Special Report: “It was the Best of Times; It was the Worst of Times.” It was 2011.

[Publisher’s Note: “Special Reports” are posted from time-to-time as a benefit for subscribers and frequent visitors to this blog. (This “Special Report” is a bit unusual because of its highly personal nature.) “Special Reports” are not widely promoted. To be notified of all new posts, including “Special Reports,” please take a moment to subscribe in the right-hand column.]

For me, 2011 started off fantastically. My book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing, which had been recently released by Wiley, saw sales doing quite well. Early in 2011, the book became the number one planned giving bestseller at Amazon. In March, the Association of Fundraising Professionals presented me with the AFP-Skystone Partners Prize for Research in Fundraising and Philanthropy for the work I did on my book. In July, CFRE International put my book on its official Resource Reading List.

Business was good. My family was good. My friends were good. I even began contemplating a new professional adventure.

Then, the second half of 2011 took a turn for the scary.

At the peak of the fright, every single muscle in my body literally ached. I was incapable of thinking about much else. I was dealing with cancer. Not mine, though. My wonderful wife of 25 years, Lisa, was diagnosed with Stage 1-C Ovarian Cancer.

For a number of years, Lisa had experienced a variety of health-related symptoms. Doctors brushed aside her concerns as “normal,” “typical,” or something that will “just go away.” As her symptoms became more severe, her quest for answers became more serious. When doctors wanted to simply address her symptoms, she insisted that they find the underlying cause. When they seemed unwilling or unable to do so, she found another doctor.

After getting less than satisfactory medical results from three gynecologists, a gastroenterologist, and an emergency room physician, she found yet another new gynecologist. The new doctor spent nearly 30 minutes with her prior to the examination. She talked with Lisa about her symptoms and concerns. She took a medical history. She listened. Following the exam that included an in-office ultrasound, the doctor ordered two tests that proved vital: an MRI and a CA-125 blood test.

The MRI results came in shortly after Thanksgiving. You didn’t need to be a radiologist to see the massive cyst. The doctor followed-up with Lisa, and met with her to discuss her options. Lisa then scheduled an appointment with one of the top gynecological oncologists in the country, based on the recommendation of her new gynecologist. While in his office, the CA-125 results came in. Things did not look good. He scheduled Lisa for surgery the following week.

The surgeon gave Lisa a 10 percent chance of the cyst being benign. Sadly, she was not that lucky. A hysterectomy was conducted.

Lisa is now recovering nicely from her surgery. Her normal toughness and good humor are serving her well. She is pretty much off of her pain killers. She’s walking a good amount and is getting out and about.

Lisa’s doctor says he was able to remove all visible signs of the cancer. But, her fight is not yet over. Shortly, Lisa will begin chemotherapy. The coming months will present a continuing challenge.

With Lisa’s permission, I’m sharing our story with you for three reasons:

First, some folks have noticed that I’ve been less engaged on Twitter and elsewhere. I’ve been more disorganized than usual. I’ve been less responsive than usual. Well, now you know why. I hope you will continue to be patient with me.

Second, we wanted to let every woman, in fact every person, know that you should trust your own instincts. You know your body better than anyone. If you go to a doctor with a problem and do not get a satisfactory response, fire the doctor and find another. If Lisa had listened to any of the early doctors, the cancer would have been allowed to grow. Her gynecological oncologist said that he sees relatively few cases of Stage 1 Ovarian Cancer. Usually, the cases are more advanced. Lisa’s case would have become more advanced if she had been a good little patient and simply listened to her doctors. Instead, her own persistence led her to a doctor that finally caught the problem while still in a relatively early stage. Her chances for survival are now vastly improved compared to what they would have been. So, we wanted to send a clear message that we all need to take charge of our health and, above all, listen to the messages our bodies are sending us. It could save your life. It likely saved Lisa’s.

Third, we want to publicly thank our friends and family for their love and support. This has been a physically and emotionally challenging time and it will continue to be so well into 2012. Our family and friends have made it easier in so many ways for us to cope.

While the road ahead will be difficult, I’m confident that Lisa’s journey will be successful. We hope that next year’s year-end headline will read “It was the Worst of Times; It was the Best of Times. It was 2012.”

