Ken Parme: I Survived Cancer and Here Is How I Did It
An Interview With Savio P. Clemente
Stay open. As a kid, I lost someone I loved so dearly very suddenly. There’s a tendency to want to protect children, but I believe that honesty in the spirit of love is the best thing. When I was diagnosed, I told my children right away so that we could process the news together.
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 Ken Parme.
Ken Parme is a 63-year-old cancer survivor. He and his wife just celebrated 44 years of marriage. They have 4 children and 5 grandchildren with another on the way.
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 worked as a nuclear components inspector. My job was always stressful, but enjoyable. It was interesting work that required me to be at the top of my game. When I got sick, I worked for about 5 years afterwards, but once the side effects of cancer started kicking in, including diabetes, blood pressure issues and stent replacement, I ended up retiring a little early. That wasn’t what I wanted to do, but it was the best decision for everyone. My hobbies include writing music and books, drawing and making candleholders.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
As of now it is from Meister Eckhart: “God rid me of God.”
He knew that god was beyond understanding and that any god we imagine cannot be god. I think this is steeped in a deep sense of humility and love. I think that in the act of love, that is where you find god or whatever you choose to call it, and realizing you do not corner truth is the beginning of wisdom.
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 took good care of myself. In fact, in 10 years, I only missed my power walk 3 times. I ate right and stayed active. My wife would walk with me sometimes, and after a while I couldn’t keep up with her. She insisted I go to the doctor, so I did. My primary care doctor diagnosed me as a diabetic and started me on insulin right away. I started insulin, but I still felt lousy, so my wife set up an appointment for me with the endocrinologist. The endocrinologist didn’t like what she heard, so she sent me that day for a CT scan. That is when they found the tumor and diagnosed me as having inoperable pancreatic cancer. The tumor is wrapped around vessels and on my aorta so they could not remove it. We did a whole year of chemo and CyberKnife radiation sessions, but the tumor never did shrink enough to remove. They still keep a good eye on me, though, as this cancer has left me with other issues that we try to keep on top of. I have 10 stents in my bile duct!
What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?
The thought of dying and never seeing everybody again — that’s what hurt the most. I had three grandchildren when I was diagnosed, and I am about to meet my sixth. I can’t imagine missing the opportunity to meet them and spend time with them. That’s why it’s so important to catch cancer, especially pancreatic cancer, early.
How did you react in the short term?
Initially, I felt sad. The older I get, the more that I feel I am losing bits of my life here and there. It was sad to think of losing all of it at once.
After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use? What did you do to cope physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?
I believe we all must find a safe place of rest in our spirit, and that’s especially true when you have a terminal disease. I think Paul Tillich’s idea of the “ground of all being,” that is, the awareness in the act of love that we are all connected and part of something way bigger, really brought and still does bring me a sense of oneness. Knowing that there is something much bigger that we are all a part of helps to bring me that rest. That and deep breathing and meditation. I really do believe that what we call god boils down to love. That makes it easier to rest.
We all need that place of rest — whether you’re terminal or not. I believe that this rest helps me physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
Is there a particular person you are grateful towards who helped you learn to cope and heal? Can you share a story about that?
My wife has helped me the most through this entire process. She has been wonderfully supportive through this whole thing. When I was first diagnosed, I was still going to work. She used to drop me off and pick me up from work before and after going to her own job. She also took me to every chemo treatment.
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?
There are a lot of things I learn or continue to learn from my cancer. In a sense, cancer has prepared me for death. It’s a feeling that comes and goes, but meditation, breathing and prayer have helped me enter into that place of rest.
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?
I have learned there is a grace if you let it be in all things. Cancer has taught me not to live and die with fear, but to be at rest. I knew that a little before, but I’ve taken it to heart more since my cancer battle. I’m still learning, and I’ll continue to learn until I die. I’ve learned that life is so random. Despite your planning, anything can happen.
Whatever hand you’re dealt, you play it the best you can.
How have you used your experience to bring goodness to the world?
I was deeply involved with PanCan for 5 years as the advocacy chair for Pittsburgh. I also work with Cancer Bridges (Formerly Our Clubhouse and Cancer Cares), and my wife and I wrote a book that details our experience with cancer. I’ve also been involved with Olympus. What Olympus is doing with pancreaticcancerscreening.com is so worthwhile, as the 5-year survival rate for this cancer is only around 10%. That means 9 of 10 folks diagnosed with this will die within 5 years.
What are a few of the biggest misconceptions and myths out there about fighting cancer that you would like to dispel?
The greatest myth is that those of us who have or had cancer are some sort of brave warriors and fighters. But the truth is we’re no braver than anyone else. We are hurt and scared. We put one foot in front of another and carry on, though. Not because we are brave, but because what choice is there?
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.
- Find your support system. For me, this was my family. My wife and children were instrumental in helping me beat this. They would come over all the time to make meals and do my shopping. A support system is important both practically and emotionally.
- Rest and find a connection with a higher power. You can’t live terrified and in fear.
- Focus on breathing.
- Maintain an active lifestyle as much as possible.
- Stay open. As a kid, I lost someone I loved so dearly very suddenly. There’s a tendency to want to protect children, but I believe that honesty in the spirit of love is the best thing. When I was diagnosed, I told my children right away so that we could process the news together.
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?
I’d advocate for universal healthcare. Through my struggle with cancer, I’ve seen a lot of how the healthcare system works, and it’s not sustainable. Everybody should be able to get the correct amount of care. The level of care you can receive shouldn’t depend on the type of insurance or amount of money you have. Even from when I was first diagnosed until now, I’ve seen the cost of certain tests nearly double. I believe that we’re all equal and we need each other.
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. :-)
I’d want to sit down with Bob Dylan. As a songwriter, I’m inspired by his work. He was the first musician win a Nobel Prize for Literature, and I’d like to pick his brain about that experience.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can find my books, The Adventures of Madde Mckinsey (children’s book) and In The Gaze Of The Divine: Life With Pancreatic Cancer (Co-written with my wife about our journeys with cancer as both patient and caregiver) on Amazon. You can find my music on my YouTube channel.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!