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‘I would’ve lost my ear, half of my face…’ says White Rock councillor
Larry Robinson would prefer not to draw attention to the fact he has cancer.
The real estate agent and first-term White Rock councillor certainly isn’t the first to deal with the condition, not even amongst his council peers.
But, with a mass on the side of his face that has increased in recent months to rival the size of a tennis ball, he knows his private journey has grown decidedly difficult for the public to ignore.
“I don’t want sympathy votes… to be judged differently,” Robinson said of his previous hesitation to speak out.
He decided to share his story in the hopes it will draw attention to strides in integrative cancer care, and the fact that cancer causes and treatments are as unique as the person living with it.
Robinson, 64, was first diagnosed with a melanoma in 2009, after a biopsy of a “bumpy, occasionally seeping mole” detected cancer. The initial shock of the diagnosis was profound.
Robinson remembers walking down the street, “not knowing where to go, what to do, where to start.”
Wandering into a health food store, he was given a brochure for InspireHealth, a partially government-funded, membership-based integrative cancer clinic in Vancouver.
His first appointment lasted 90 minutes and was “the most compassionate time I have ever spent with a medical professional,” he said.
A program Robinson attended with other cancer patients reviewed treatment options and consequences – and, “how you’re going to change your life.”
For Robinson – who describes himself as someone who had sailed through life with little effort or concern until that point – the contact inspired him to modify his diet, start taking supplements and keep a closer eye on what was going on with his own health.
According to information online, the InspireHealth approach “combines nutrition, exercise, stress reduction and emotional and immune support with standard cancer treatment.”
Shelley Ross, the clinic’s communications manager, told Peace Arch News the clinic’s “highly subsidized” programs are intended to complement services that are provided by the conventional health-care system.
Success is judged in large part by feedback from those who access those services.
Ross said she was brought to tears Thursday morning while interviewing a woman about her experience with Inspire.
“She said that our treatment gave her her life,” Ross said.
Robinson said he regrets not going straight back to the Inspire clinic after learning that a cyst he discovered under his right ear this past March was cancerous.
Not thinking it was anything sinister, he attempted to relieve the growth by poking it with a pin. He realized in short order that it was the worst thing he could have done.
He remembers thinking, “uh-oh, this could be bad.”
The puncture triggered an infection that required antibiotics, and the cancerous cells determined to be causing the growth thrived on the infection.
A biopsy in June confirmed a malignant melanoma.
While surgery is the conventional protocol, Robinson opted against it.
“For what I had, it was fairly radical surgery. I would’ve lost my ear, half of my face…” he said, explaining that doctors would have removed not only the growth, but everything within two centimetres of it.
Nerve damage was also a possibility.
The decision was “a pure cost-benefit analysis,” Robinson said, noting he opted instead to focus on further lifestyle changes and medication options, and explore the role genetics plays in his situation (both of his brothers have had melanomas).
“The bright side is I can warn my kids,” he said, of testing that confirmed the genetic link to his cancer.
And despite his cancer’s rapidly expanding size, Robinson said Thursday that doctors are happy with his progress in regard to lifestyle and medication self-management.
Much has changed in the four years between his first diagnosis and today, Robinson said – both in his approach to life and living with cancer, and in the mainstream approach to what cancer is and how to treat it.
“The doctors take a very individual approach. They give you the information and they let you make a choice,” he said.
“They’re more willing to let a patient’s body and immune system see what it can handle.”
B.C. Cancer Agency spokesperson Angela Wilson confirmed doctors do not dictate a patient’s treatment plan, but they do advise if there are concerns with interactions between complementary and conventional therapies.
“It’s the patient’s life and future… it’s up to them,” she said.
Robinson said he’s learned that no matter what happens, self-management is critical. He has come to describe his cancer journey as “a project.” The main focus is to prevent it from spreading into other areas of his body.
He believes having it has had a positive impact on his approach to his work at city hall.
“I’m actually probably more efficient. I don’t get caught up in the drivel anymore,” he said.