It was early in the summer of 2003 when the phone rang at work. For some reason I knew it wasn’t going to be a good call. My dad, barely keeping it together, shared the difficult news that cancer had struck our family. It had been several months since my mom began feeling pain, yet none of the doctors could figure out the cause. One of those doctors decided to take a look inside. Stage 3 ovarian cancer. Instant perspective.
LIFE IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU ARE MAKING OTHER PLANS
I had incredible plans laid out for that summer. My girlfriend (now wife) and I were both headed to graduate school in the fall. It was one of those rare opportunities in adult life where you can truly pause, when you are in between “things” and can operate for a time without any responsibility. More or less summer break like the old days. Not yet engaged but on our way, we intended to criss cross the country and camp at national parks, working our way back east to New York from San Francisco.
Then the phone rang. In an instant, everything melted away to the foundation. The only thing that mattered was finding the fastest way home. After I hung up, numbed, I dialed my younger brother Dave. Dave happened to work a few minutes away. We didn’t need to say anything, I simply said I would be coming by. When I arrived we embraced, silently, for what seemed like minutes. Despite the struggle ahead, I immediately felt better. Our parents had always put family first. We were built to handle this.
In an instant, everything melted away to the foundation. The only thing that mattered was finding the fastest way home.
Lucky for me, my future wife also came from a place where family came first. Without missing a beat, she said she would be coming back east with me and would spend the summer at my parents’ home, helping however she could. A day later I was on the road to Austin from San Francisco, moving my belongings to a storage facility in advance of starting graduate school. I did the round trip drive solo in four days, 3000+ miles. To say I was running on adrenaline and caffeine is an understatement, but as a species we are capable of incredible endurance in the name of people who need us.
It turned out to be an amazing summer. Our already close family gained an even deeper appreciation for one another. My girlfriend’s response to the situation further cemented my confidence that I was choosing the right partner. While some of my mom’s friends didn’t know how to handle the news (assuming she had received a death sentence), more came forward to offer their support. She thought she appreciated her friends before cancer, but now had a new perspective on what they meant. Gene, my closest childhood friend, even went to the hospital to see my mom before I was able to make it home, just to let me know she was doing ok.
A MORE INFORMED VIEW ON PERSPECTIVE
How do we live our lives so that the clutter doesn’t get in the way of the material? How do we maintain a healthy and consistent perspective that doesn’t require trauma to be awakened?
My mom’s cancer taught me three important lessons that have helped me to maintain a better perspective:
- Put your family and friends first. There are times when work or hobbies are urgent, but if they are finding their way into the primary slot more often than not, you are going down the wrong path. Friends and family don’t eliminate your job in the sake of cost cutting. Put yourself on your death bed, reflecting on your life. Would you rather have ten more minutes at the office, or ten more minutes with your son or daughter or wife?
- Tell people that you care about them. This one seems simple, but I’ve found that telling my wife, kids, parents, brothers and friends that I love them forces me to consider the implications of that statement…and it keeps me grounded as to what that means. Actions matter more than words, but words can also drive action.
- Slow down. We are all guilty of constantly pushing the pace. What are we rushing to? In our frenetic existence, we more often than not miss the moment. We can’t get those moments back.
THIS STORY HAS A HAPPY ENDING
You’re probably wondering what happened to my mom. Through incredible care, a positive outlook and little bit of luck, she’s thirteen years free of cancer. Perspective? She beat the odds and is fortunate to be alive. I know that she hugs each of her seven grandchildren, none of whom she would have met, just a little bit tighter and a little while longer. She savors every minute of her life, with renewed perspective that each day could be the last. You can’t help but feel the same way when you are around her. Constant perspective, no regrets. A better way to live. To think, it started in an instant.