During the height of my treatment, I started a whole company. It was an online lifestyle magazine for tall men. I made sure that it took up 90% of my time when I wasn’t being poked and prodded with medical equipment. It was the thing that distracted me and made me want to get up in the morning. It required me to reach out to people, it required me to write, use my brain, create, and put myself out there during a time I wasn’t putting myself out there (I didn’t tell anyone outside of my close family and friends that I had cancer at all). Find these things to keep your brain and body going that also feed your soul.
Cancer is a horrible and terrifying disease. Yet millions of people have beaten the odds and beat cancer. Authority Magazine started a new series called “I Survived Cancer and Here Is How I Did It”. In this interview series, we are talking to cancer survivors to share their stories, in order to offer hope and provide strength to people who are being impacted by cancer today. As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Edward Miskie.
Edward Miskie is an actor, voice-over artist, and producer; the 2011 AEA Roger Sturtevant Award recipient; the author of “Cancer, Musical Theatre, & Other Chronic Illnesses”; and the creator and cast of BariToned. In 2021, he released a dance/pop album under the name Edward the First titled Renaissancing that is available to stream anywhere you listen to music. Edward is also the author of “Cancer, Musical Theatre & Other Chronic Illnesses” talking about the unspoken things cancer patients don’t often share, especially because Edward believes talking about the raw, shocking, and sometimes hilarious experience of cancer is part of what helped him survive.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! We really appreciate the courage it takes to publicly share your story. Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your background and your childhood backstory?
Well, I was born Amish adjacent in Central Pennsylvania in 1986… I’m just kidding. I was a lucky kid. Was surrounded by creative people who supported my dreams of joining the circus. I was in musical theatre and performance from the time I was 5. I am well versed in not only surviving cancer, but Catholic School, and being a newly out teenager in NYC. I moved to NYC at 18, right after high school as a kind of threat to my parents; I was either going to move there with their permission or run away to NYC without it. Those first few years were ROUGH, but I survived them, and eventually found my way. From about 2008–2019, I was performing all over the country. Cancer forced a break on me though. Despite my efforts, I had to step away from performing to die from the end of 2011–2013. Since I didn’t die, I got right back in the saddle as soon as my hair grew back and I was strong enough to do so. I tried to carry on as normally as possible but couldn’t shake this feeling that something was missing. And it was — me. I was missing. I’d become a whole new person who was parading around trying to be the old me. That’s what prompted me to write my book. It was a discrepancy that no one warned me about — that no one told me I’d feel. Self-disconnect.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Do it!” I know. It’s simple and obvious and seems kinda dumb…but it keeps my ball rolling. Unless it’s something that really doesn’t align with what I want, I tell myself, “Do it!”
Chances are you don’t have much to lose but the fear of doing it in the first place.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about surviving cancer. Do you feel comfortable sharing with us the story surrounding how you found out that you had cancer?
I wrote a whole book about it that included shitting my pants at the gym. Yes! I’m comfortable.
I’d just closed a production of Hairspray, and was about to start a different production of Hairspray (in the same role). Between the two ‘Sprays, I went home to visit my parents. While they were at work I went outside to lay in the sun for a while and have a bit of a self-care afternoon.
When I finished up and came inside to shower, I soaped up and felt a little lump under my left armpit. It was about the size of an almond or so. It really threw me off guard. So textbook, but I rationalized the hell out of it. I showed it to my mom — she works in medicine. I showed it to my best friend’s mom — who also works in medicine, but no one knew what it could be.
It wasn’t until about two weeks into rehearsal for the upcoming Hairspray show that I went to my doctor who sent me to a radiologist for an MRI that I was diagnosed with Cat Scratch Fever… which is obviously ridiculous, and was obviously wrong.
Over the next 20 weeks being stranded in Reno, NV doing Hairspray, that little almond lump grew quickly to about the size of a grapefruit. Sometimes I would go to bed and it would be one size, and I’d wake up and it would be another. Stretch marks started to appear under my arm and on my chest. It was… alarming.
What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?
Before the word “cancer” was even mentioned, my thought was the worst thing that could happen would be that the doctors would surgically remove whatever the mass was and I’d have a scar with long-term nerve damage in my left arm. I’m left-handed, so that would’ve been a thing. However, once we understood the breadth of the situation — the worst was that I would die. The cancer was rare and aggressive — and there was little-to-no protocol for this type of Lymphoma. So the possibility of not making it was very present. Very dead man walking.
How did you react in the short term?
I was pretty numb to it. It wasn’t until I checked into the hospital for my first chemo that I really lost my mind. I had a full meltdown in the exam room before my intake. It was — violent crying. Beyond ugly crying.
After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use? What did you do to cope physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?
Woof! Coping mechanisms. Most people don’t want to hear this, but I began drinking heavily and having sex with strangers. Not really the first thing you think of when you think of a “cancer patient,” and no, I had no real business for the sake of my health to be doing either of those things, but I did. Looking back, it was triggered when I started to lose the way I looked. I was 25 years old, smoking hot, and then suddenly resembled a fat turtle. Bourbon and sex kept me going. That’s the ugly truth of it. If my doctor only knew the lengths I would go to remain drunk or high and in the company of naked strangers — I probably would’ve been on the end of some tear-inducing lectures. Not recommended, but coping mechanisms are exactly that. And the truth is, sometimes we don’t make the best choices. I was very lucky I didn’t have any severe setbacks because of those coping mechanisms.
