Online Support Group Key for Coast Guard Officer in Colon Cancer Recovery
"Bob Hendrickson is accustomed to rough waters, both professionally and personally. After working his way up from boot camp to commanding his own coastguard ship, Bob thought his life was on course. But then at age 37, he was diagnosed with colon cancer.
BOB: I had surgery and two days after surgery I was served with divorce papers in the hospital. Not a good year.
Now suddenly single, with no family around, Bob felt very much alone as he underwent chemotherapy. Watching TV one day, he came across an ad for the cancer survivors' network.
BOB: I went online, I was amazed at the number of people who were out there who were willing to talk about it because colon cancer is not something that is party talk.
Thanks to the support group, Bob began to feel less lonely ...and soon found others who, like him, saw humor as a way to cope.
BOB: I have dealt with the situation with humor because you know what they say: What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. I Certainly believe that humor is the best med. If you can laugh at something it's not going to kill you.
Bob's constant jokes made him a popular member of the group, where he was known by his screen name, SpongeBob. His sense of humor would eventually get the attention of Katie Ralls.
Like Bob, Katie had been diagnosed with colon cancer. And like Bob, she turned to the cancer survivor's network seeking support.
KATIE: It was a warm, welcoming, upbeat group.
As she was preparing for chemo, katie posted a question and soon started getting responses.
KATIE: The first one I got back was from a guy by the name of SpongeBob. There was quite a bit of humor. Quite uplifting. There was a real spark of connection.
Bob helped Katie through the most difficult times in her treatment.
BOB: I want you to know you are in my thoughts today and I am sending you lots of good vibes. Be well, be strong, and know that people care about you. You are healthy.
KATIE: Thanks for your very sweet email too. And thanks for being my biggest confidant, advisor and new best friend.
Soon, Katie became more than an online acquaintance.
BOB: We started talking a lot more and our discussions led to talking not just about cancer but other things and discovering each other.
KATIE: We decided after extensive e-mailing and incredible phone bills, we needed to see if this was a real connection that we thought was blossoming.
Katie flew across the country from her home in California to Washington, DC to meet SpongeBob face to face.
KATIE: Seeing him in person was a new experience. It felt right. Almost like seeing an old friend you hadn't seen for a long time. We gave each other a hug in the airport and it felt natural. That was exactly where I was supposed to be.
BOB: I proposed to her shortly after she got to DC. It felt so natural, so right.
Seven months later, they were married.
KATIE: I just feel like he was a godsend to me. And it's only because of cancer that I met him. If I didn't have cancer I never would have met the love of my life.
Every year, Bob and Katie get together with the rest of the support group. It's a celebration of life they call colon-palooza.
BOB: It's definitely a palooza, a good time. A lot of booty jokes, a lot of booty shaking.
And a testament to the importance of support, laughter and love in helping us weather life's storms.
BOB: There are people out there who are more than willing to help you, more than willing to support you. If not your family, not your friends, you need to find new family and friends because they're there. And people are here to help."
This entry last modified on: October 12, 2012 4:48 PM
About the Video
Cancer hit Bob Hendrickson like a rogue wave at age 37. The Coast Guard officer turned to an online support group using the screen name SpongeBob—and came away with some life-changing personal connections.