Tomorrow is a day of celebration for me...I was declared "cancer free" on May 1, 2012. My battle with cancer has had a profound impact on me personally and has changed me in many ways. Some in my behaviors, but mostly in my motivations and drivers.
To give you a brief history, I was diagnosed with Atypical Carcinoid Cancer. This is a pretty rare but fast growing cancer usually found in people much older than me. Altogether, I had 16 tumors removed from my small intestine over the course of two surgeries. I also had an emergency third surgery that repaired an issue from my second surgery that was slowly killing me. I lost 80 pounds - 50 of that in a single month. For several months, I had trouble moving from my bedroom to my living room. A full day's worth of food for me was one cracker with some peanut butter on it. I was in pretty bad shape as cancer had beaten me down physically.
Notice that I said that it had beaten me down physically. Emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, I stayed pretty confident and strong. I tried to keep my sense of humor. No matter how I was feeling, I could always find someone who was worse than me, so I tried to reach out to them and be an encouragement to them. I am a man of faith as well, and surprisingly it never wavered. I think all of these things were keys to my defeat of this awful disease.
I mentioned that my battle changed me in many ways. As a result of facing this disease, I have a few deep desires that I find myself continually drawn to:
Desire 1: I work so that I can enjoy life. This wasn't how I previously approached my career. I worked to get ahead and to gain more work. I worked for recognition and rewards. I worked for money and nice things. I worked because my work defined me. Now, in my approach to work, I still want to do a good job, be very good at what I do, and I want to be comfortable in my finances, but I do those things so that I can enjoy life in spontaneous and unique ways. Work doesn't consume my every moment now. I can disengage and relax and separate myself from my work. My family matters to me greatly. My daughter is 16 and I know that my days are numbered where she will be at home and such a big part of my life. Eventually it will come back to just my wife and I, and I look forward to those days too.
Desire 2: Meaningful conversations are key. I believe that once you have felt like death is a real possibility for yourself, relationships matter much more. We live in a world of chatter and small talk. The whole premise of Twitter is that we express our thoughts, but not too deeply. We only get a few characters to do so. I find myself now desperately wanting others to talk to, to engage with, and to do so at a deeper level than what most people are accustomed to. I want to talk about things that matter. I want emotions in those conversations - and the more of them over the course of a single conversation, the better! I want people to know where they stand with me and how I feel about them. One thing that started while I was in the hospital, and unsure how things were going to play out, is that I told people around me what I appreciated most about them and that I loved them. For some, they just didn't know how to take this and were caught off guard. I've continued with that to some degree. I hug. I compliment. I encourage. And I share how I feel with others. This isn't always comfortable to do, but you never know if this might be the last conversation that you'll have with that person.
Desire 3: No regrets. I think we all have things that run through our minds that we think would be really cool to do. I know I always have those thoughts. But now, I find myself acting on them. I started my own company. I bought a convertible. I auditioned for The Voice and America's Got Talent. I've run three 5K's. I speak at events and on webcasts routinely. I started a basketball skills academy for my daughter and her teammates. Now, I don't anticipate that I will ever have the desire to go jump out of a perfectly good plane, or to strap a bungee around my ankles and hurl myself off of a bridge. There are some things that I just have no desire to do and I won't regret not trying them at all. But there are others that I am focused on and hope to do in the future.
There are so many negative things that come as a result of cancer, but good can come from any situation if you are seeking it. I certainly have daily reminders of my battle - the scars, the memories, the fears, and my body will never function "normally" again as a result. Few people know, but I am sick, on average, 20-25 times a day. With over 3 feet of my small intestine removed, it impacts the way that I respond to food and drinks. Now, I have become very good at hiding how I feel. I know how to overcome these challenges. Quite honestly, it wears me out sometimes. But even on the worst of my days, when I feel horrible, I am thankful for my life, for my family, for friends, and for the opportunity to experience more of life!
Don't wait until something tragic occurs to make these changes in your own life. Do them now!