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

41 Responses to “Special Report: “It was the Best of Times; It was the Worst of Times.” It was 2011.”

  1. Michael – I can’t imagine how difficult this journey must have been for you and Lisa, but I’m grateful that you’ve gotten to a place where you can be optimistic about the future. Thank you for sharing this story; a lot of folks use social media to share worthwhile philanthropic advice, but you share yourself…and I’m not the only one who appreciates it.

    Best wishes for a happy and healthy 2012!

    • Matthew, thank you for your kind words and good wishes. One of the reasons this has been especially difficult for Lisa and I is that we both process events in the same way. We gather vast amounts of information, study the situation, and examine all options. We often ask, “What if…?” We do an “if this, then that” analysis. Unfortunately for us, this is exactly the opposite way that oncologists work. They don’t want to overwhelm their patients. And, they don’t want go through the “what if” exercise, preferring instead to deal with the facts as they are encountered. So, this left Lisa and I to both deal with the situation in, what for us was, a new way. Now that we know more about what we’re dealing with, we’re able to cope a bit better. Thanks again for your thoughts.

  2. Michael,

    Best wishes for a healthy 2012 for Lisa. She sounds like a smart, tough girl. You and her will remain in my thoughts and prayers.

    • Nick, thank you for your warm thoughts. Lisa is indeed a smart, tough girl. Just eight hours after surgery ended, she was groggy from the anesthesia and morphine. But, she was chatty and joking with one of the nurses. The nurse looked at me and said she’s like this because of the drugs. I had to shake my head and say, “Uh, not really.” Through this entire process, Lisa has been herself. And, it’s served her well. Thanks again.

  3. My dear friend Michael, you and Lisa are in my prayers. I know how tough chemo is personally. I self-inject once a week to control my rheumatoid arthritis. I’m always here if you need to talk.

    • Parthenia, thank you for keeping Lisa and I in your prayers. We appreciate it. I’m sorry to hear what you have to go through with your rheumatoid arthritis. I’m curious, have you tried an anti-inflamatory diet? I just started reading The Inflamation Free Diet Plan. While we have a reasonably healthy diet, we think we can do better. A number of good sources have recommended an anti-inflamation diet for general good health and to fight disease, including cancer.

  4. Michael, thank you for your openness. If Lisa is comfortable sharing, what were her symptoms? Thank you for prioritizing Lisa, and for demonstrating the values of putting her first. Best wishes for a less stressful, and healthy, 2012.

    • Judy, Lisa and I appreciate your kind thoughts. While Lisa would prefer to keep the specifics of her medical situation private, I can share with you some information from the National Cancer Institute regarding Ovarian Cancer:

      “Early Ovarian Cancer may not cause obvious symptoms. But, as the cancer grows, symptoms may include: Pressure or pain in the abdomen, pelvis, back, or legs; A swollen or bloated abdomen; Nausea, indigestion, gas, constipation, or diarrhea; and Feeling very tired all the time. Less common symptoms include: Shortness of breath; Feeling the need to urinate often; Unusual vaginal bleeding (heavy periods, or bleeding after menopause).”

      While the above symptoms can indicate the presence of Ovarian Cancer, they are not necessarily direct evidence of such a cancer. Ovarian Cancer is relatively rare. According to the NCI, only 22,000 new cases were diagnosed in 2011. Ovarian Cancer is a disease that will impact only 1.4 percent of women in their lifetime. The rarity of Ovarian Cancer may explain why doctors so frequently choose to ignore the symptoms or attribute the symptoms to other conditions. However, when a patient presents at least some of the symptoms on the list, a simple CA-125 blood test, while not conclusive by itself, can certainly indicate the need for more testing. The challenge for patients is to compel doctors to look beyond the symptoms themselves for an actual cause.

      Here’s a terrific source of information about Ovarian Cancer from the NCI: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/ovary. (WordPress is being a tad problematic today. The link might not be live. But, you can cut and paste it into your browser to get to the website.)

