SMASHING SUCCESS STORY:
Tommy Robertson, Lung Cancer Survivor
Tommy Robertson is a lung cancer survivor. Like many Floridians, he is originally from New York (and still has his awesome accent. When you listen the interview, you’ll hear how it brings out my accent!). He is also a veteran of the United States Navy. Tommy has an infectious smile, a warm heart, gives great hugs, and has amazing and admirable qualities (such as a stellar outlook on life, integrity, inspirational values and compelling reasons to live, which we’ll get to).
I met his wife CJ at a local business meeting for entrepreneurs, One Million Cups Daytona Beach. When we followed up a few days later, she told me a bit about her vivacious husband. I was awe-struck when she said that he is a lung cancer survivor. I had never met anyone who has survived lung cancer; I’ve actually lost two grandparents to the illness. Selfishly, I wanted to meet him and hear his story first-hand. After all, it’s not every day that I get to meet a lung cancer survivor. I’ve witnessed the horrors of lung cancer, and in my mind, it’s one of the most painful and soul-sucking experiences that a human being can endure. I had to hear about how he did it.
CJ briefed me a bit and shared some of Tommy’s story with me. She then went home to Tommy after our lunch and asked him if he’d be interested in an interview. He gladly agreed.
When I walked into the living room of their home, Tommy greeted me with a heart-warming smile and a big hug. It was such a wonderful welcome and I felt at home right away!
Once I had the microphone set up and performed a sound check, we were ready to go.
This is Tommy Robertson’s Smashing Success Story:
In 2001, Tommy started spitting up blood. That same year, Tommy had lost his father to lung cancer. He admits that he delayed testing (which he advises against), even though he knew something was wrong. Inevitably, things got progressively worse, and had to deal with this medical challenge. In January of 2003, he went to Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York and was diagnosed with lung cancer.
He kept this news to himself. The same year that he started spitting up blood, he also lost his father to lung cancer. Tommy couldn’t bear to tell his mother about his diagnosis. He continued to work while undergoing chemotherapy. He was undergoing aggressive rounds of chemotherapy – 4 doses total. 2 treatments lasted 8 hours, and the other two were 24-hour sessions (Tommy calls these two rounds “Big Bertha”).
In 2004, Tommy’s health was declining, but not from cancer. Rather, the chemotherapy was making him sick.
“I died, and I came back. That was Memorial Day 2004. They found out my right lung collapsed. My right lung has emphysema, and also what they call ‘bullets’ in my lung. That was from the smoking. I was young, and I smoked. I had to learn the hard way.”
Tommy’s biggest challenge through this entire process was telling his mother. “My mother is my rock,” he said. “Thank God I was stubborn. I had to live, because my mother was still alive.” He then said that he had to fight to stay alive, for her.
He had a reason to keep going. Through mounting complications – the financial burden, heart complications and several strokes – he kept fighting. He had faith. He wanted to live.
He explained that during his childhood, things were always tight. Going to the doctor as a child wasn’t something they did. “We didn’t have the $10 to see the doctor.” He had grown accustomed to toughing it out, and he tried this approach for the first year of his battle. It was not effective for him.
Now, Tommy routinely goes to his doctors for check-ups. He has learned over the years to stay on top of his health, and that means regular visits. “Now, every year, I get my blood checked to make sure no other cancer is in my body.
“Thank God. Today, I’m cancer free.”
He had fired the doctors that weren’t a good fit for him (for instance, the doctor that came into the room for five minutes and then sent his assistant in to speak with Tommy for an hour), and stayed close to the ones that were fully invested in his survival, just like he was.
In this experience, Tommy returned to faith. He says, “I know faith has nothing to do with cancer, but it does. Without that, you cannot be around. I tell people that if it wasn’t there…forget it. I have guardian angels watching over me constantly. Constantly.
“If it was not for my faith, I would not be here.”
Our interview was initiated with Tommy’s success story, and had evolved into a beautiful snippet into Tommy’s approach to life. A self-professed “rough guy”, he understands what it means to survive, and also embraces how to thrive. Tommy lives whole-heartedly, has admirable values, and honors those he loves deeply by continuing to be a virtuous, kind, authentic, honest and faith-driven man.
