“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 these gifts 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. 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 my son’s comment make me so happy? My son Miller got into basketball last year when he was in the sixth grade. He was already tall for his age and he took an immediate liking to it. It seemed like a good fit because over the last eight months Miller went from being fairly tall to a giant at 6’1″, with size 12 shoes, and 135lbs. He just turned 12 in June! 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. Two 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 and collaborating. Because of my medical leave, my schedule allowed me to be there every day after school to practice, 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 for me. 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—both 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 my wife 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 emails 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 four weeks 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 four 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 with 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 two months—healing 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 huge accomplishment given the short period of time he has been playing. In fact he has one 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.