That means advocating for yourself. Doing your homework. Deciding where to go for care. Getting second opinions. Developing relationships with your care team. I learned this the hard way in 2002. My thyroid oncologist recommended another round of radiation because he “thought” my thyroid cancer was back. That did not make sense to me, as I had no thyroid then. So, I moved from a local, for-profit oncologist to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. MD Anderson confirmed there was no need for another round of radiation treatment. I am certain had I not worked to get a second opinion, and had received a second round of radiation, I would not be alive today.
- Have a Buddy with you for the journey. The buddy is important in many ways. The patient needs another set of eyes and ears for all medical appointments. As a cancer patient, the stress and medications can make it difficult to concentrate and remember what is needed. During treatments, the buddy should be with the patient, with a goal of helping the patient be comfortable as well as reaching out to the infusion team, if needed. The buddy will need to become an expert in your situation and be involved in each step of the journey. The buddy needs to be an adult and someone emotionally strong enough to handle the ups and downs of the journey. My buddy has been my wife, Kim. She has done a remarkable job.
- Get outside help for the emotional and mental stress that occurs with cancer patients. Faith leaders, social workers, support groups and therapists can all provide support that is needed. Don’t lean on your spouse or partner to be your sole support, as they need their own.
- Spend time early in the diagnosis working through the business of cancer issues. The medical care team may require medical directives, but it is important to have other legal issues handled, too. We hired a lawyer to work through issues like the will, in case I died. I even keep a “just in case” file for my wife and kids, that highlights passwords, funeral directives, what to do with my possessions, and handwritten notes to my family. This is the file I hope they never have to open! Understand, too, that cancer can be expensive, so be ready for it. Not just health insurance costs, but other expenses. For example, travel costs to and from treatment. Lost wages if you cannot work. Higher costs for an improved diet. Costs for new clothes due to weight gain (me) or weight loss (many.) Budget for the increased costs. In many cases, non-profits (like the Leukemia Lymphoma Society) can provide support.
- Leverage diet and exercise to improve the journey. Exercise has always been a part of my journey. Exercise helps me dramatically with stress. Plus, during my remissions, exercise gets me in great physical shape, which improves how I handle the surgeries and treatments. Diet can not only help manage side effects, but diet can also boost the immune system. Over the 20 years of my journey, changes to my diet have made a huge improvement in my journey. I leverage nutritionists and dieticians to coach me on the best foods for me during and after treatments.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be?
An Educational Movement about ways to prevent cancer versus treating it. Currently, a lion’s share of effort is placed on coming up with treatments and cures for cancer. Shifting some of that focus to prevention would have an outsized impact in reducing the number of people diagnosed with cancer. For example, educational campaigns to reduce smoking, reduce alcohol consumption, consume less sugar, less fried food, and reduce red meat consumption. Add to that focusing on the important of exercise. All of those would reduce the incidence of cancer dramatically.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. :-)
Dick Vitale. Reasons: He is also a lymphoma survivor. Plus, his work with the V Foundation for Cancer Research is amazing, inspiring and helping so many! He also lives very close to where I live. It would be an honor to meet him.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
My book can be purchased on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Target.com and other locations — worldwide. Go to billcpotts.com for more information on me or the book, as well as how to follow me on social media. There is also an audiobook version and an E-book of Up For the Fight. How to Advocate for Yourself as You Battle Cancer, from a Five-Time Survivor.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
Back at you Savio!