“Dad…I am so glad you got cancer”

“Dad, don’t take this the wrong way, but I am so glad you got cancer.” He was really cute about it, clearly a little nervous, and yet intent to speak his truth.

You would not have expected that to light up a smile across my face, but that is exactly what happened. Another gift of this dreaded disease. Hard to imagine that they could be so abundant in just four weeks. You would be amazed. If I could spend more time writing they would come flowing out of me, it is stunning. A friend of ours, a therapist, said “cancer is the intimacy disease…if you let it become that for you and those around you.” That was an understatement.

So why did Miller’s comment make me so happy? A bit of a back story…Miller got into basketball last year when he was in the sixth grade. He was already tall for his age and he took and immediate liking to it. Good thing, over the last 8 months Miller went from being tall to being a giant. 6’1″, size 12 shoe, and 135lbs. And he just turned 12 on June 16th. This year he wanted to go for a spot in the “Gold Crown” competitive league. This was a tall order, pun intended, for a kid who had only played a year on a YMCA team. And, in fact, had never really had any serious coaching on his skills. I played hockey through my school years so I didn’t have a lot of basketball knowledge to offer up. Turns out I had something more valuable to offer, my time.

A few weeks ago we went to an open gym for one of the teams and I quickly saw the knowledge gap first hand. I took copious notes on all of the drills the coach was using. 2 days later we went to a different teams open gym and I learned even more drills. Later that evening Miller and I sat down and made a plan. Every day after that we went out and did drills for an hour or more. It was really cool to see how he started to progress in his skills, much quicker than I had anticipated. Yet the coolest part was the time he and I spent together, working towards a shared goal, talking, collaborating. Because of my medical leave, my schedule allowed me to be there every day after school to practice, and to attend each gym workout and team tryouts. I was fully engaged in the process and completely present in supporting his goals.

My cancer diagnosis has opened a window of time from my work. I have always thrown myself into my endeavors with passion, energy, and a focused desire to be the best I can be in any given situation. I love to learn, and I love to work with other smart people to create and collaborate. My professional and service oriented commitments have always been very fulfilling and rewarding for me and I have benefited from many great teachers, partners, co-workers, and staff. And I have spent enormous amounts of life energy and time in pursuit of my professional goals over the last 16 years.

My diagnosis has also opened a window of awareness and vulnerability, in my consciousness, and my heart. Spending time with my children and family has been an enormous gift. The impact of my presence and deeper involvement in the family cannot be understated. Both Brooke and I have observed and discussed numerous examples of this in the last month. It has been interesting for me to reflect upon this change. I have spent the last 16 years working hard to provide for my family, and like most working parents that means I am out the door by 8 am or earlier, and home by 6 pm or later. Add in some work email, etc. around the evening and weekend margins and that restricts my time to some fairly narrow windows. Given that I have three children, and selfishly want time to exercise and get some individual space, it does not leave much in the balance.

So what is the right balance?  Clearly there has to be a balance, work and income are necessary for economic and intellectual nourishment. Yet I have realized over the last 4 weeks in that there is absolutely no better return on my investment for my time than with my children. They are the true gift and I can imagine no better place to invest my creative and collaborative energies. Time is short and fleeting. The future for all of us is uncertain. 1 out of 6 people with my diagnosis are dead in 5 years or less. Much better odds than most with cancer, and yet still sobering for me to consider…especially given that until 4 weeks ago I maintained the popular illusion that I had many uninterrupted years stretching before me. What if I were not here? What if my time with my precious children and family is shorter than I imagined? How do I want my children to remember me? Rushing out the door each morning and returning late each evening, traveling, focused on the world beyond them. Or engaged in their lives, “on the court”, and focused on their passions and pursuits with equal investment as my own? A tricky equation to balance, comprised of different variables and choices, and no clear “right answer”.

For me I have a new awareness for the preciousness of life and time with my children and family. I don’t know what path lies ahead of me. I am focused on getting this cancer out and healing. I am told that it will be a pretty significant recovery. That is where I will be putting my energies and passions over the next 2 months. Healing myself and preparing for the next step in my life’s journey. And I am looking forward to many years ahead engaging and investing as much of my time in my children and my family as I am in my own pursuits and in the world beyond. I cannot imagine a better way to positively impact the world than to support my three incredible children in the development of their minds, bodies, and spirits.

Miller made the team.  A big accomplishment in a short period of time. In fact he has 1 more tryout for the top team and the coach is taking a serious look at bringing him on the 10 man squad. Amazing how much ground he has covered in a short period of time. Amazing the positive impact this has had on his attitude, confidence, and enthusiasm. I am so grateful to have had the time to support him on this journey. In a twisted sort of way I am thankful for the gift of cancer as well.

Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts.

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their sould,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

…You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

– The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life…and Death

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your

one wild and precious life?”

     – The Summer day, Mary Oliver

I have been thinking about this topic a lot lately. Not because I think I have any serious risk of dying anytime soon. I don’t think that is the case. Instead I have been thinking of death in a slightly different context. Cancer is scary and potentially deadly stuff. Fortunately for me it appears I am going to be one of the lucky ones, I had an incidental finding, early detection, and given a good surgical outcome I should be cancer free.

It has been 4 weeks today since my positive diagnosis for lung cancer. These past 4 weeks have been a time warp. Part of my evolving perspective over this time, as I have been working thorough my shock and denial, is that there are many gifts emerging from this bout with cancer. And these gifts are coming in all sorts of ways; time with family, friends, gratitude, perspective, etc. First and foremost among these gifts is that the tumor was found 4-5 years before I would have had my first symptoms. But “what if” this had not been found? What if 4 years hence I were fighting for my life with a 1 in 7 chance of survival?

I have won the life lottery. And like any lottery winner everything changes in an instant. What am I going to do with my winnings?  My experience has not been any different. It has forced me to contemplate the obvious question; what do I do with my gift of life? How do I give back, have an impact, and honor the fact that I am getting an opportunity that many lung cancer patients don’t get? How do I open my heart wide to life?

You would know the secret of death.

But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?

If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life.

For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.

     – The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran

As a society do we deal with death in a healthy manner? Are we real and authentic? Or do we keep it hidden? In the shadows and only acknowledging it when it is necessary? From my limited world perspective, we don’t really deal with it. Or at least as little as possible.  To me the discussion of death seems once removed and separate from our daily lives. That was certainly the case for me until this diagnosis. I have experienced the death of my Dad and Mom, 13 and 3 years ago respectively. And I feel I tried very hard to be real and present through each of those experiences. Yet it was still a brief moment in time, and “they both lived long and productive lives”. And then, after a period of mourning and grief, life slowly went back to the normal routine, with that untidy business still hopefully many decades away.

The reality, I think, is that death is much closer at hand to all of us than we either realize or have the capacity to acknowledge. For me I can intellectually grasp the concept, but It did not have any material impact on my daily life, until recently. I have had brushes with death before, car or bike accidents, yet this time seems very different. This was not a choice, but rather a random lottery.

So what to do with this gift? How am I going to have an impact going forward? How am I going to serve others in need? How do my actions honor those who did not receive this gift? I don’t have the answers, yet I am increasingly clear on the importance of the questions.

It is only when

we have the courage

to face things

exactly as they are,

without any

self deception or illusion,

that a light

will develop out

of events

by which the path

to success

may be recognized.

I-Ching