What Happened This Week When They Found A Tumor In My Throat

Cigarbeer“Yip- it looks like a cancer,” the specialist sighed, pointing to the video picture of the tumor growing out of my vocal chords. “Treatable?” I asked, petrified. “Oh yes,” he replied. “But not necessarily curable.” This was last Monday. So began the worst week of my life. Here’s what happened next.

My voice had been getting increasingly hoarse for months. “Acid reflux caused by increasing size of your gut,” the GP had counseled. Then I struggled swallowing; could only speak in a whisper. So to the specialist I went last Monday. He had the bedside manner of a cobra, found a tumor, speculated cancer, gave zero reassurance.

“I’ll remove it surgically if I can on Wednesday. Then pathology. If cancer, which it probably is, come to the hospital next Tuesday and we’ll advise treatment. If it’s early stage cancer, then likely more surgery and radiation. If spread, then chemotherapy too and a 50/50 survival chance. If spread a lot, then not much we can do.” And that was it. I walked out into the sunlight devastated. So began the five worst days of my life… days underpinned by one terrible thing:


Was I ok? Did I have cancer? If throat cancer, at what stage? What would happen to me next? What were my chances of survival? How quickly would I die if it had gone too far? I know a cancer diagnosis is not always a death sentence, but it’s hard not to think the worst.

Not knowing was the most debilitating, awful, soul destroying curse. If you have certainty, you can handle it. But I needed to wait five days for that.

My Reaction To Potential Throat Cancer- And Potentially, Death

  1. I had no fear about my potential demise. None whatsoever. Not yet.
  2. My over-riding focus was on my children: how to help them cope with the loss of me.
  3. I immediately threw myself into preparing a well-documented, clear financial plan and process for my family- knowing they would be ‘ok’ and getting things sorted would be easy for them gave me great comfort.
  4. I worried deeply about my Mother- how to tell her.
  5. I kept really, really busy: threw myself into work; at night, wrote 12 Possums posts!

My Realisations As I Waited

  1. An intense and overwhelming sense of gratefulness for the life I have had- it has been a great life. To die now would be premature, but ok for me (not for my darling family).
  2. A stark realization that I am a loved person- my family, colleagues, the few friends that knew of our crisis- their response was just amazing- particularly the  incredible strength of my wife this past week. I am so grateful to be loved.
  3. I work too hard and put too much emphasis into my job and career. I should have balanced that. I should have enjoyed the spoils more. I have foolishly taken the future for granted.
  4. I am a selfish prick- allowing habits of over-eating, smoking and drinking (though I eat perfectly well at home and am surrounded by sound and constant counsel on my health- I just ignore it).
  5. I would have let my family down badly. They need me more than I need me. I failed them. The guilt was overwhelming. “I am so sorry, so sorry,” I kept sobbing to myself.

The Surgery

Two hours under the knife on Wednesday last week. He was concerned that if the tumor was too tightly lodged around the vocal chords, he’d only be able to take samples. “Need to know if it is a cancer first in that case, to inform how much we need to cut out of the vocal chords.” All went well. Tumor totally removed except for submerged ‘stalk.’  “It’s 50/50 a cancer,” the specialist told us afterwards. “90% of the tumors I remove from that spot are cancer, but this does not quite look like one.”

The Pathology Results

2pm Friday afternoon the call came in. “Benign polyp- all clear. I’m surprised. I was sure it was cancer.”

What Happened Next

I told my wife. We hugged long and hard. We rang our children. They cried. I emailed my colleagues. They cheered. I went home.

On my kitchen table that morning I had left two folders (photo below). Each represented a very different future. The first, all the details of an exciting trip in a few weeks to Provence to the wedding of the son of great friends. The second, a folder entitled “Me”, in which were all my worst case scenario plans, from ‘Fighting It’, to final wishes, to books I would buy and leave to give with an individual annual birthday note for each of my children until they turned 21.

I packed away the ‘Me’ folder in a bottom drawer. Opened the ‘Provence’ folder. I had my future back. Certainty.  It had been 50/50. This time it had come out my way. And now the question is: how will I use this to change my path? Will I use it fully? Will this actually have been the very best week I could have had? I am determined for that to be the case.

