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Michael Dadd - Patient Story

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I had to make a choice at the beginning, when I was first diagnosed, to never let the cancer win.

— Michael Dadd

There isn’t a sport I haven’t played or an outdoor activity I’m not willing to try. I’ve always been athletic and it’s one of the things I like most about myself. So when I was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma in December 2011, it was a particularly huge blow.

I had been experiencing knee pain for about a year prior to my diagnosis. Since I am a physical guy, I assumed the pain was due to wear and tear. At worst, I anticipated needing knee replacement surgery, however the MRI revealed lesions on my tibia, and after further tests it was clear that I had cancer.

As an oncology researcher for more than 20 years, I know all of the best sarcoma doctors in the area, and I didn’t think twice about who my doctor should be. Margaret von Mehren at Fox Chase Cancer Center, in my opinion, is the best of the best. We have worked together on numerous clinical trials, and I trust her completely. I also knew of Fox Chase’s reputation as a hospital where I could get excellent care combined with compassion and support from every single person who works there.

I started my first treatment in January 2012. It involved 14 cycles of chemotherapy, from January until August, followed by six weeks of radiation. During this period, I spent a lot of time at Fox Chase. I can remember walking through the doors for my first day of treatment thinking, “I hope this doesn’t become my home away from home.” But it did. At my first appointment with Dr. von Mehren I told her that she was my new best friend. She laughed, but over the course of five years she has truly become a friend to me.

In the fall of 2012 we waited to see if initial treatment was effective. It seemed to work, and I thought I was beginning my post-cancer life.

A little more than a year later I had my first recurrence. This was hard to accept, because I was so sure that I was cancer free. I knew I needed to forge ahead and keep fighting this thing. After wedge resection surgery I underwent chemotherapy for six months. Over the course of my five recurrences, I would have three wedge resections, followed by the same course of chemotherapy. The treatment always seemed to work, and each time I was hopeful we finally got it all, but it just kept coming back.

In the midst of treatment, I sought the opinion of another oncologist. When I told him who was treating me he said I was at the right hospital with the right doctor. That gave me a lot of comfort.

The cancer came back for a third time in December 2015. It was in my knee, and to prevent it from spreading further I had my tibia removed in February 2016. We were worried the cancer would spread into my lungs, and I knew amputation was the best course of action. As a natural born athlete this was an exceptionally tough setback, but I wasn’t going to let my disease win. All throughout this journey I had decisions to make. I could either put my head in the sand and give up or I could fight. I decided to fight. I never let the cancer stop me from living my life.

I was fitted for a prosthetic, and about three months after the surgery I was in physical therapy. The therapist asked if I could stand, but I did one better by squatting.

Currently I am dealing with my fifth recurrence. When people find out all that I’ve been through or when a doctor opens my mountain of a chart, they’re always shocked because I don’t look like their idea of a cancer patient. I think a lot of that has to do with my attitude and with the support I’ve been given from my wife and family, my job, and my team at Fox Chase.

I didn’t always have a “bring it on” attitude, though. Before my diagnosis I was scared of everything. I was always worried about the future, so concerned about things that really didn’t matter. My job was consuming me, but since the cancer diagnosis I’ve come to realize that there are more important things in life than work.

While I was undergoing treatment  my friends encouraged me to try online dating. I had been recently divorced, and while I was going through a lot with my disease, I still wanted normalcy. I wanted a relationship, to be married, to have a partner.

Ashlee and I first met online, and we spoke on the phone for hours. From the start, I was completely honest with her about the cancer and about the divorce I went through in 2011. She didn’t care. Since we met, she has been with me every step of the way. Cancer didn’t prevent me from working, dating, and travelling. And it didn’t stop me from getting remarried. Ashlee and I were married in August 2015.

Despite everything, I feel pretty lucky. Throughout all the treatments, my side-effects have been minor, and I’ve felt relatively good. It hasn’t always been easy, though. I remember coming home one night and noticing my work boots on the mudroom floor. I broke down in tears. I was always so physically strong, so it was hard seeing that reminder of the past, knowing that I’ll never be as active as I once was.

My physical strength has been replaced by emotional and mental strength. I’ve endured a lot and my journey isn’t over yet. I had to make a choice at the beginning, when I was first diagnosed, to never let the cancer win. Because of that decision I’ve been able to live a full and exciting life. I’ve also been able to share my story with others. In June 2017 my manager at work sponsored me to give a Ted Med Talk to employees at Johnson and Johnson. It was an incredible experience to share my story and to give encouragement to others. My goal is to use my disease as a tool to help others. If someone learns from my experience, then I’ve done my job.

While I am not yet cancer free, I’ll continue to fight and I’ll continue to live a full life, using what I learn to help inspire others. If I do that, no matter the outcome, cancer won’t win.

 

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