When Bruce Weigl, distinguished professor of English at Lorain County Community College, was diagnosed with incurable bladder cancer that was the question he asked himself.
He always saw it as a simple, black and white situation. “Some things just happen sometimes,” stated Weigl. “There’s not always a why. People get sick and they think, ‘Why me?’ But I think, ‘Why not me?’ It happens to other people, so why not me?”
Weigl was diagnosed with the disease seven years ago. According to the Cancer Research Institute, bladder cancer is the sixth most common form of cancer and patients with moderate to high-grade disease often receive intravesical immunotherapy with a live bacterium. Treatment for Weigl included this, as well as chemotherapy. The immunotherapy created the desired hyper immune response that slowed the cancer down, so now only annual examinations are required. “If they find anything, because they do it every year, it will be very small and easy to remove,” said Weigl. “That’s the nature of my cancer. There’s no cure for it, but it’s under control because of this treatment and the medicine I take.”
The initial diagnosis surprised Weigl, but it didn’t deter his determination or affect his daily life in the slightest. “I chose not to let it,” he explained. “If you think that you’re going to get better, that actually helps. It’s a very real thing. That was my attitude from the start. I never went through any of that denial, none of that. I had it, so I figured, let’s just see what we can do about it.”
Through the entirety of Weigl’s diagnosis, he has been an LCCC employee. “My teaching was a distraction, so I felt better when I taught,” he said. “I didn’t miss any of my classes when I was getting chemo. It’s amazing, you’re sitting in front of a class and suddenly you forget about yourself. The best therapy that I could have had was teaching.”
Weigl’s determination is common and shared by many cancer patients. The examination of positive psychology in cancer patients is so prevalent that the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health did a study on patients that have a “fighting spirit” during treatment. “I think the most important advice that I could give to anyone who is diagnosed is that as soon as they can, in their own minds, assume the role of the warrior,” emphasized Weigl. “Think of yourself as a warrior that’s fighting this enemy and focus all of your energy on fighting it.”
Being a Vietnam veteran, this attitude is not foreign for Weigl. He also noted that bladder cancer has become more prevalent in field-soldiers, though the specific cancer type is not listed for diseases that can be attributed to Agent Orange exposure, a tactical herbicide used by the US military in Vietnam. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs states that the chemical was used to remove trees and dense tropical foliage that provided enemy cover. Agent Orange can be classified as a dioxin, one of the the most dangerous chemical contaminants, and is responsible for contributing to other cancers such as prostate and some types of skin cancer.
Aside from his warrior mentality, Weigl also has his practice of Mahayana Buddhism as a support and coping mechanism. Mahayana Buddhism has a strong focus on compassion, and being a devout practitioner of the Diamond Sutra. Weigl also subscribes to the teaching that the greatest joy in the world comes from making other people happy. “That sounds like more of an idea, but when you live that way, you begin to see that good things come back to you,” he smiled as he spoke, “It’s almost frightening how powerful a life of love and kindness is. You develop through practice of Buddhism a way of looking at the world that is not you against the world; it’s not dichotomies. That kind of attitude is what helped me. A Buddha kind of attitude.”