Alum doesn’t let cancer stop him from doing what is necessary and what he enjoys

2592 1944 For Our Wellness

How I carry myself during this process is important.  I never feel sorry for myself. I’m eating up every second I have.”

By: Lisa Riley

Daniel Cortes, Ph.D. speaks willingly and in pragmatic tones about everything in his life, including the cancer that has returned stronger and crueler after a brief remission. His wife, his three daughters, his job and the service he provides to his community are all easily talked about. And so is his cancer.

“Cancer has obviously not been a positive or easy part of my life, but it has grounded me and given me some really good perspective. I never feel well; I’m always in pain, but I have an appreciation for life. I have optimism and a passion to be a good person and do good work. It’s a new perspective – being in Stage Four and considered incurable, I have a perspective that I think a lot of people don’t have. I’m having some of my best days.”

Cortes was first diagnosed with colon cancer in 2013, a year before he graduated from the Online Ph.D. in Business Psychology Program. He began a year of chemotherapy while having to work on, and then defend, his dissertation. He explains that he lived at the hospital for a while but managed to finish because of the support he received.

“There were several days where I anticipated feeling decent, and I just didn’t. I am appreciative of the dean and my dissertation chair, but also of my professors. They were all very supportive – they allowed me to turn things in late, modify things or even just do some extra credit. The level of support they gave me was really amazing.”

Cortes’ attitude can also be credited for the accomplishment. A retired Marine who just separated from the Corps this year after 18 years, he describes himself as goal-driven and someone who gets things done “come hell or high water.” It’s that same attitude that keeps him successful in his current position as Occupational Safety Manager, Los Angeles Region for Zenith Insurance, a workers’ compensation insurance company. He also presents on occupational safety throughout California and parts of the Pacific Northwest.

“Because of my program {at TCSPP} I have the ability to look at organizations as a living, breathing entity. I developed my presentation, The Psychology behind Safe Decision Making, three years ago, linking occupational safety and business psychology. I help other leaders in occupational safety understand the psychological influences on safety culture. Nobody had connected the two before in my industry, and this has helped my career skyrocket.”

He does this despite the cancer that returned to his abdomen in 2015. It’s a much more aggressive cancer that requires chemotherapy every other week and forces Cortes to work frequently from home. In March 2016 he endured one of medicine’s most invasive surgical procedures.

“Hipec surgery’s intent is to kill the cancer cells that aren’t at the tumor level. People who have had the surgery usually have a year or two of complete remission, but by the time I left the hospital in May there were already tumors appearing. I was back on chemo in June.”

Two years later, he is still undergoing chemotherapy and believes “every day’s a beautiful day.” This is just one more obstacle, he tells us, and obstacles only have the power you give them.

“How I carry myself during this process is important. I model this behavior for my daughters and I tell them obstacles shouldn’t stop you. I never feel sorry for myself. I’m eating up every second I have.”

This includes volunteering. Once a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy, he still works with the department training new recruits. He serves as a drill sergeant, acting as a stressor for the recruits in an effort to teach them confidence, self-control and how to be safe. He believes that he’s helping to improve law enforcement at the micro-level while also being able to indulge his passion for coaching.

“This is my contribution to making sure we have good cops out there that are well trained and can be a positive influence on our society, and I’m also doing what I like: Helping people develop and reach their goals.”

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