by Anna Idler
How strange it is that life-altering discoveries often come on such normal days. When Michael Becker noticed an odd lump on the right side of his neck two years ago, he had just finished some coffee, checked work emails from his home office, and was about to take a shower. Earlier that month he’d celebrated his 47th birthday and one-year anniversary at a new job; November of 2015 was shaping up to be a wonderful month for Becker and his family.
This discovery changed everything. Becker immediately knew something was wrong.
Just one month later after various tests, Becker was diagnosed with stage IV oropharyngeal (head and neck) cancer. To describe his experience, Becker started a detailed online blog called My Cancer Journey, almost from day one of his diagnosis. The blog helped him share updates with family and friends on his health as well as create awareness for the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is capable of causing cancers of the cervix, head and neck, anus, vagina, vulva, and penis. Every year in the United States, HPV causes 30,700 such cancers in men and women yet there are available vaccines to prevent the majority (about 28,000) of these cases from ever occurring.
Becker says writing a memoir on his experience was always in the back of his mind; finally, because of immense support and encouragement from his wife, Lorie, Becker decided to write A Walk With Purpose.
“For me, writing about some of the difficult discussions with my wife and daughters was challenging, as it was almost like reliving those moments,” Becker admits. “But I really wanted to portray my life as it happened, and not some Hollywood version where unsavory parts get wrapped neatly in a bow and tucked away.”
Having been the CEO of two companies that worked in the treatment of cancer, Michael Becker’s extensive knowledge of the biotechnology industry and the disease itself assisted him in his face-off with this diagnosis.
“Most of my biotechnology industry career focused on oncology, where I learned a lot about certain types of therapy such as radiation and chemotherapy,” Becker notes. When going through these types of treatments himself, it helped Becker to know what to expect in terms of side effects and overall quality of life afterward.
Becker said the process of writing the book was rewarding, but had its challenges. He began writing a year after his initial diagnosis, giving him some time to process what had been happening to him and allowing him to reflect on lessons he took away from the experience. He also knew his expertise in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology fields would add valuable facts in the book for his readers, as well as offer an in-depth, captivating look inside the industry itself.
“The more I saw interconnections between my career, knowledge of the cancer field, and the industry contacts that were critical to accessing the best medical care and treatments, the more energized I became about writing the book,” Becker explains.
Lorie was an unbelievable source of strength and positivity for Becker, through the book-writing and his cancer.
“If there is any hero in my story, it is my wife Lorie,” Becker told me. “As an eternal optimist, Lorie handled every medical setback with grace and was a constant source of positive reinforcement. I wouldn’t be here today without her.”
In December 2016, Michael Becker was told by doctors that his cancer had returned, and was given a year to live. Becker is currently receiving an investigational therapy at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Maryland that is very dissimilar from treatments he’s had in the past. The drug he is testing is, in his words, “a type of immunotherapy designed to trigger your body’s immune system to recognize and attack cancer.”
Michael notes that his quality of life is exceptional so far because of this experimental drug; he hasn’t had any run-ins with nausea or other uncomfortable side effects common with traditional cancer treatments. However, immunotherapies such as this one take time before they’re able to fully overpower the cancer. Thankfully, Becker’s new Golden Retriever puppy, Humphrey, has helped take his mind of off stresses.
“That’s where I am at right now,” Becker tells me, “anxiously awaiting signs that my body’s immune system is finally winning the tug-of-war with cancer.”
Anxiously awaiting. That’s what Becker thinks he is doing. But, as the writer of this article, getting to chronicle his incredible story, reading his book, and seeing his thoughtful and authentic answers to my questions, I would say Michael’s approach to this diagnosis has not been anything close to passive; it’s been proactive, hands-on, and brave.
Becker had noted his goal for his novel was to “strive to be someone who ‘walks with purpose.’” For him, that meant the following five ideas: “understanding and being who you are and embracing your individuality, having goals (not just ideas or thoughts) that constantly move you forward, accepting that change and growth are inseparable, learning to embrace change,” and finally, “giving your best to someone else and realizing our main purpose in life is to serve.”
Becker’s memoir allows others to see a raw, honest portrayal of his life these past two years, and is a gateway for readers to learn how to be someone who is adaptable and open, who is able to take an unexpected twist in their life and make it positive. For more information on Michael Becker, visit https://mdbcancerjourney.com and to order A Walk with Purpose, use the Amazon link here.