Every five years, to celebrate another milestone anniversary of being cancer-free, Chemistry and Biochemistry Associate Professor Mark Whitener gives a talk titled “Cancer Chemotherapy through the Eyes and Veins of a Chemist” at Montclair State University. This year marks his 35th year cancer free.
Whitener, now in his 30th year at Montclair, recently shared his cancer journey in a classroom in Richardson Hall and via Zoom with an audience made up of chemistry and biology students, faculty and the public.
Whitener’s background as a chemist and cancer survivor gives him a unique perspective, one he’s also documented in his online “Cancer Chronicles,” which he wrote 10 years ago to mark 25 years in remission and to serve a wider, non-academic audience.
At the outset, Whitener’s straight talk and humor, something that he, like many people faced with a serious diagnosis, adopted as a coping mechanism, are evident. Displaying a photo of himself as a young bald man, he says, “Most of my hair is gone due to male pattern baldness but I was 27 years old when this happened…because I had cancer chemotherapy.”
He explains that his presentation, which includes handwritten slides and cartoon-like drawings, is messy and not polished and that the 62-year-old will be turning 35 because he celebrates his “second birthday” from the last day of his chemotherapy treatment.
“I like it being messy because going through cancer is pretty messy,” he says. “Cancer is bad but there are some good stories. I’m an example of a successful, positive outcome from cancer.”
With that he launches into his introduction of how cancer cells grow and spread, chemotherapy treatment and his personal bout with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma as a case study.