Why Am I Telling You All This?

As I am coming to terms with the reality check this week has brought me, I guess I am saying to you: STOP…THINK…REVIEW…. ASSESS…. Don’t take the future for granted. Are you leading the right life for you?

Two different folders: two very different futures




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83 Responses to What Happened This Week When They Found A Tumor In My Throat

  1. Katherine Murphy September 19, 2012 at 10:05 am #

    Such great news after what can only be called a week of hell. Here’s to wishing you good health and fun times ahead. PS. Today I will Stop Think Review and Assess.

    • Chris Savage September 19, 2012 at 11:31 am #

      Thanks Katherine. Good luck with the ‘life’ review! Chris

  2. Adrianne September 19, 2012 at 10:16 am #

    Hi Chris.
    First and foremost – congratulations on not just your results but also for the way you approached the week that was from start to finish. I’m glad you’ll be around for a long time yet to share your thoughts and wisdom with us.
    I have also had a similar but very different period of time. My 19 year old nephew in Canada died suddenly a little over 3 weeks ago and as a result have re-established my priorities (family first and foremost, my own health and happiness second) and taken stock of the future. I have realised every day is a gift and what you make of it is up to you. I have realised the power of laughter and the amazing strength and support of my family. I have also written about it in my own blog. Enjoy Provence like I will now enjoy each and every day.

    • Chris Savage September 19, 2012 at 11:32 am #

      Thanks Adrianne- I am so sorry to hear about your nephew. As you have clearly done, you have taken a real message from it and have reset your own course. Good luck with it. Chris

  3. Suzanne September 19, 2012 at 10:18 am #

    Such great news and thanks for the reminder, everyone needs this reminder every day (not what you had to go through to get it!). Getting on a plane myself in a few hours for a trip we work towards every year – why work so hard when you can’t enjoy it? Amuse toi en France and I’ll have a Guiness for you in Ireland! Suzanne

    • Chris Savage September 19, 2012 at 11:32 am #

      Thanks Suzanne- have a great break! Chris

  4. Andrew Peacock September 19, 2012 at 10:29 am #

    Thank God your in clear. Thanks for posting such an honest account of an event no one could ever prepare for.

    Amazing how matter of fact doctors can be about such huge revelations, but I guess it’s their job.

    • Chris Savage September 19, 2012 at 11:33 am #

      Thanks Andrew. Yes- the life of a specialist must be terrible. They could do with help though on bedside manner and breaking bad news. Maybe they don’t ever get taught this stuff. Chris

  5. Susan Redden Makatoa September 19, 2012 at 10:33 am #

    Holy dooley Chris – what a shocker for you all! Glad the outcome was such a positive one.

    Thanks also for a searingly honest post. And for the nudge.

    • Chris Savage September 19, 2012 at 11:33 am #

      Thanks Susan- appreciated! Chris

  6. Jason Davey September 19, 2012 at 10:37 am #

    Hi Chris, great news on the outcome!

    I heard a similar story yesterday that had an amusing twist. A friend of mine had a male colleague who was nasty, rude and did not respect her as a boss because she was a woman. They worked together for years and ended up not really talking to each other.

    Then one day the rude guy was diagnosed with cancer.

    He suddenly became ‘nice’, but also went around confessing all his sins to everyone he had ever done wrong to. This included telling his wife about weekly visits to a brothel! (amongst many other vices)

    His wife and children left him in disgust.

    Then he got the call. The cancer was benign.


    • Chris Savage September 19, 2012 at 11:34 am #

      Ha! That made me laugh Jason! Luckily I did not go that far in my revelations! Chris

  7. Susan Andrews September 19, 2012 at 10:46 am #

    Dear Chris,

    Your communique are invariably compelling but none as poignant as ‘this week that was’.

    Thank you for sharing. Point heard. And thank God Provence prevailed.


