What Cancer Has Taught Me

October 18, 2011 - 10:46 AM

We have all had one of those experiences or defining moments that changed the way we look at life.  Fifteen months ago, my world was rocked and changed forever when I was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.  While navigating through many decisions about my health, I also found myself thinking about, and confirming, the things I believe in and value the most.    While not exhaustive, here are a few things I have confirmed:


People matter most.  There are so many things in life that occupy my mind and become the object of my pursuits.  Most are good things and deserve my attention.  But when push comes to shove, it’s my family and friends who show up, stand beside me and support me through the tough times.  During these past few months, there were many people who inspired me to keep fighting.  While I need to be responsible for investing in my career, retirement and financial well-being, all of these should take a back seat to investing in people.


Having a plan is critical.  In a matter of hours, or even minutes, I was thrust into a circumstance of urgency.  There wasn't panic, because I knew I had my "house in order."  I had completed my planning, but found myself thinking about issues that I had not considered.  Things like; did my wife know the passwords to key account information?  Did she know where to find the key to the safety deposit box?  Would my files be easy for my executor to go through?  It pushed me to take my planning to another level and to consider all the "what ifs," and minimize as many uncertainties as possible.


My most trusted advisors have my ear and most influence my decision-making.  When the news of cancer hit, I found myself in an autopilot mode of operation.  There was so much to think about; so many things to consider.  I could only really hear the advice of the people who had already earned my trust; my wife and family, of course, my accountability partners of thirty years and my financial advisors who knew my circumstances and understood my wishes (even if they were a bit cloudy for me while dealing with the shock of this news).  It confirmed for me the importance of having trusted advisors in place before being faced with uncertainty. 


I will leave a legacy in this world.  The question I need to ask myself is, “Will it be the one I want?”  Facing the certainty of my mortality caused me to think about the people I care about the most.  Each of these relationships deserved the very best from me.  Were they getting my best?  Were there other things in life that had edged above them on my priority list?  It doesn't happen intentionally; life just has a way of squeezing us and misappropriating our attentions.  I heard it said once, “When death is certain, life becomes rich.”  I wasn't necessarily facing death at that moment, but it revealed to me what I obviously knew; that I would die someday.  Being told you have cancer causes you to look at mortality differently.  I have learned over this past year to live each day as if it were my last.  It has forced me to pay attention to things that are most important.  It has helped me to be much more strategic and intentional in investing in my legacy.  What I have come to realize is that the legacy I leave will be dependent on the life I am living now.


I am not in control.  Though I live my life with intentionality, there are some things I just can't control.  This is the hardest lesson of all, because my human nature wants to control every aspect of my life and the circumstances in which I live.  When the doctor gave me the diagnosis of cancer and an uncertain prognosis, it was truly the first time in my life that I felt totally out of control.  This is inevitable for each of us, so it makes sense that we mentally and emotionally prepare ourselves for those times when all we can do is embrace the moment and learn the valuable lessons of difficult circumstances.  Coming to grips with this reality that I am not in control has helped me to start living with a new level of abandonment and joy.


My education about living life with cancer is far from over, but I can honestly say that this past year has been rich beyond measure.  I am looking forward to new lessons about living life with passion in the days, months and years to come.

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