  5. Michael,

    Thank you, and thanks especially to Lisa, for sharing this painful story in your blog. Lisa certainly has the qualities it takes to make the best of this terrible situation (including a supportive partner), and to navigate a maddening health care system that has never come close to fulfilling its promise to empower patients Like the best fundraisers, the best physicians are extraordinary listeners — and are extraordinarily rare. I’m glad Lisa found one of the rare ones.

    Lesli and I wish you and Lisa love and improved health and occasional breaks from the craziness during this difficult time.


    • Rick, Lisa and I both appreciate the good wishes from Lesli and you. Lisa has been doing some interesting research on the web about Ovarian Cancer. The medical sites generally say that the symptoms of Ovarian Cancer are nonspecific, if there are any symptoms at all. However, the Ovarian Cancer survivor blog sites reveal that there are, in fact, symptoms. The problem is that doctors fairly routinely either ignore the symptoms entirely or simply try to treat the symptoms without looking for their cause. In other words, it’s something of a myth, perpetuated by the medical community, that Ovarian Cancer is the “invisible cancer.” In my reply to Judy Anderson, I share information about the symptoms of Ovarian Cancer. Sadly, Ovarian Cancer has a fairly high mortality rate. But, that is only because it is often caught late. When discovered at Stage 1, survival rates are quite excellent. That’s why Lisa and I want to encourage folks to be advocates for their own health and to press for discovering causes rather than simply eradicating the warning symptoms.

  6. Michael — You are truly Lisa’s soul mate and all the best as together you travel your journey into 2012.

  7. Dear Michael,

    I just came across your blog/story through our Linked In connection. As someone who is very involved with fundraising for breast cancer (Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition) as a volunteer, I am deeply touched and grateful for your sharing this story about your dear wife, Lisa. Her strength and your support will surely carry her through this difficult time and she will be a great advocate for others who need to take ownership of their own health. You are so right about insisting and persevering when you know something isn’t right with your body. My sister and I lost our mother to breast cancer several years ago and if the lump were found sooner she would be here today. Thank you for sharing this personal journey. My thoughts and prayers are with Lisa.

    • Carol, thank you very much for writing to us and for keeping Lisa in your thoughts and prayers. I’m sorry to hear about the loss of your mother. Early detection is definitely the key to successfully fighting most cancers. It’s not a guarantee of success, of course, but it certainly improves the odds.

  8. Good friends make things easier in times like these and know you have plenty of them out there cheering on Lisa’s speedy recovery. We are all praying and thinking of Lisa and you this new years.

    I also wanted to thank you for this blog post and for making the impersonal world of social media real and very personal for your followers and fans. I enjoy our interactions and late night Tweet rants very much. I can tell you’re a man of character and look forward to the day we finally meet in person.

    God bless my friend,


    • Ian, thank you for your kind thoughts and for keeping Lisa in your prayers. Also, thank you for referring to me as “a man of character” rather than just as “a character.” 🙂 Social Media has been something of a surprise for me. I thought I knew what to expect from it. But, one thing I did not expect was to be able to form real friendships. Thank you for being one of the pleasant surprises. I, too, look forward to the day we can meet in person.

  9. Michael, thank you so much for sharing Lisa’s experience. Your message to trust your instincts and find a doctor who will work with you is so important. I know that by sharing Lisa’s experience you will make a difference for others. You are both in my thoughts and prayers.

  10. Michael – I was so stunned when I read your post that I didn’t know what to say (or write). Of course I wish you both the best of 2012 and a full and very speedy recovery for Lisa. I’m glad to hear she’s in early stage because this cancer has a great cure success rate when caught early.

    I’m also glad you’re both doing all the research you can and questioning everything. There’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all when it comes to these things.

    You know I’ve always been a fan of yours but I can’t tell you how much I admire you and Lisa for your generosity and bravery in sharing what’s happening in your lives. Thank you.

    Best of all, it’s great to know you’re researching and questioning and challenging doctors and getting second opinions and so much more. This is survival mode best practices! I know from personal experience that being involved in the treatment is empowering (and yelling at doctors can be fun).

    It may be difficult times ahead for you both…Lisa going through chemo and you watching its toll on her but then it will be over and I pray you will both happily grow very, very old together.

