North County resident learns the value of medical screening tests

Tom Quinn with his wife Cecilia, and his surgeon, Dr. Dhruvil Gandhi

Tom Quinn was 55 when he got the scare of his life. During a routine screening at his doctor’s office, the results of his test came back positive. He was told he had colorectal cancer. He’ll never forget the moment he heard the news.

“So many heartbreaking and worried thoughts run through your mind. How will my family go on without me, this is too soon, I am not ready for this, am I going to leave my wife and children in a good place financially, am I going to see my children get married and have children of their own… In those first few moments after learning you have cancer, you are paralyzed and feel this incredibly dark and heavy cloud cast over you. For me, the fear and sadness coming from my wife, family and friends was more overwhelming than the reality. I just needed a little time to process.”

Quinn got that time to process. As chance would have it, he had to wait five days for the final pathology report to confirm his diagnosis, and he had a business meeting in Rhode Island during that same time. (Quinn is an executive for Amazon.) He got the call confirming he had stage-two rectal cancer from his doctor while sitting in a rental car 3,000 miles away from his family.

“I was staring into space and coming to grips with the fact that I really did have cancer, this was not a dream, and this was going to be a defining moment in my life,” he recalls. “At that very moment, I told myself I would put faith in God above, put trust and confidence in my doctors and have a positive attitude throughout the process. I nailed the presentation, closed the business, and went back home to San Diego to begin an 11-month battle with cancer and a beautiful journey of self-discovery.”

That journey started with a wake-up call.

“Prior to being diagnosed with cancer, I was quite honestly an out-of-shape 55-year-old man. I was living in a state of denial and did not want to admit to the fact I was eating and drinking more than I should and it was slowly taking a toll on my physical appearance, strength and agility. I was overweight and headed in the wrong direction from a healthy lifestyle perspective.”

But before he could make those lifestyle changes, Quinn had to get through the treatment. He was diagnosed in May 2018 and went through five weeks of radiation and oral chemotherapy, followed by reconstructive surgery where a portion of his colon was removed. Then he endured four more months of oral and IV chemo treatments. Quinn just had his second, reconnective surgery in March, and he’s now in remission.

As he looks back on the whole experience, he sees it not as a struggle but as a blessing in disguise.

“I was able to step back from the daily grind of my life to realize I had not been living my life to its fullest and maybe, just maybe, the best version of myself had yet to be revealed. Dealing with and fighting cancer has helped me put my life into perspective. I have greatly reduced the amount of food I eat and the amount of alcohol I consume. I have lost 35 pounds and feel better than I have in years. From a mental perspective, I have experienced firsthand the amazing healing powers of positive thinking. I have become more present in my interactions with others and become a better listener.”

Just as importantly, Quinn believes by sharing his story, he’s also changed the lives of many others. “I have brought awareness to several people and have inspired 16 friends and family members to get their long-overdue colonoscopies scheduled and taken care of.”

Quinn knows firsthand that early detection is the best weapon in anyone’s fight against cancer.

“If I have learned anything,” Quinn says resolutely, “it would be to tell people to stop procrastinating and take their physical and mental health seriously. Get your annual checkups, get your colonoscopy scheduled by the age of 50 (or sooner if the doctor recommends), and go and get checked if you feel something is going on with your body that is not normal.”

Quinn received his cancer treatment at Tri-City Medical Center where he felt well cared for and was treated with dignity and respect. To show his appreciation for the care he received, he’s donating chairs and office furniture to the hospital through the Tri-City Hospital Foundation, to provide an upgrade to some of the furniture the nurses are currently using.

“People in the medical field are a special breed of people who truly care about others and want to help the sick get better. Doctors and nurses are our friends, and I will never lose sight of this for the rest of my life.”