In our lives, as we are growing up and maturing, a vast many of us are taught and learn to take care of others before ourselves. For me I have always looked to take care of the people around me. This came to me as part of my experience growing up in South Africa, where I saw people treated differently, to the extreme. For me this was confusing and stressful, as most of the people closest to me where treated differently, treated badly.
I resolved very early in my life that I would take care of people, be kind, and do everything I could to help the people around me early in my life, who contributed so much to who I am. They loved me and taught me the power of love could really overcome all barriers. As a result, one of my learned behaviors was to help and not be helped, if that makes sense, I also learned to look at the future and have goal set and used affirmations to manifest the future I wanted to create for most of my life, starting at the age of 8. I never saw my belief around help as anything but a part of who I am, until the culmination of my recent experiences this past year, when I realized it was, most importantly, actually a two-way street.
Fast forward to 2008. I’ve been extremely fortunate and had so many opportunities to do work in a diverse and varied set of environments spending, on average, 500+ hours a year actually in the air on an aircraft somewhere, as I did work in over 40 countries. In early 2008 I was leaving for a long-term business assignment and landed up in Urgent Care the night before and received a diagnosis of double pneumonia. This would be the first in a series of 10 double pneumonia episodes over the next 4 years and an additional 12 episodes following those. There was something different about these as I was experiencing significant pain along with each progressive episode. I kept marching on, spending up to 3 months a year in Africa in addition to my workload. In 2012 things seemed to quite down until November 13, 2012, when it came knocking with a much greater urgency. I woke up that morning with a scare as I felt by sternum literally shatter, it was the strangest feeling besides being painful. I found out later that 5 of my ribs had ‘detached’. The next few months was certainly a journey, in and of itself, until I went into the Mayo clinic early in March 2013. The news from my tests and scans was shocking. I had been diagnosed with metastatic cancer, stage 4, in my chest cavity, sternum, ribs, and lymph nodes.
Shortly after my visits to the Mayo, my Dad, my two girls and I took a road trip from Phoenix to Vancouver to start the building of the Ray-Cam Community Cooperative vertical food garden that my family foundation, My Arms Wide Open sponsors. We arrived on Sunday evening and on Monday afternoon I received a call from the Mayo, saying I need to be back at the Mayo by Friday. What was remarkable and truly wonderful was that the Ray-Cam Community took over and competed the wall successfully based on the plan we’d created. It has become My Arms Wide Open’s most successful garden yet. After returning to Phoenix and a series of tests on that same Friday we had decided we would go home and think about what next steps would be based on what we’d learned. My doctor, at the time, walked up behind me, put his arms around me and said to Kim, ‘I’m sorry, he can’t leave, I really am not sure he’ll make it back, if he does.’ I was stunned. Silent. I was checked into the hospital and apparently was in hospital for 11 days. I can recall only 3 of those days. The first 2 and the day I got to go home and just return for treatments. I resolved that I would beat this. I had to. My team at the Mayo has been amazing; they are kind, caring, supportive and compassionate. I have been so fortunate to be able to have a team like this care of myself, and my family.
Stepping to the edge
In early April, after the first ‘hail-Mary’ treatment and my second full round of 6 chemo infusions, I was asked by my doctors if I had taken the time to get my affairs in order, as the treatments did not seem to be working. I had the realization that I really needed help and in fact wanted it, not that I was not receiving help, I wanted to take it in and step away from ego.
I live looking to the future, as does our youngest daughter. I remember her sobbing and telling me she couldn’t see me in her future and that she was scared. However, something wonderful happened. I don’t remember dates, I just remember in April, our youngest daughter bursting into the hospital room saying loudly, “Daddy, I can see you! I can see you!” I knew exactly what she meant and that is when I decided to stop fighting cancer and to let my doctors and their team do that part. I was going to focus my energy and thoughts on simply living and seeing everyone in my life, clearly, and experiencing every moment.
My wife was at first taken a back, when I told her what I was feeling and what I’d decided. She got it, though and said. ‘Okay, let’s focus on living,’ My family and friends surrounded me and I realized there were simple things, that I’ve always taken for granted, that I was no longer able to do or only able to do with help, for myself. I let it all go and accepted and took on the help I was being offered to help me live. In May, after my own adjustment to my perception of who needed help, and a change in my mindset, I got the news that treatments had started to work. My tumors had begun to shrink.
My journey from the edge of life…
When I wrote this, I was fortunate enough to be living my life fully and was already three months cancer free, after completing 6 rounds of 6 infusions of chemo. I am humbled and grateful for life, for the entire experience and for the love, kindness and help I have received. By facing my own mortality, I have learned about life, and grown more, in this short time since my cancer than at any time in my life. I’ve learned I have no regrets and to appreciate living in the present. I’ve learned that it is okay to be helped and that we all need help. It makes for much more significant collaboration and success in all we do. We all need help, love and kindness and that all of these should be reciprocated in every aspect of our lives. It makes us brighter, easier to be around, and conscious and appreciative of every moment we experience.