    • Lorri, thank you for your kind words, thoughts, and prayers. They mean a lot to us. I’m sorry to learn that you’ve had her own experience with “survival mode.” It’s no fun. But, we will be looking for ways to celebrate once we get through this. That will be fun!

  11. Michael–I add my thanks to so many others for your story–and Lisa’s. My wife of 33 years was diagnosed with breast cancer in June and we, too, have had a fall not unlike yours. Multiple doctors–and I can’t emphasize enough how muvh I agree with your advice to take charge of one’s own body and not be satisfied with the first diagnosis. Four operations and three months of chemo later–2012 looks to be a better year, I hope, for us and you–and for so many others. Thoughts, prayers, and all good wishes to you–I truly hope this will be a very happy new year. Bruce

    • Bruce, thank you for your thoughts and prayers. And, thank you for sharing your own story about your wife. Sadly, you do know all too well about the physical and emotional challenges involved with a battle against cancer. Continue to be strong. Lisa and I will keep you and your wife in our thoughts and prayers. May 2012 be a bright, wonderful, healthy year of us all!

  12. Thank you for sharing your story. I am sending healing thoughts your way and hope that Lisa’s treatment will be as painless as possible. Glad that she has a good team now. Peace, Melissa.

    • Melissa, thank you for thoughtful comment. Lisa and I appreciate your kindness. Lisa is improving daily. But, once the chemo starts, I suspect it will be something more like two steps forward, one step back. Or, perhaps, a better metaphor might be a rollercoaster, though without any of the fun.

  13. Michael – all the best on the road ahead. We lost my mother’s sister and a close family friend this year to Ovarian Cancer. Awareness is a big part of the battle. It was important for you to write about this. There is a lot of good research going on out there and I am sure you and your wife will be pro-active in her road to becoming cancer free.

  14. what a story! Sending prayers your way and I hope 2012 proves to be fruitful!
    best of luck, Andy

  15. Michael: Thanks so much for sharing, knowing Lisa, she will come out of this even stronger! We all will certianly understand if you are distracted, don’t worry about that. If there is anything I can do let me know. Do you know Suzi Garber at The Patient Project? This sounds like a story she would identify with and would like to hear.

  16. Michael,

    Thank you for sharing Lisa’s story. It is a lesson on how we must be our own health advocates. You are very fortunate to have caught this cancer early. Other women I have known who have had this cancer have not been nearly as fortunate. They listened to their doctors for too long. I am glad that Lisa didn’t.

    You and Lisa are on my prayer list. I hope that her chemo treatment will be effective on the cancer and easy on her body.

    You and she are a good pair – she is lucky to have you as her partner and soulmate and you are lucky to have someone who is as persistent and tenacious as she is.

    I hope to see you both soon. Laughing and enjoying life as you have on all the other occasions we have been together.

    I’d also like to say that it is really cool having a best selling author who is recognized as an influential thinker by so many leading organizations as a friend. Congratulations on your professional success! You deserve all the accolades you have received.

    Warm wishes for a healthy(ier) 2012.

  17. Michael,

    Hearbreaking news. Even for us readers, it is just as difficult to swallow. My sister was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer several years ago, so I understand the roller coaster you and Lisa are riding right now. The good news is that my sister is a survivor, the bad news is that journey to getting that news is emotionally exhausting. So I’m thinking of you and praying for Lisa. I’m so glad that you are her biggest supporter. She couldn’t have a better partner to help her through this.


  18. Ovarian growths typically appear in certainly one of a few types. Allow me to share the actual explanations, varieties of diagnosis, and also therapy for each and every.Ovarian Cyst Symptoms

    • OLewis40, thank you for sharing a link to your website. While your site contains links to a variety of information sources, I do not necessarily endorse it. Instead, I’m sharing the link with my readers so that they can explore your website and draw their own conclusions.

  19. Michael and Lisa, thanks for sharing your story and I wish you both the best in the difficult months to come. Warm regards, Harvey

    • Harvey, Lisa and I appreciate your good wishes. Round One of chemo started yesterday. So far, so good. We’re looking at at least three rounds spaced three weeks apart. The journey will be a challenge, but we’re very optimistic about the outcome.


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