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This article was published 13/3/2015 (2502 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Dennis Maione has battled cancer twice and lived to tell the tale. Just don’t call him a "cancer survivor."
"I shy away from the label ‘cancer survivor,’ as though that somehow defines me or is the most important thing in my life," Maione told The Herald from his "office" at a North Kildonan Starbucks. "I had it, I don’t have it, I might get it again. But that’s not who I am."
Maione had his first bout with cancer in 1992, when he was a 27-year-old student living in Regina.
"I started experiencing rectal bleeding when I went to the bathroom," he said. "But, like a good, self-sufficient man, I ignored it for about six months. I thought it would go away."
But it didn’t. Finally, Maione’s wife convinced him to go to a walk-in clinic. After a series of tests, a mass was found in his large intestine. One doctor recommended "a lot of nasty things, including colostomy," so Maione sought a second opinion from a surgeon in Saskatoon. At the end of the day, Maione explained, "it was an early stage tumour, so surgery was enough to fix the problem."
Fast forward 15 years, Maione and his wife were in Winnipeg when he started feeling a "weird pain" in his side. This time went to see a doctor right away.
"Doctor said, ‘You know, it might be nothing. But given your history, let’s do a CT scan.’"
When the doctor called back a week later, Maione said he knew it was cancer, and he was right. Shortly thereafter he had his second cancer surgery, this time removing most of his large intestine.
Maione’s first cancer had come unexpectedly— leaving him asking "Why did this happen?"— but the second time around he had a good idea why.
"In 2005, I got a phone call from my mother," he said. "(She) said they’d discovered a genetic anomaly in our family called Lynch syndrome, formerly referred to as hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC)."
A genetic problem, HNPCC predisposes those inheriting it to certain types of cancer, particularly colorectal cancer.
"It was sort of this ‘a-ha’ moment," Maione said.
In 2013, Maione decided to share his story with others to spread a message of hope. In September 2014, after almost giving up on the project midway through, and following a successful Kickstarter campaign, Maione released his memoir What I Learned from Cancer at McNally Robinson. Since then, he’s sold the books in stores across Canada and takes every opportunity that presents itself to share his story, especially during March, which is colorectal cancer awareness month.
"For me, it comes down to three things," Maione reflected.
"First, I’m not my disease. I won’t let that define who I am.
"The second thing I learned is about the value of community. In crisis the community we’ve built around us provides us with the strength that we need to keep going."
Finally, Maione learned the value of "being a whole person."
"We’ve got this string that is our life and eventually it’s going to come to an end," he said.
"If I have been a whole person, regardless of the number of days I get, I can still go out and say I had a good life. That I was someone people could admire and appreciate saying ‘he was a friend of mine.’"
Dennis Maione will be speaking Friday, March 13, at the Exchange Community Church,75 Albert Street, 2nd floor, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Admission is free. Copies of What I Learned from Cancer will be on sale for $20.
Sheldon Birnie is a reporter/photographer for the Free Press Community Review. The author of Missing Like Teeth: An Oral History of Winnipeg Underground Rock (1990-2001), his writing has appeared in journals and online platforms across Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. A husband and father of two young children, Sheldon enjoys playing guitar and rec hockey when he can find the time. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org Call him at 204-697-7112