    • Chris Savage September 19, 2012 at 11:34 am #

      Thanks Susan. Appreciated. Glad it was helpful. Chris

  8. David Appleton September 19, 2012 at 10:52 am #

    Wonderful news Chris, by sharing your story you will enable many to experience the “STOP…THINK…REVIEW…. ASSESS….” moment without having to go through the devastation you experienced this week, thank you

    • Chris Savage September 19, 2012 at 11:35 am #

      Thanks David- sorry to miss you in Singapore this week! Chris

  9. Garry September 19, 2012 at 10:59 am #

    Mate, thank goodness it was a good result.

    • Chris Savage September 19, 2012 at 11:35 am #

      Thanks Garry- appreciated! Chris

  10. azura September 19, 2012 at 11:05 am #

    Celebrate life with your love ones.. I have stopped thinking and reviewing about anything after I lost many things … but now I realize the things that I claim loosing was never mine in the first place…nothing is permanent.. but good memories are great treasure!
    And I am spending my life creating good memories with my love ones, strangers, animals, nature and anything…that comes my way.

    Congratulations on the self actualization experience.

    • Chris Savage September 19, 2012 at 11:36 am #

      Well said Azura!

  11. Martine L'Eveille September 19, 2012 at 11:20 am #

    I felt compelled to comment… my first one!

    You don’t need me to tell you just how much of a scare you gave us all last week…and needless to say I can relate having flirted with death myself back in March. I remember being wheeled into emergency surgery (after having come out of theatre 4 hours prior) and thinking that I may just not make it. Little did I know there was 50/50 chance of survial from the complication I had earlier. I was sad, scared and yet at peace. In a way we are lucky to have been given a ‘wake-up’ call. A second chance. Now it’s about putting your life into perspective, prioritising, making changes, and assessing. After a year of such news in my family I am still working on making those important changes both physically, at work and emotionally.I now know what I’m dealing with health wise and it can be managed, and it’s not life threatening. Some are not so fortunate.

    Good luck with the next exciting phase of your life journey – you are a much loved man!
    Martine xxx

  12. Tony Spencer-Smith September 19, 2012 at 11:27 am #

    Thanks Chris for sharing your experience so honestly and openly – and what happy news. The good side of it is that from now on your days will dawn more vividly, precisely because you are no longer taking life for granted as most of us do.

    There is one other lesson to be extracted from your brush with modern medicine – the importance of a sensitive and articulate relationship with clients. Your cobra of a specialist might be well up on the latest medical knowledge and techniques, but he screwed up the communication side of his work completely. And in a doctor, that sort of thing can be fatal to the patient.

    Best wishes

    • Chris Savage September 19, 2012 at 11:38 am #

      Thanks Tony- agree entirely! Chris

  13. Kate Triggs September 19, 2012 at 12:00 pm #

    It takes a beautiful person to give of yourself / share the way you do. I’m glad you’ll be there to share more. I hope it feels like a Year in Provence
    Take care

    • Chris Savage September 19, 2012 at 12:39 pm #

      Thanks Kate- appreciated!

  14. Phil Whitehouse September 19, 2012 at 12:05 pm #

    Thanks for sharing Chris. Not at all what I expected when I saw the unread count of (1) pop up in my RSS feed reader! Appreciate you sharing your story, and relieved that your news was good. Always good to have a reminder of what’s important.

    • Chris Savage September 19, 2012 at 12:39 pm #

      Thanks Phil- enjoy Jakarta! And Bali!!

  15. Nick Ogden September 19, 2012 at 12:30 pm #

    I could have written much the same about myself. 49, married with 2 kids, living a charmed life in Singapore. I had the same sort of wait when I was diagnosed with colon cancer. I am 1.5 years on, waiting for a further 3.5 years for the ‘all clear’

    When I was waiting for my results, my overwhelming consideration was my family. I got out all my financial files, and checked up that all my policies are up to date etc. I did not have any fear of death – I have had a very full life, and my view was ‘heyho its just tough shit’.

    And I realised how much family and friends mean. And I also thought about what I would be remembered for. Oh yes, Nick was a pisshead idiot and a lot of fun. But there is much much more to life.