He understands love, loyalty, and open-mindedness. He has two gay siblings and is very open about the fact that they’re gay, and that he accepts them as they are. He sees people as exactly that – people. He has witnessed some horrible ordeals (particularly the death of his brother, who had lost his life to AIDS), and still maintains an incredibly positive outlook.
“I’m not going to be afraid of it, I’m going to attack it. You don’t be afraid of anything, you gotta attack it. You live for today, because tomorrow is not given.”
I asked Tommy what advice would he give to someone who is in the position that he has overcome.
“Never give up. Never say no. You do what you have to do…Go get all the information that you can. Yes, I recommend Sloan Kettering. Do your homework. Find a doctor that cares for you. Pick wisely. Don’t let anybody give you a line. Do your research.
“Then, see what kind of courage you have.”
When we got to the lightning round section of the interview, we really bonded – especially because we have a mutual love for great pizza (Pete’s especially), oysters at Blackbeard’s, and ice cream.
Here’s how the lightning round went:
What is awesome?
What is one of your guilty indulgences?
Ice cream…oh yeah. I like it all. Pistachio, vanilla fudge…especially banana splits.
If you could get away with anything without repercussions, what would it be?
Not paying bills!
What’s your zombie apocalypse weapon of choice?
Oh, I’ve never thought about that! I saw a couple that I liked…I like the ones with the shooting flames. I also like the one that can blow up a house with the press of a button. I like the guns that can shoot around corners.
Name a song
Precious of you
Name a celebrity
Frank Sinatra, Jr.
What’s your favorite curse word?
Do I curse that much, CJ?
(CJ) You’ve calmed down a lot.
I say Fuck You…then again, I pull a couple Italian words in there. I say vaffanculo!
What is your favorite scar?
I got enough scars on my back. Those.
If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
I like rice.
What would your last meal be?
How do you like your pizza?
There’s a place over here, called Pete’s. I like my pizza, with the normal cheese, and with ricotta. I like my peperoni, sausage and meatballs on it. I like it nice and crispy. And then I like the oil dripping down on my hand. I showed CJ how to hold a pizza!
(Any born and raised New Yorker knows to fold his or her slice of pizza while eating it)
What is your favorite dish at your favorite restaurant?
I get shrimp scampi, fries…plus before I have that, I gotta have my baked cheese oysters – Napoleon. They are GREAT. The name of the place is Blackbeard’s.
(me) I LOVE Blackbeard’s! They have the BEST oysters!
(CJ) I eat half order by myself.
You eat the whole dozen!
Do you go for the lunch or supper service?
Supper. I go in and come out with a big stomach full.
I’m gonna have to get those oysters soon. You struck a nerve there…
Authors that Tommy likes: David Murrell and Lorna Byrne
Website he frequents: Tagged, because he’s made lots of friends and enjoys the networking/socializing aspect.
This touched me deeply and I just had to quote him:
“I treats ladies like a lady. That’s how I was raised. Every man should treat a woman like they would treat their mother.”
Tommy’s favorite quote is, “Never give up.”
This interview with Tommy Robertson was yet another great insight into the life and thinking of someone who had a harrowing life experience and has come through on the other side. He reminds us that he’s not perfect and that he made mistakes early on. However, he learned from those mistakes and changed his life.
He used this experience to delve deeper into his faith and to trust his Higher Power, his caretakers, and to believe in himself. Tommy had lots of fight in him because he had great reasons to stay alive. Through everything, he kept going. I’m still amazed that he continued to work while undergoing chemotherapy for lung cancer treatment. That’s just…WOW.
Tommy stated that his mother had passed, and yet whenever he speaks about her, there’s a wonderful sparkle in his eyes and a light surrounding him. He honors his mother and keeps her alive in his heart, words and deeds. What was once his reason to keep fighting when he was battling his illness is the same reason that keeps him positive today. It’s a great reminder that those we love never truly leave us.
Tommy has generously shared his email with us and encourages anyone who would like to ask him questions to reach out! He can be reached at Tomrob15@yahoo.com.
Two New York Florida transplants! Tommy and I in his home in Port Orange, Florida