Skin Cancer Survivor
Hope is Having Optimistic Possibilities Everyday
Jeff Studzinski is dedicated to helping others during their strongest of storms. His own journey, which began years before he was diagnosed with cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma, is fueled by the support of his family and medical team, his strong faith and a never-ending belief in the power of hope.
Cancer exposes every part of who you are, and you need a support system made up of as many people who love you as possible. I cannot imagine overcoming my serious health issues without my amazing family, friends, doctors and nurses.
My health challenges began in 2005, prior to ever having cancer. I was in a coma due to renal failure after many years of diabetes. Although my doctor and priest asked my family to say their goodbyes, I awoke. As I came out of the coma, I told everyone how God had placed it on my heart to help others. They joked that I was still woozy from the anesthesia, but for me, it was a miraculous moment that became my life’s mission.
I immediately started dialysis, and I tried to be a bright light for the 20+ dialysis patients that surrounded me. When they asked why I was so hopeful, I told them it was because I so badly wanted to live. I had a tremendous wife, three amazing children and I wanted to have the privilege of being a grandpa someday.
I was focused on becoming as physically, mentally and spiritually fit as possible, which helped make me a candidate for a kidney transplant two and half years later. My 21-year-old daughter, who was horrified at the thought of even giving blood, didn’t think twice about putting her life on the line for me when she turned out to be an almost perfect match.
The transplant was a success but required me to take immunosuppressants. As a result, my immune system only worked at about 50 percent. One of the known side effects of immunosuppressants can be cancer, but I kept the faith and kept going.
About eight years after the transplant, I noticed some raised areas on my scalp. My family doctor recommended I see an oncologist immediately. I wanted to find a specialist, and I found a top-notch doctor who diagnosed the areas as cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (CSCC). He did not like the looks of one bump in particular. It had grown far into the skin, and it had spread. He removed it with a Mohs surgical procedure and left me with 85 stitches in my scalp. I decided against reconstructive surgery.
To prevent and minimize the possibility of recurrence, I wear a protective ball cap and clothing, apply broad-spectrum sunscreen with a high sun protection factor often and stay in the shade. I avoid the peak sun periods in the day. I take a proactive approach on preventing further issues by seeing my dermatologist every 3 to 6 months. I highly recommend seeing your dermatologist early if you see or feel something unusual.
Less than a year later, I began experiencing pain in my back and my stomach. My family doctor ran tests and then had the unfortunate job of sharing the results. “You’re the most positive guy I know,” he began, “and I have to tell you some not-so-positive news.” To hear that I had Stage 4 non-Hodgkin lymphoma all through my body was not easy, but I was surrounded by my family, friends, doctors and nurses. We prayed and faced it head on.
Fortunately, the very aggressive combination drug therapy I took was successful, and I’m in remission. I see my doctor every 6 months and have blood work every 6 to 8 weeks.
I have so much gratitude for the support I’ve received, and I’ve found ways to give back, starting with my daughter. Every year, I write her a letter telling her all of the things I did that year, thanks to her. She frames them, and they are her legacy. Now she has a daughter, and these letters are proof that her mother is an angel on earth.
My son and I started a Facebook page for cancer survivors called Jeff Studzinski: Cancer Hope Coach. We noticed that many people, especially in impoverished countries, were yearning for hope. The site soon became more than I could handle. I contacted the Cancer Hope Network, and we became partners in this wonderful support effort. I have more than 15,000 followers. As “Coach Jeff” on Facebook, I share inspirational daily messages and helpful information such as a chart from my dermatologist showing skin cancer stages and graphics. I also invite anyone to email me at email@example.com for support and to receive my “10 Top Tips for Thriving through Cancer.”
As a Global Cancer Hope Coach and Hope Ambassador Volunteer, I am a guest speaker for Cancer Hope Network, Cancer Support Centers and other organizations. I emphasize the importance of helping others and living your best life through challenges, and I often share my experiences regarding CSCC, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and my kidney transplant.
I’m grateful I’ve had the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives all around the world. And, most importantly, I have six grandchildren and a mission to help others going through a similar journey.
Each day I live by this credo: “Live life with much passion, more purpose and abundant gratefulness, and you will experience a very blessed life.”