    So 1.5 years on, I am figuring out what that is. Firstly, I am trying out new business ventures away from real estate, which is what I have always done. And I love the challenge.

    Secondly, I am paying much more attention to others. And when I make the next chunk of money, its not for bigger seats at the front of the plane. Fuck that. It will be used constructively….


    • Chris Savage September 19, 2012 at 12:40 pm #

      Thanks Nick- powerful story. Thank you. Chris

  16. Marion McDonald September 19, 2012 at 12:59 pm #

    But what happens to your sexy voice? I love your hoarse and direct tone of voice, Chris. Hope you don’t lose it entirely. It’s part of your trademark appeal.

    By the way, I had just re-watched your powerful delivery of Winning Way in preparation for an Ogilvy pitching workshop I lead earlier this week in Hong Kong. I was thinking of this as I read your very honest posting. Thankyou for sharing this experience. I’m so glad to know of a positive outcome in many ways for you and your family.

    When we worked in Shanghai 6 years ago, my partner Camilla was told she had pre-cancerous nodules on her vocal chords – by a doctor who clearly did the same bedside manner course as yours. We flew to Australia for a second opinion from an expert ENT. Luckily the Shanghai doctor was totally wrong and hadn’t used the right equipment to diagnose. Speculative diagnosis is equally dangerous from a doctor and a communications agency!

    I wish you a speedy recovery.

    • Chris Savage September 19, 2012 at 1:29 pm #

      Thanks Marion!

  17. Dayle O'Brien September 19, 2012 at 1:19 pm #

    Hi Chris,
    Firstly. what a blessing you are OK.
    Secondly. what a blessing you got away with a hefty kick up the arse….. 🙂
    No more cigars?
    Will look forward to all those posts you got to write last week!

    • Chris Savage September 19, 2012 at 4:00 pm #

      Thanks Dayle!

  18. David Trewern September 19, 2012 at 1:28 pm #

    Chris… Hooray! And a very powerful story. Very good of you to break it down and share so eloquently so others can benefit.

    • Chris Savage September 19, 2012 at 4:01 pm #

      Thanks David- I have been inundated with emails today from readers who say they will take stock and try to change aspects of their life as a result. I hope it does make a difference. It is for me. Chris

  19. Marcella September 19, 2012 at 1:37 pm #

    Great article Chris and a great outcome for you and your family. Enjoy the next stage of your life!

    • Chris Savage September 19, 2012 at 4:01 pm #

      Thanks Marcella!!

  20. Bruce September 19, 2012 at 1:48 pm #

    Chris we need your wisdom on this planet for good few years yet.
    Take care…Great news. Bruce x
    Plus Mike C was looking a bit lost the other day without you by his side.

    • Chris Savage September 19, 2012 at 4:02 pm #

      Thanks Bruce! He was not as lost as I was being stuck here and not in Singapore to help kick off the next phase of STW’s Asia growth!

  21. Donna September 19, 2012 at 2:13 pm #

    Chris – this is my first time visiting Wrestling Possums. I subscribe to Greg’s blog, which is how I ended up here. I’m also generally more of a reader than a commenter (my sarcastic, swears-like-a-sailor nature can be misconstrued :D). Congratulations on the all-clear, you’re one of the lucky ones. And good on you for getting the kick up the arse and doing something to change things. Too many people would wipe the sweat of their brow and go back to doing exactly what they’d been doing before, if not feeling slightly more invincible. I love that you’re reevaluated and decided what’s really important – enjoy your second chance, after that week of hell you deserve it.

    I’m not quite thirty, so I am definitely guilty of taking my health for granted sometimes, and thinking I can eat/drink/smoke what I want, and worry about it later. But sometimes later is too late, and the damage is done. Nobody looks back from their deathbed and says “I wish I’d worked harder” or “I wish I’d spent more time in the office” or “I wish I’d had more wine and cigarettes”.

