Cancer-Killing Optimism

I’ve been blogging about our journey through eye cancer for several weeks now. It’s been a ride, for sure. The writing has been therapeutic for me, and informative and insightful for those of you who have followed along. But I’ll be honest. Something has been missing. I’m keenly aware that my perspective as wife and caregiver is much different than my husband’s perspective as husband and patient. So early last week, I invited my husband to share a guest post on the blog. I wanted to give him a place to process and express his experience in narrative form – more than a clever Facebook update. I also wanted you to hear, first hand, what this “adventure” has been like for him. Without further ado, I introduce you to my husband, Seth. Please extend a warm welcome. It’s his first time guest posting on my blog, and I am oh so proud of the way he’s handled it all.


Today is my first day back to work. Today is my first chance to get back into a normal routine. Today is the start of a new phase in my eye cancer journey, but today is not the day for a full-on celebration.

Sometime later this year, we’ll hear Dr. G pronounce the medium-sized tumor in my right eye shrinking. And a few months later, he’ll confirm it again. Perhaps a year or two from now, he’ll tell me that we’re home free.

That day will be the real triumph. We’ll take the day off, have a great dinner, and probably gorge on Dairy Queen. (Better yet, we’ll take the day off from touring the sights of Jamaica, have a great dinner on the cruise ship, and probably gorge on Dairy Queen later in my new Ford F-150 Raptor.)

Today is not that day, but it is a milestone, and a damn positive one at that.

The year has not gone as planned. 2015 started well enough, but my January 8th annual optometry exam ended with an emergency appointment to fix a supposed detached retina the next day. And that appointment ended with a somber ophthalmologist telling me that I have a choroidal melanoma. His staff was already on the phone with the best doctor in the world for this type of cancer. A doctor who happens to be at the nearby Mayo Clinic.

I remember sitting in one of those awkward ophthalmology chairs and wondering how I was supposed to react to this news. The doctor had said “you have a rare form of eye cancer” like a mechanic would say “you’ve blown a head gasket” and an intonation reading “this is pretty serious, but we’ll fix it.”

So I responded accordingly, with optimism. I smiled, asked a few questions, and thanked him for his help. When the office manager, not a regular staff member, took care of me afterwards, bending over backwards to ensure I didn’t leave there without an appointment at the Mayo on the books, I sensed the seriousness of the situation, but also the confidence of the plan moving forward.

So that’s the tone I took for my own. When I called my wife, Amy, on the way out of the doctor’s office, I gave her the news and a prognosis filled with positivity. Not only was that how the doctor gave it to me, but that is also how I live my life. Never is anything so bad that we can’t trust God to deliver blessings in our life.

But people are different, and not everyone responds to bad news in the same way. Some people freaked out a bit, understandably. I’m sure Amy was knocked down by my call. And I know other folks were too. I hadn’t posted anything on Facebook, but word spread fast across our extended family and within hours I was getting calls and texts. Within days we had received a trunk full of meals from Amy’s aunts and uncles to get us through the next week, when Amy would be traveling to the Dominican Republic with Compassion International.

In fact, the support was staggering. Once we decided to be public with the news and capture every step on Amy’s blog, the response from our family, friends, and colleagues was amazing. You know how good it feels to have a birthday on Facebook? Brighten the glow a hundred fold.

Over the course of the next few weeks, we received an overwhelming amount of love, prayer, and food from everyone dear in our lives. And when I was in the hospital, hearing that support was my favorite part of the day.


I never felt ill. I never had any symptoms beyond the very faint strobe lights in the lower right corner of my vision that triggered a mention to my doctor. And there were no drugs, no exercises, or no preventative measures to take between my first appointment in January and my surgery in February. So once I got used to having a cancer diagnosis – and getting used to it was surprisingly easy considering the positive prognosis – it was easy to settle into my life for a few weeks and forget about the whole thing.

My pre-surgery visit to the Mayo threatened that calm. Three days of tests that included hours of taking pictures into my eyes using the equivalent of the sun to illuminate each shot was not fun. The official confirmation of my diagnosis in my right eye and the news that I even have a “weak spot” in my left was not a high point. But it was the doctor’s aside – “oh yeah, and you can’t wear contacts again” – that caught me off-guard. Yes, I have eye cancer, but at least I had planned to look good while conquering it.

