When Nolan was first diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), in May 2015, his doctors didn’t think he’d make it through the first round of chemotherapy. He was initially surprised by his diagnosis because of its rarity, since ALL is the least common type of leukemia in adults. To make matters more complicated, at the time of his diagnosis, Nolan’s doctors found that he had three different blood clotting disorders.
Despite these challenges, Nolan persevered with a positive attitude. He says, “If you go into a negative headspace during treatment, you’re giving yourself an emotional cancer along with the physical disease that is ravaging your body.”
Nolan remained optimistic throughout four rounds of chemotherapy and nine months of being in the hospital, although he admits he had his dark days. He acknowledged, “If I slipped into a dark place, it wouldn’t be good.” After his first round of chemotherapy, Nolan was surprised to hear from his doctors that there was no cancer present in his body. Even with this good news, Nolan still had to complete three additional rounds of treatment and a bone marrow transplant, which occurred in February 2016.
Nolan says that before his transplant, “My hematologist told me there are a lot of factors involved in this treatment and they weren’t sure I was going to survive the next four weeks.” However, he drew strength from the love and support of his friends during treatment, who would visit weekly. Nolan is a musician and a conductor, and received lots of support from his friends in the music scene in New York.
In January 2017, Nolan came to CancerCare for the first time, after meeting a fellow conductor who had had the same diagnosis and had used CancerCare’s services. At CancerCare, Nolan joined a CancerCare support group for gay male cancer survivors, led by oncology social worker, William Goeren. Nolan says that, “Bill is great about keeping the conversation going and really pinpointing things people say that they might not realize they said.” Nolan found another home and a source of community in his support group, especially since three of the other men had also had transplants. In the group, Nolan said, “We could commiserate over the cancer things but also put it aside and discuss other things, like boys or life in the city.”
Since completing his treatment, Nolan has returned to work as a musician and a conductor in the New York City area. He previously worked as a musical director and performed in Chicago, Illinois, as well as abroad in Hong Kong. In New York, he also organizes groups to perform at venues, such as Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, and creates different arrangements for orchestras and ensembles to perform.