    I’m going to go home this evening, and for once am not taking any work home with me. I’m going to ignore the laundry that needs doing. I won’t stress about fifty things that I can’t control. I will not have half a bottle of red wine and ten cigarettes after dinner. I won’t roll my eyes when one of my siblings inevitably rings to vent about some imagined slight from another of our siblings. I will kiss my partner extra long and be immensely thankful that I can. I will be grateful, to have all of these things, even if they drive me mad half the time. I will be grateful to be alive, because not everyone is so lucky.

    So, thank you. From me, and no doubt my other half 🙂

    • Chris Savage September 19, 2012 at 4:02 pm #

      Thanks Donna. Good luck with it! I like all you have write…except…I’ll probably still have the half bottle of red. That would be a big reduction from my normal bottle and half, so – progress! Chris

  22. Jen Gottlieb September 19, 2012 at 2:24 pm #

    Hi Chris
    So relieved you are well. Have a wonderful holiday. Love Jen xx

    • Chris Savage September 19, 2012 at 4:03 pm #

      Thanks Jen!!

  23. Leonie Hill September 19, 2012 at 3:07 pm #

    Chris – that’s awesome news for you and for your family. Thanks for sharing that with us.


    • Chris Savage September 19, 2012 at 4:09 pm #


  24. Anna C September 19, 2012 at 4:36 pm #

    Wow, thank goodness Chris. What a scare, so pleased you are ok. Get back on that beetroot juice.

    Enjoy your trip.

    Anna x

    • Chris Savage September 19, 2012 at 6:04 pm #

      Anna- laced with vodka, yes!

  25. Hannah Savage September 19, 2012 at 5:41 pm #

    Love you Chris! So relieved you are okay. Not having you as part of our family would be a huge, huge loss. xx

    • Chris Savage September 19, 2012 at 8:28 pm #

      Thanks Hannah!!

  26. Aimee Bateman September 19, 2012 at 7:07 pm #

    Wow Chris! Thanks for sharing this with us all. I’m so pleased for you and your family.

    • Chris Savage September 19, 2012 at 8:28 pm #

      Thanks Aimee- appreciated…Chris

  27. Kate September 19, 2012 at 7:18 pm #

    Your best post yet, Chris. So glad to hear the outcome was so positive – both from a health point of view and work/life/future balance point of view.

    I’ve heard a few stories like this from various friends and it never fails to make really consider what I’m doing right now.

    Cheers (and here’s to your good health!).

    x Kate

    • Chris Savage September 19, 2012 at 8:28 pm #

      Thanks Kate- appreciated!!

  28. Mark leahy September 19, 2012 at 9:51 pm #

    Thanks for sharing your story. Best of luck living the life you and your family deserve

    • Chris Savage September 20, 2012 at 10:14 am #

      Thanks Mark!!

  29. Andrew Parker September 19, 2012 at 10:11 pm #

    ok ok, I will do the upgrade… am very very glad it was the right folder. Have a wonderful trip matey

    • Chris Savage September 20, 2012 at 10:14 am #

      Excellent. My cunning plot worked. The very pointy end I presume. Savage

  30. Samantha Allen September 19, 2012 at 10:18 pm #

    The wonderful Martine had given me the heads up on this utterly heart-stopping news – I stared at her email for who knows how long – how could this story be true? Even though I knew the outcome was a happy one, the shock of your week’s journey was unbelievable. I have had many people tell me that the story was on your blog today – and i’ve avoided it quite deliberately until I had a quiet moment this evening to read it, and assure myself it was indeed the right ending. What a week, and how well you’ve told it Chris. Thank you for sharing it with such raw honesty. Now, enjoy your new found appetite for life’s memorable moments – not just work ones, as winning as they may be. xx

    • Chris Savage September 20, 2012 at 10:14 am #

      Thanks Samantha. Appreciated. Onwards!

  31. Katie Curran September 19, 2012 at 10:39 pm #

    wow, Chris. So, so happy that you’re OK. What an awful week to have endured. Love your honesty and sharing this story. On to Provence! xx

    • Chris Savage September 20, 2012 at 10:13 am #

      Thanks Katie!

