Cancer Patients, VHS ‘77 Grad Has A Book For You

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Cancer. For most of us, getting it once would be quite enough. Jim Tennermann, a 1977 graduate of Verona High School, has had cancer eight times in the last 30 years. Not eight reoccurrences, but eight different types of cancer, from atypical meningioma, to basal cell carcinoma, lung cancer, melanoma, peritoneal mesothelioma, pleural mesothelioma, prostate cancer and renal cell carcinoma. So Tennermann, who jokingly refers to himself as a “professional cancer patient,” decided to write a book about how he has dealt with it all to help others improve their quality of life as they go through treatment.

Practical Steps For Dealing With Cancer” is absolutely not a book about battling cancer. Tennermann hates the word battle, because it can have only two outcomes: winning or losing. He also hates the word cancer, with its immediately dark and dire connotations. “I want that word removed from the English language.” Tennermann says. “Words affect your behavior and your outcome.” In its place, he wants positivity, which he believes is very much possible.

A disease in the family

Tennermann’s commitment to living well despite cancer may have begun in 1967, when his father died of brain cancer at age 42. “It wasn’t a pleasant experience for anyone,” he says flatly. A grandfather had also died of a form of mesothelioma, which Tennermann says is not always caused by exposure to a carcinogenic like asbestos.

Tennermann was just 36 in 1995 and living in the Boston area when, after a stretch of intense headaches, he went to a hospital for a CT scan. “Don’t move,” blurted the technician doing the procedure. “There’s something really wrong with this image.” In short order, Tennermann found himself in the emergency room getting an MRI, and a diagnosis of brain cancer. His reaction was not at all positive. “From my room in Mass General I could see all these people walking around outside, and I thought, ‘why me?’ What about all those people out there?” With the support of his neurosurgeon and his “not-quite-wife,” Tennermann got through the surgery, pushed aside the self-pity and began the slow process of recovery. His brother, who was a big jazz buff, taught him to listen to and appreciate that music.

And, gradually, Tennermann got back on the bicycle of daily living–literally. He’s got road, mountain, and gravel bikes and he put them all to good use. He added a e-bike, as well.

Things went well until 2008, when Tennermann found himself facing cancer again, this time without his brother, who had died from liver cancer. Since then, it has been a steady drumbeat of different cancers, and a gradual realization that he had to make his own path and peace with the disease. “I can’t turn off self-pity forever,” Tennermann says, “But I just worked through it.”

Writing as recovery

And though Tennermann doesn’t consider himself to be a writer, he began to write down what he was feeling and how he was dealing with those feelings. The book grew and grew, until he stopped himself and pared it back. “Practical Steps For Dealing With Cancer” is now just 50 pages, written for the newly diagnosed and for people awaiting a diagnosis, to keep them feeling positive and hopeful. And anyone can download it from Tennermann’s website, for free. His goal is to have it widely downloaded and shared.

As Tennermann well knows, it’s easy to say “I’ve got to stop the self-pity,” and far harder to do it. He advocates a method he calls “pause and grok.” “It’s like pushing a reset button and it’s very simple,” he writes. “When you catch yourself in a negative story, pause, then use your five senses to experience your environment.” He believes that anyone who does will find something joyful to change their outlook.

Tennermann also advises cancer patients to do an inventory of the people in their lives, and think about both their relationship and what that relationship could be as you are going through cancer–putting yourself first in every step. For Tennermann, that meant putting his cancer updates in a private blog that friends and family could read because having the same health update conversation over and over again was draining. “Instead, we could talk about the fun or interesting stuff, just as we always had,” he writes.

Most of all, Tennermann wants cancer patients to keep living their lives. “Your cancer is a part of you and you may as well accept that,” he writes. “Fighting it is like fighting yourself. Instead, you can dodge it, embrace it, dance with it, swim with it, swear at it, laugh at it, and yes, you can fight it from time to time. Change your approach whenever you want to. Go with whatever feels best at any given time. In practice, have some ice cream. Get someone to read you a story. Get a massage. Go somewhere. Scratch a dog behind the ears.”

You can download “Practical Steps For Dealing With Cancer” from Tennermann’s website for free here.

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