Thomas McKenna: I Survived Cancer and Here Is How I Did It
An Interview With Savio P. Clemente
Seek support. Talk with others who are in a similar situation to yours or have been. Don’t deal with it alone. Move past shame, if, as in my case, your cancer and treatment hamper your ability to be intimate with another person.
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 Thomas McKenna.
Thomas McKenna is the Co-Founder of the Finding Erotica (www.FindingErotica.com) literary series, website and YouTube “Skin Anthology Series.” Thomas was a child of the post WW II boom. His early experience was shaped by events of that era and by concurrent social movements: the Civil Rights Movement; The Vietnam War; Feminism and the good fortune to be the kid in the family who went away to college. He has never stopped seeking to better understand the world in which he lives and working to make it a better place for all.
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 was born in the shadow of New York City in the home in which my mother was delivered. Athletics was my primary focus in life until the Civil Rights Movement reached my hometown during the 1960’s. A race-based incident occurred in my neighborhood — I am writing a novel about it — that changed my life forever. It led me to become a teacher and to work and live in communities of color. I still teach (46 years in the classroom) and value more each day the kindness of those who have offered me, a white man, entrance into their worlds. My life is richer as a result and I seek to express my gratitude through my work, my writing, and my relationships.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“We fall down, and we get up.” When I’m knocked down by illness, injury, and loss, I learned to find ways, often with the kindness of others, to get myself back up. In particular, I learned to take steps to heal myself.
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?
Yes, I do.
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 when I learned that I had cancer. Simply hearing the word was terrifying. I immediately felt myself to be at the mercy of something that threatened to destroy me. I felt powerless, stuck in a defensive posture, facing an uncertain negative future, without the power to choose my own path forward.
How did you react in the short term?
I tried my best not to panic. Earlier in my life, I had a cyst on my lower spine that was surgically removed. The cyst returned and I was faced with a choice: more surgery or finding an alternative path of healing. I chose the latter and, in the process, learned that I could heal myself and do so, one very painful step after another until I could walk pain-free on my own. I decided to pursue a similar strategy with cancer. By working with trusted medical professionals, I pursued a strategy of “active surveillance” and changed my lifestyle: no more alcohol; no more cigars; dropped 50 lbs.; changed my diet; chose life and health — good habits over bad. And I’ve kept cancer at bay.
After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use? What did you do to cope physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?
I did whatever I could to make myself healthy. In short, I chose to be healthy, educated myself about my condition, and sought advice/support from people who loved me. A key coping mechanism was writing. Cancer and medications did a number on my ability to be sexual. Where I still had sexual desire, I had to learn new ways to express it. So, with the help of my business partner, I wrote erotic romance novels and we decided to start a business to publish the books along with a platform to connect with others facing the same things we faced.
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 business partner and dear friend, Ms. Sharonette Briggs, who has been the inspiration for all we’ve done: the muse for my writing, the driving force for starting a business, a role model for dealing with personal loss and injury. Ms. Briggs showed me how to just move forward, to not let whatever challenges I faced derail me on my journey. She started a story about her first childbirth. A visit to her doctor resulted in her telling her that she had to deliver her baby ASAP. She didn’t blink, didn’t panic, didn’t feel sorry for herself — she just did what she had to do. Her choice was clear and simple. She inspired me to do the same.
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?
How do you want to live the rest of your life? I am a wake-up call. You have choices to make. Those choices offer power. They won’t magically make me disappear, but those choices offer you options to continue to choose life rather than succumbing to me.
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?
Before my cancer diagnosis, I helped care for a friend who had brain cancer. He chose to define his state of being as ‘living’ rather than ‘dying’. As a result, he was still able to engage in the world and with those he loved in a positive way. I learned from that experience. As I mentioned above, when I first learned I had cancer, I felt a complete loss of power. I was at the mercy of disease and medical professionals. I learned that I could regain my power and it began by choosing life. I chose to do whatever I could to live as fully as I could, and I learned that I was able to do that — that I could get up when knocked down and get up again and again and again. I gained the power to affect how I wanted to live.
How have you used your experience to bring goodness to the world?
Finding Erotica is a platform that my partner and I created to bring hope to others like us who deal with post-illness and post-injury intimacy challenges. Our mission is to connect people who feel the loss of power and connection that often accompanies illness and injury with others who are dealing with similar dynamics. One of the daunting aspects of something like cancer is the feeling of isolation. We want to provided connection to those who feel alone because of disease.
What are a few of the biggest misconceptions and myths out there about fighting cancer that you would like to dispel?
My biggest misconception was that cancer involved inevitable outcomes that were set in stone, that it was the all powerful “Big C” and that I was impotent in its presence. Not to say that I turned my back on medical professionals, I just chose to make any changes I could in order to create a healthier me on every level I could.
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.
- Do all you can to be healthy before you get ill, in particular before you get cancer.
- Prostate cancer is common among men, educate yourself about prevention and care beforehand.
- If you are diagnosed with cancer, explore all your options so that you feel fully informed including finding a trusted medical professional before deciding on a plan of action
- Seek support. Talk with others who are in a similar situation to yours or have been. Don’t deal with it alone. Move past shame, if, as in my case, your cancer and treatment hamper your ability to be intimate with another person.
- We created Finding Erotica out of a need to create the kind of supportive community that I searched for after my cancer was diagnosed but couldn’t find.
- And pray.
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 economic transformation that would ensure food and housing security for all along with sustained equal access to resources to insure well-being, good health, and a livable planet worldwide.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!