Dan Cuccherini always considered himself a typical guy’s guy. “I was a pretty athletic, outdoors kind of a guy,” he says. The Virginia native had a busy life with a lot on his plate—he and his wife have nine children. In 2013, his stressful job as a safety director was taking its toll on him. “I was sick all the time,” he says. “As time went on, I just grew more and more fatigued.”
After suffering severe stomach pains, Cuccherini was diagnosed with colon cancer. At 53 and with lots to look forward to in life, he was taken aback by the news, especially since his family had no known history of cancer. “I knew I was sick,” he says. “But I didn’t think I was that sick.”
The news was even worse for its unlucky timing, when the family was reeling from another tragedy—their home burned to the ground months before. “We got out alive, but we lost everything,” Cuccherini says, adding that after his diagnosis: “I was originally really angry with everything that was going on.”
Cuccherini sought a second opinion at our hospital near Chicago, where he received surgery and chemotherapy. The mind-body therapists on his care team also taught him new ways to cope with his disease and the emotions it triggered. Along the way, he developed a new outlook on life. “Anger only gets you so far,” he says. "I do things differently now. I take my time and enjoy things a little more. Before, I rushed through things, but now I take extra time to enjoy them, whatever I'm doing, and I’m not as stressed. I am a happier person than I used to be. Am I happy this happened to me? No. But I had to deal with it.”
Mind-body medicine uses counseling and other psychosocial tools to help patients see their lives from a different perspective. For Cuccherini, that meant learning to live in the moment. “I learned to refocus and recalculate my purpose. Every day has a new meaning and opportunity.”
During his chemotherapy treatment, Cuccherini walked one of his daughters down the aisle during her wedding and watched his family expand to include eight grandchildren. One of his main takeaways from his journey with cancer was learning to be grateful. “Gratitude gives you an opportunity to refocus and recalibrate,” he says. “For me, I feel like I'm a better person than I was before this happened. I fought to get myself in better health. I am taking time to enjoy life and take it one day at a time.”
These days, Cuccherini isn’t as physically active as he once was, but he still walks a couple of miles every day. He now focuses on looking forward rather than backward, and he advises other cancer patients to do the same. “Take advantage of every opportunity to get better,” he says. “There are going to be some bumps in the road, but everything you do has to be focused on the positive. You have to believe. That's where your faith comes in. You can sit around and have a pity party, but there are a lot of people out there who have it worse.”
Part of Cuccherini’s recovery included making other lifestyle changes. “I used to be a drinker, and I gave it up,” he says. “I used to eat on the run, and I had terrible eating habits. Now I get a laugh every morning, and I have carrots and celery, and I never would have done that. I would have eaten a pop tart with coffee. Now, I spend time eating much better than I used to."
Cucherini’s appetite for living has grown, too. “None of us is promised tomorrow,” he says. “I am so happy to be alive. I plan to enjoy my new normal and spend my time wisely.”
No case is typical. You should not expect to experience these results.