It’s a fair question – precise, practical. Because my motives should be questioned.
Simply knowing what a man does isn’t enough, because it doesn’t give you any insight into his mind. His heart. A man can appear to be doing one thing but underneath is doing something else. Something hidden.
So, here it is, open and honest. Written off the top of my head in a blaze, without notes or outlines. Because that’s how life happens.
Life was going really good for me. I was up to my eyeballs in a fascinating career that I loved. I had a wife and three children that were amazing. I had my life all planned out. Set. Done.
I was engineering multi-platinum albums with some of the hottest stars in Nashville. I was beginning to produce, which is where the real money would kick in. I sat beside millionaire legends and ate lunch with some of the most talented people on the planet – my heroes. Every year things got steadily better. The world outside the soundproofed, esoteric sanctuary of high-end studios faded away for twelve to eighteen hours a day.
Until one day.
Suzie, my wife, went in for a routine checkup and the doctor was concerned. Overnight everything changed. For the next year and a half they found cancer and removed it only to have an entirely new cancer take its place. Doctors gave up on her three times.
Suzie became a mysterious case that doctors and nurses talked about in the halls and presented at conferences. They wanted to fly her places to study her. Doctors swore when they read her chart and even got choked up and had to leave the room upon hearing the medical history. We weren’t too pleased either, by the way.
I simply couldn’t keep up the pace at work and be with Suzie and take care of three kids. It wasn’t much of a decision. Suddenly, getting one more country song on the radio didn’t seem so important. All of my priorities flipped upside down.
My job became encouraging Suzie. It was all I could do. But I committed to doing it with the same competitive energy I’d given to helping stars. World-class encouragement was my goal.
But I was really bad at it. It didn’t come naturally. The first time I tried I brought Suzie to tears. I would have to become a student of other survivors.
I had a lot to learn but I went at it like it was life or death – which it was. Since there was no book on how to survive such a thing, I read all I could find about people who survived very difficult situations. I looked at Navy SEALs, victims of war and plane crashes, POWs, holocaust survivors, burn victims, and other people with cancer. I read medical journals, scientific studies and biographies for clues to what helped and what didn’t.
To sort out the good information from the bad I created two rules:
1) It had to work. Really work. Not just psycho-babble, quackery or wishful thinking. It had to work for someone fighting uncharted multiple cancers.
2) It couldn’t violate my faith. That, family and our church had gotten us this far in ways I’d never anticipated. So when scientists scoffed at religion or dabbled in Eastern Mysticism or suggested I find my inner spirit guide, I ignored them but still read their research.
With these criteria, we tried the best ideas on ourselves like lab rats. We noted what helped and what didn’t. We sorted through scam artists, mystery oil, fungal tea suggestions and supplement salesmen. We read survival guides, positive thinkers, motivators, preachers and psychologists. We checked our attitudes and prayed like crazy.
We left the medicine to the doctors. Our goal was to keep our spirits up and survive the treatment. Some things began to work immediately. Doctors began to comment on our attitudes and tell us we were handling it well. At the time we didn’t know this was unusual. We had no idea what had happened to other people. We just kept our heads down and tried to handle the next life threatening crisis. That was enough.
In the end, Suzie survived eight different cancers. Five were aggressively malignant but the slower cancers were in brain and nerve centers that cause her the most trouble today. One type had never been seen before. After fourteen surgeries, four hospitals, a year and a half and more than a dozen doctors, she was declared “in remissions”, plural.
This had happened five times before so we were wary, but this time they were right. Suzie has remained cancer free for more than fifteen years.
We didn’t stop to congratulate ourselves. We just went to work on living again and creating a new life. And we celebrated what we had. We didn’t want to think about the past. We just wanted it behind us. But it wasn’t that simple.
Suzie had continuing health scares and medical issues caused by the treatments she’d received. The kids had issues to work through. My career goals changed radically. We had problems – but we also had resources we’d never had before. Our priorities had been deeply reshuffled. Even our dreams didn’t look the same.
In many ways it was better. We’d learned so much we weren’t exactly the same people anymore. I spent more time at home and outside in nature than in a dark studio. We took long, wandering vacations. The simple things were indescribably sweet, like life had been turned up to eleven on a scale of ten.
And then there was all of this research just sort of laying around. Piles of it. We’d learned helpful habits and strategies that we still used every day. The lessons weren’t just about surviving cancer. They applied to life in surprising ways.
It didn’t seem right to keep it to ourselves. So, we started trying to organize and share what we had learned. More changes and experiments led us on a meandering path to today.
There’s much more to the story but that’s enough for now. We wanted you to know why we do this. That’s where we come from. Now you know our motivation.
As for the future, we’ve learned not to brag about what we can’t control or make promises we can’t guarantee. We’d rather concentrate on delivering more than we promise.
But we do have plans. Big ones. What we learned changed our lives. It kept us going and motivated in the face of overwhelming problems. It has made life better for us every day since. Much better. What we discovered works. Creative encouragement, resilience and recovery are things you can learn. Courage is an everyday commodity that goes beyond emergencies. There’s a plan to it. And meaning.
We can’t wait to share more. Stay tuned.
Photo of Why, Arizona by Venturist via Flickr