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Twenty-Five Years Ago Today (2/22/1997), I was Declared “Cancer Free”

What a quarter century with a clean bill of health has taught me

Though this may seem too personal to broadcast on a “business” platform such as LinkedIn, but I can assure you that this journey has a lot to do with one’s professional life as well as one’s personal life and these lines aren’t as black and white as some would prefer. And as we’ve learned over the past two years in the pandemic era, the lines between personal and professional have blurred, which were probably never there in the first place.

I’ve mentioned in a prior piece that I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 1996 and went through all the requisite treatments of high-dose chemotherapy (think Superfund toxins) as well a good dose of radiation (think Chernobyl) over the course of six months. Beyond that, there were the barbaric surgical procedures for biopsies

that also left a mark or two.

(Photo: 1997-post treatments)*

And in full disclosure, for the rest of your life you live with the side effects, secondary issues and other kinds of scarring that are inherent with this kind of battle. Much like the dinner guest that overstays their welcome, you learn to live with it.

Remarkably I’m still here and quite happy about it! Why? Because I beat cancer!

And this is not a pity party because I’ve lived a truly wonderful life since those dark days of the great unknowing—finding out which treatments offered the best survival chances. My journey was one of learning on every level that one could conceivably imagine from the physical, personal, and yes, even the professional.

I’ll focus on the professional as best as I can. No matter what career path one chooses there will be ups and downs; this roller-coaster of uncertainty brings emotional highs and lows depending upon the severity of the symptoms. Having lost a business during the GFC I couldn’t have felt worse, but I had company: Many millions of people lost jobs and businesses at the time. And guess what? I beat cancer.

Let’s focus on how people treat you when you are diagnosed. In my case, it was quite apparent to my friends that I was in treatment due to some remarkable changes; I resembled the Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man from the original Ghostbusters movie. Though some thought I had more of a Casper the Friendly Ghost appearance and, judging from the comment of a fellow subway passenger—”Yo, whassup Powder?”—all in all, I was not sporting a very good look. And frankly, it’s really hard to see someone going through this; I understood people’s reactions, because I had these same feelings whenever I saw someone in an unfortunate place.

(Photo: 1997-post treatments)*

Professionally is where my fears and insecurity converged. Ultimately, I experienced an epiphany, a total 180-degree turnaround of fearlessness and overwhelming self-confidence. I felt fortified. Why? Because I beat cancer.

Being diagnosed and fighting cancer taught me so many things that I wish I had learned without the trauma and drama of disease. But life doesn’t work that way, does it?. And each one of these lessons are displayed in all aspects in my life, personal and professional.

Here is a sampling of the life-lessons and each one is important on its own without any particular order except for number 7 which I see as the most compelling.

1. Awareness of the world around you—somehow your senses are more attuned to smells, sounds, sights, and flavors of all sorts. Regardless of the long-term medical effects of the life-saving therapies, you’re plugged into life at a higher level of awareness and sensitivity.

2. People are good—and the ones who aren’t, will fall by the side. I push negative people away and embrace positive people. Fortunately for all of us, there are many positive people. Although it doesn’t happen overnight and takes some time to separate healthy influences and unhealthy ones, something deep inside guides you towards the positive, the best that life offers.

3. The world is a better place than you think---we’re living in some most difficult times now, and it may seem like there will be no way out because we’re so focused on the “now”. There have been darker times in the world, and we came through it and the survivors arrived at a better place. And we will again.

4. Don’t hold back---if you love someone, tell them. If something is bothering you, express it. We spend more time talking to ourselves while suffering the whims of those who don't really care about you. We’re given only so many heartbeats and breaths in a lifetime and wasting your time can only lead to disharmony, unhappiness and unfulfillment.

(Photo: 1997-post treatments)*

5. Always find time to have a laugh---there are so many tragedies and horrible things in the world, and sometimes in our own lives, that at our darkest moments the idea of finding anything positive or even a palliative seems hopeless. And in this hopelessness we find a glimmer of hope, which sometimes is the heaviest lift of all.

6. Define your own success---do not let others define what makes your life worth living. Success is its own reward; it is the best dessert. If you were running a marathon, you would compete against your personal best. Running is a metaphor for life, so lead your life joyously and when it comes to competition define your own success, live life joyously and be a winner every day.

7. Love people as hard as you can—not meaning to force it because that’s not how love works. Each day is a precious gift and not to be squandered. When you love someone or something, it’s much easier to show or express it than not.

I continue to live a remarkable life mostly due to the inspiration and strength shown by my family, friends and everyone and everything in-between. I survived in no small measure due to the courage, devotion and extraordinary love of my wife Cynthia who is in these photographs with me, dad, mom, brother, and sister as well as the love of all I’ve known through these past twenty-five years.

(Photo: 1997-post treatments)*

My life has been more than spectacular. I just hope to give back as much as I’ve received.

And guess what? I beat cancer!!!

*(Photos of Cynthia and me courtesy of Jeffrey Ashton)


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