I’m still coming to grips with and planning my negotiation terms in the contact lens debate, but that’s not what threatened all my positive energy at the Mayo. It was the realization that I was a young 41-year-old sitting in the waiting room near a stranger in much worse shape than me. A young dad staying the same hotel as a woman who would be staying there for six weeks during her chemotherapy. A man who made eye contact with an old married couple, the husband wheeling around his bandaged wife. For the first time, I recognized my mortality.

It was the positivity of every single medical professional at the Mayo, however, that ultimately kept my optimism strong. I met with dozens of grad students, nurses, fellows, and doctors in those three days, and not one of them looked at me with pity, not one of them gave off the end-of-life vibe, even while discussing the procedure for sewing a golden bottle cap filled with radioactive seeds onto my eyeball, the prospect for losing some vision, and the risk of spread. They counseled me in the friendly, urgent way a DisneyWorld attendant helps a parent find a lost child in the It’s a Small World ride: “This is serious, but we’re going to fix it.”

Two weeks later, I was in the hospital for two surgeries – one to sew on the bottle cap and one to take it off – and two uncomfortable sessions of coming-out-of-anesthesia nausea. There were plenty of reasons to be negative. My eyes scratched like gravel and we didn’t hit on the right cocktail pain meds for many hours. The food was terrible and I couldn’t even watch TV because it was too bright. Nurses woke me up every four hours all night. And my wife and parents had to leave every evening at 8:00 pm when visiting hours ended.


But it’s much easier to be positive. I had full days of rich conversation with my wife and parents, who drove up from their snowbird vacation in Florida. I enjoyed the quiet at night without kids because my mother-in-law graciously stepped in to manage the household. I connected with family members and friends on the phone and online that I hadn’t talked to in ages. I took every nap I wanted in a surprisingly cozy bed and my favorite blanket from home. I sat up with a large, black coffee and listened with my eyes comfortably closed while my mom and my wife read to me the new well wishes as they were posted online.

Today, my eyes are nearly back to normal and get better every day. My early recovery was three weeks of eye patches, sunglasses in the house, and nearly full days of sleeping. But lately, my recovery has been cautious outings, working from home, and taking it easy.

Today is my first day back to work. Today is my first chance to get back into a normal routine. Today is the start of a new phase in my eye cancer journey, but today is just another day of tackling it with optimism.



  1. Jessica Revak Milkes says:

    I have no idea what took me so long to read this but I did – finally!! You Sir are an inspiration!! Keep kicking ass and taking names Seth. I love your spirit!!

  2. Sara Weis says:

    Seth, one of the most optimistic people I’ve had the privilege to work with. Sending you positive vibes for a full recovery.

  3. Sharon Gorney says:

    I appreciate all of your candor Seth, and how easily you can discuss cancer and Star Wars all in the same breath! Very glad to have you back 🙂

  4. Douglas Carlson says:

    Prayers & positive thoughts coming your way!

  5. Linda says:

    Beautifully shared! Continued prayers for healing & hearing those dreamed-of-words from the Dr in years to come!

  6. Mary Marette says:

    I loved as a peer, and think even more of you as a person. Best of luck to you Seth, and family. You have a great attitude and faith.

  7. Tom Baunsgard says:

    It’s Wonderful what strong Faith and the power of prayer can do! Awesome Post Seth! I LOVE your positive, faith driven attitude! Thanks so much to both you and Amy for sharing this journey with us! It is a true testament of your faith. Blessings Abound!

  8. Liza Dopp says:

    Wish you the very best! Your optimism is inspiring, and I am no longer complaining about the weather 😉

  9. Jennifer Johnson says:

    Wonderfully written Seth and very interesting too. Thank you for sharing. I fully believe optimism plays a huge part in things and in life. Bless you dear cousin. I love you all.

  10. Monica Anderson Palmer says:

    awesome post Seth Pederson, your optimism is inspiring! thanking Jesus for continued and complete healing!

  11. Jessica Tedesco says:

    God Bless what a outlook and inspiration to help there facing cancer! Amazing family! Prayers for a full recovery

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