Healthy Living

Mr. T's Lessons on Life and Lymphoma

Photo source: Mr T Pitying Some fool by Annie Mole (flickr)

There are several things that Mr. T is known for, including his career as a WWF wrestler and his role as B.A. Baracus in the hit series ‘The A-Team’. To this day, he continues to remain a fun and stylish icon of the 80s. Nevertheless, Mr. T is not only known for his appearances on television, but also for his battle with lymphoma off-camera.

In September of 1995, he noticed a small sore on his ear. “I’m thinking, ‘Wow, if I’m signing autographs and bending down, people are going to see that little bump’…it was like a little sore,” he said. Mr. T did not want to bother his doctor with a minor problem but as the sore grew over the next 2 weeks, he decided to go in for a check-up. His doctor referred him to a dermatologist to perform a biopsy. The results from his biopsy revealed a diagnosis of a rare type of T-cell lymphoma known as mycosis fungoides (MF). “Can you imagine that?! Cancer with my name on it -- personalized cancer,” he said.

About this type of lymphoma

“CTCL represents a collection of several lymphomas primarily affecting the skin. The disease is different from most other lymphomas in that it arises from skin T lymphocytes. MF does not start in the bone marrow like a leukemia or in the lymph nodes like most lymphomas. CTCL is a form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and MF is the most common subtype of CTCL. It is rare and makes up only a tiny proportion of all lymphomas—probably 1%,” said Ellen J. Kim, the Sandra J. Lazarus Professor of Dermatology at the Perelman School of Medicine. After conducting further tests, including bone marrow aspiration and a CAT scan, Mr. T waited anxiously for the results. “Now comes the worry. Here comes doubt, here comes anxiety, here comes fear, here comes that sick feeling down in the pit of my stomach. Can't eat, can't sleep. One day passes. No call from my doctor,” he recalled.

The cancer returns with a vengeance

When he received his test results, which revealed that the cancer was localized on his ear, he was recommended to undergo radiation therapy 5 times a week for 4 weeks. Following the treatments, doctors told him that his cancer was gone and that he could finally relax. Yet, 11 months later, the cancer came back and formed sores all over his body. “Cancer sores sprouting up on my body and I can't stop it! I have no control over this cancer growing outside of my body on my arms, my back, my legs, and my stomach ... It is cancer popping like microwave popcorn on my body. I am afraid at this point; no tough guy today,” he said.

This time around, he was recommended to undergo high-dose chemotherapy for 6 weeks. “So, I went home and I thought, ‘Wow, chemotherapy. They’re going to hook me up into stuff.’ And, wow, you talk about the nausea, the dizziness, and like I said, after the first day, I don’t get back to regular until maybe about the fifth or sixth day. The first three or four days I’m throwing up, I’m dizzy, I couldn’t sleep, and I spit more. I slept mostly in a chair or on the couch because I was afraid to lay down because if I lay down I thought I might throw up in my sleep and drown or whatever, you know,” he said.

The cancer kept on fighting

Following 6 weeks of high-dose chemotherapy, the cancer was not entirely eliminated. “I see why some cancer patients give up the struggle for life and quit. With my body, my mind, and my spirit shell-shocked like that, quitting seems easy ... Chemo and cancer fight from my head to my toes,” he said. As the cancer persisted, Mr. T had to undergo interferon-therapy for a year and a half, followed by additional low-dose chemotherapy and radiation therapy. “I have grown into a cancer fighter. I am a soldier, a veteran at that. Cancer wants to fight me again. I am not afraid this time. Fighting cancer for the third time, can I still believe in God? Yes, I can, and stronger than before,” he said.

Mr. T recalled his childhood when he and his 11 siblings were brought up by their father’s preaching. Throughout his battle with lymphoma, he said that it was his faith in God that helped him to get through his fears and worries. “How I am letting my father, Rev. N.B. Tureaud, down by doubting the power of God. He warned us that it would get rough, and hard ... but not too hard for God. I can feel my faith returning; now, I can put up a good fight against cancer, if not beat it!” he said. Mr. T also stressed to learning about the hollowness of being fortunate and being in the spotlight. “My fame couldn't save me! My gold, my money couldn't stop cancer from appearing on my body. If they can't save me, then I don't need them,” he said.

Mr. T’s life lessons

Yet, despite his struggles with relapses and various treatments, Mr. T had come to terms with how to live with his disease. “I pity the fool who just gives up. We all gonna die eventually from something or other, but don't be a wimp. Put up a good fight. Don't sit around waiting on death. We can be tough. We can be determined. Go out and have some fun and make death find you! We can be living with cancer, not dying from it. We can be cancer survivors,” he said. “One more thing, if you don't remind me that I have cancer then I won't remember either, because I am too busy living. If you see me, please come by and shake my hand; give me a hug, a thumbs-up or a high five; take a photo with me, or let's do lunch, because cancer ain't contagious. That would really make my day,” he added.

Mr. T donates to cancer organizations on a regular basis in an effort to help support other cancer victims. “Like David wrote, he said ‘The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.’ And then in another part he said, ‘Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil.’ And that’s what keeps me strong and that’s what I tell other cancer patients. We’re going through a valley of a shadow of death, but the key here is we’re going through there. Through is the key word. We’re not going in a cave that don’t have an outlet. See we’re going through. Through means there’s an exit on the other side. So, we’re not going to stay there,” said Mr. T. He even published a book about his struggles, titled ‘Cancer Saved My Life: Cancer Ain’t for No Wimps’, to motivate others who are battling cancer not to give up. “I thought I was tough, but going through cancer, that was tough. Cancer patients are really tough – they don’t quit. That’s why I wear it like a badge of honor. I’m proud to be a cancer survivor.”