  32. Paula Gaber McNulty September 20, 2012 at 7:35 am #

    Whew! For once I wished your writing style was not so good. The intended suspense was killing me (perhaps not an apt choice of words!)to find out your results. Glad it was a happy ending this time!

    • Chris Savage September 20, 2012 at 10:17 am #

      Thanks Paula. Great to hear from you!

  33. Karen Lance September 20, 2012 at 1:48 pm #

    I only just heard you speak in Fiji at the RCSA conference – and as a consequence of such a great inspiring “talk” I’ve signed on to your blogg. My PA sent this to me this morning – I’m so glad the results are positive and that you’ve managed to put your experience into a heartfelt and honest blog. It certainly hit home with me – I’ll share it with the rest of the office. We all need a wake up call. Thank you for sharing and all the best!

    • Chris Savage September 21, 2012 at 9:53 am #

      Thanks Karen- appreciated the feedback and thanks for sharing it with others. Chris

  34. Brian September 20, 2012 at 8:12 pm #

    Hey Chris, good news indeed and as you now know don’t take it for granted.
    My wife was diagnosed with a bone cancer ( no known cure) in July 1996 and given 18 months.
    Two lots of chemo, and an amazing will to live and fight and she is still here and enjoying pretty good lifestyle.
    After trying all sorts of things we have gone through the last 16 years with the mantra every day is a winner.
    Message here is don’t treat life lightly.
    Thanks for sharing and let’s all pray it stays away.
    Enjoy every moment you just never know when it will be taken away.

    • Chris Savage September 20, 2012 at 8:30 pm #

      Wow Brian- that is an amazing story. Thanks for sharing it. Chris

  35. Matthew Gain September 20, 2012 at 9:34 pm #

    Fark! What a scare. Thank god it is the news it is.

  36. Neil Bolton September 21, 2012 at 9:35 am #


    You do a very good speech, you do a very moving blog.

    Thanks for sharing Caris.


    • Chris Savage September 21, 2012 at 9:53 am #

      Thanks Neil!!

  37. elizabeth September 21, 2012 at 11:40 am #

    very generous of you to share such intimate moments of your lift – courageous indeed

    • Chris Savage September 21, 2012 at 12:01 pm #

      Thanks Elizabeth!

  38. Mark Dorney September 21, 2012 at 12:29 pm #

    Chris, Sandra and I are very grateful that you Katrina and the kids dodged a bullet – thank god it was benign. Mark

  39. Richard September 21, 2012 at 6:55 pm #

    Thanks for sharing Chris. Love you. Richard

    • Chris Savage September 24, 2012 at 12:52 pm #

      Thanks Richard!

  40. brett howlett October 3, 2012 at 11:57 am #

    chris, so sorry you went through this. and so glad the outcome was not only positive, but something you shared so that we can all take it into our hearts and lives. very brave words. thank you.

    • Chris Savage October 5, 2012 at 1:13 pm #

      Thanks Brett- appreciated! Chris

  41. debra spykerman October 24, 2012 at 3:02 pm #

    Dear Chris

    Oh my goodness – i’m so thankful that everything turned out ok. The waiting and not knowing must have been agonising.

    thank you for sharing this with us – it does make one really look at life and take stock.


  42. Camille February 27, 2013 at 12:22 pm #

    I went through a very similar situation last year with my Thyroid. Perhaps it was the Project Manager in me, but when the specialist was short and sharp with NO helpful advice to allow me to decide whether to opt in or out of surgery I asked him “If I take the surgery option will you provide a Warranty?”
    That made him stop and laugh. He had never been asked that in 20 years of practice. I get asked that everyday.
    We chatted more each time I visited and I kept bugging him to improved his bedside manner.
    Pleased to report surgery went well, Doc promised to be more chatty with patients and life is good.

    • Chris Savage February 27, 2013 at 2:23 pm #

      Thanks so much Camille for this story. I am so glad it worked out for you!

  43. Shauna-Marie Wilson April 22, 2015 at 2:44 pm #

    Frightening stuff I’m sure it was brutally humbling. Keep well.


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