Is there a particular person you are grateful towards who helped you learn to cope and heal? Can you share a story about that?
My mom. I was lucky that I had an incredible support system between family and friends, and medical staff — but my mom went above and beyond. Because she works in the medical field, she took notes, organized bills, paperwork, and prescriptions. She monitored doses, regiment changes, and lab results. I’ve always had an enormous amount of love and respect for my mom, but that — that was different. How she showed up for me while I went through this, was awe-worthy. There was one particular day while I was in quarantine because of my stem cell transplant when my mom, in head-to-toe PPE, pulled out zip-lock baggies of paperwork. It was all of my categorized bills, reports, etc. I just sat on the sofa in my hospital room and watched her. I was so inspired and filled with so much respect. She’s amazing.
In my own cancer struggle, I sometimes used the idea of embodiment to help me cope. Let’s take a minute to look at cancer from an embodiment perspective. If your cancer had a message for you, what do you think it would want or say?
“Fuck you bitch, you’re gonna die.” Or perhaps now… “Fuck you bitch, you won, and I hate you.” I’m not really sure what business cancer has even speaking to me at all after putting me through all that.
What did you learn about yourself from this very difficult experience? How has cancer shaped your worldview? What has it taught you that you might never have considered before? Can you please explain with a story or example?
Cancer taught me how strong and resilient I am. I don’t give myself enough credit for that. It also showed me how lucky I am to have such an incredible circle of friends who, still to this day, stick by my side. Cancer would change anyone’s worldview, right? I mean, facing your mortality is life-changing. If you as a person have changed — which after something like cancer you definitely have — you don’t come out the other side the same. Cancer really made me settle into myself as an adult in the long term. In the short term, it unhinged me from my compass and threw me for a loop for a bit, but in the end, I think that I put up with less, and I go get what I want more.
Something I never considered before cancer was that I wasn’t a good guy. The person I was before cancer is not a person I would want to hang out with now. He was an arrogant, know-it-all brat. In a way, I’m grateful for cancer in the sense that it shaped my adulthood way better than anything that was going to happen to me beforehand. I don’t know if I have a specific anecdote that points to this, but I just remember looking down on everyone who wasn’t me, and had a very entitled view of where my life was going.
How have you used your experience to bring goodness to the world?
Once you hit a rock bottom like near death, it motivates you to be more open about who you are, make noise, and talk! I know that by sharing my experiences, I’ve impacted others for the better. I’ve heard from people all over the world about how my book, “Cancer, Musical Theatre, & Other Chronic Illnesses”, and some of my social media posts have resonated with cancer survivors, patients, and others who have experienced cancer in less direct ways.
What are a few of the biggest misconceptions and myths out there about fighting cancer that you would like to dispel?
For me, it was less so about fighting cancer than surviving it. After you’ve been told you’re cancer free, surviving is sometimes harder than being a patient. It’s like free-falling into a familiar life that isn’t yours. You have to renavigate who you are as a person and what you want in your life in regards to family, friends, relationships, career, etc. I considered career changes, moving to a different state, cutting off all of my friends, and going somewhere else to start over. It was a mental minefield being cancer free. The structure you live by for however long — appointments, blood work, and overall being told where to go when and for how long — just goes away and now you have to figure out how to survive outside of the watchful caring eyes of doctors and nurses. It’s lonely, it’s scary, and it’s uncomfortable. It also gets to be exciting, beautiful, and thrilling — but that takes time and work.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experiences and knowledge, what advice would you give to others who have recently been diagnosed with cancer? What are your “5 Things You Need To Beat Cancer? Please share a story or example for each.
- Hold your trusted family and friends close. Let them help you. Let them care for you. They need it just as much as you do.
- Going public about your diagnosis or not going public about your diagnosis is a personal preference and choice. I chose to keep it private, but if you chose to go public please, please, please know that there are people out there, some closer than you may think, that will want to use this news as fuel for their addiction to trauma and drama. They will come and suck the energy out of you for their own benefit. Beware!
- If you need or want to drink or have sex…do it! Know what the potential risks or changes or consequences are from either and/or both of those things, but do it. If that is what you need — unless your doctor strongly advises you otherwise — do it. You’re allowed to be a person. It’s normal. You’re fine.
- GO TO A CANCER HOSPITAL! None of this “we have a cancer wing” crap. I started at a hospital like that, and because they don’t collectively do cancer all day, every day, all the time, I ended up as their experimental lab rat and it set me back months. Seek out a strictly cancer hospital.
- During the height of my treatment, I started a whole company. It was an online lifestyle magazine for tall men. I made sure that it took up 90% of my time when I wasn’t being poked and prodded with medical equipment. It was the thing that distracted me and made me want to get up in the morning. It required me to reach out to people, it required me to write, use my brain, create, and put myself out there during a time I wasn’t putting myself out there (I didn’t tell anyone outside of my close family and friends that I had cancer at all). Find these things to keep your brain and body going that also feed your soul.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be?
I’d actually much rather start an animal rescue sanctuary for dogs, cats, and horses.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂
Seth McFarlane. I’ve always been in awe of him and his body of work. He is an incredible talent, and does a lot of things that I am building towards doing — writing TV (I’m turning my book into a musical episodic), singing, producing, etc. I feel weird saying I want to be him, but I’d take even a fraction of his career.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!