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Posts tagged ‘Cancer’

7300 Days

On Ash Wednesday, February 17, 1999, I went to mass at the St. Paul Cathedral and came back to the office to a voicemail from the Doctor. The previous Friday, I went in to have a mole on my right arm checked because it was itchy and changing color. They took a biopsy. I had gone to the clinic in early January, but there was no Doctor available so the nurse measured it and I came back for in February for the biopsy. I called the clinic back asking for Jan who wasn’t available. The operator asked for my name and immediately said hold on and I’ll get Jan. At that point, I figured Jan and I weren’t about to exchange our favorite recipes. Jan came on the line and told me she made an appointment for me on Friday to come in for a wide excision (cut it out) – “you have melanoma.”

I sat quietly in my chair at my office for a few minutes and then started to make calls to my family – tough calls. Blew off work (still need to do more of that), went to the Mall of America to watch an afternoon movie and hang out with family to pass the next 48 hours.

Friday comes. I go in ready to get this thing done and move on only to be told that it wasn’t a in office procedure since in the month between appointments, it went from Stage 1 to 3 of 5. They needed to schedule a hospital visit to do a sentinel node where they put dye in the area of the mole and track it for a few hours to see if the cancer spread to the lymph nodes by putting a big metal door next to your face to take pictures for 10-minute stints. If it did, then the procedure is to be put fully under, dig deep into the arm and then take some lymph nodes.

This appointment was yet another month later in March. Waiting was fun. Sure enough, three lymph nodes came back suspicious so they cut deep into my armpit to remove and test those little buggers, which then determines the post-surgery treatment plan. My wake up requests were a diet Mountain Dew and Hot Tamales and my wish was granted as we waited for the results. Most excellent news – the lymph nodes came back negative so no chemo or radiation. Regular visits to the dermatologist and hold out for that 5 year mark which is a great anniversary in cancer land.

Fast forward 7300 days – two decades later – and I celebrate 20 years cancer free. My story was a lucky one. I have many friends and family who had to do chemo, radiation and experimental drugs in the past two decades. Some haven’t won the battle.

I’ve decided to frame the celebration in days rather than decades as a reminder to be live and be present in each day because they quickly add up to decades and we don’t know where they’ve gone when we don’t participated fully in each day.

The most valuable gift that cancer gave me is an acute awareness of the brevity and fragility of life. The result is a shift in perspective to lighten up and take all the chaos that life throws at us much less seriously and know that there’s more to the story than we know.

A few more lessons: Enjoy each day and laugh. Judge less and love more. Tune out negativity. Let go. Keep learning. Age is number, stay young by being active. Pray, a lot. Keep trying. Worry less. Ask for help. Offer help even when it’s not asked for. Be kind. Change the stories that you tell yourself that hold you back. Feed, cultivate and activate faith, hope and joy. Let God be God – He’s got it and doesn’t need my help to screw up the plan. I do forget all of this often, but always return when I get off track. Returning home to all that’s real and true, that which I know deep in my soul that quietly whispers to me – “come back home, keep unfolding”.

So how does all of this lead to the picture of a snow blower? We’ve been throttled with snow this winter. We now get to win the most snow in February award in Minnesota. Spike the football – we win! Last night, on my second round of snow blowing the dense pile of snow at the end of the driveway from the snow plow, the snow blower didn’t start. Damn it! We’re going to be getting more snow and buying a new snow plow now when they are in demand is not the best purchasing decision. Buying a lawn mower would be good now since it’s going to be 6 months for the snow to melt. I picked up the old shovel and started digging. That’s what we need to do when an obstacle pops up – shut up, stop complaining, dig in and keep moving.

As I shoveled in the quiet dark evening, it occurred to me that I bought that snowblower 20 years ago with my Dad after I had surgery and couldn’t move my right arm for a month while the incision healed. A few days after my surgery, we got dumped on with 12 inches of snow. My Dad and neighbor dug me out. At that point, it was time for the snowblower. I think about my Dad every time I start that snow blower and so I wanted to take a photo to capture and hold that memory if the snowblower is going to the snowblower cemetery.

Long story today, but short lesson – enjoy your days, all 7300 of them. Go deeper and be present today. Each day adds up to make up your life. No do overs. Keep going.

The Power of an Idea Set Free

“Everyone who’s ever taken a shower has an idea. It’s the person who gets out of the shower, dries off and does something about it who makes a difference.” – Nolan Bushnell

A few weeks ago on the national nightly news there was a “doing good” segment at the end, perhaps to balance the 25 minutes of “all that’s wrong with the world.” It was about a couple of college kids at St. Thomas University in Minnesota, so I perked up since my nephew graduated from there.

They had an idea and a few years later it’s now a 501(c)3 nonprofit called the Love Your Melon Foundation. Mission: To put a hat on the heads of all children battling cancer in America. How: You buy a hat (made in the USA to create jobs here) and they dress up as superheroes to deliver hats to kids going through cancer treatment. Buy a hat and one is given away. Simple and awesome.

“Never believe that a few caring people can't change the world. For, indeed, that's all who ever have.” – Margaret Mead

“Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.” – Margaret Mead

My hat came in the mail yesterday and I wanted to share so this idea can continue to cast light for kids battling cancer and to honor the perseverance of a couple of college kids who pushed this idea into reality. We all have the power to do good. And when the ideas and goodness in our hearts are set free, each of us can change the world one person at a time. That’s the real news.

Spread the love –


“Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” – A. A. Milne

The sound of a text on the phone – a text from Linda today “Another year cancer-free. Hugs and kisses.” Today marks 15 years to the day I was called on Ash Wednesday, 1999 to be told that I had stage 3 melanoma. I had to be reminded. I forgot. She remembered. That’s what friends and family do – they remember, they celebrate, they hold up a mirror to show us the best of us – our soul, our spirit.

We remember the offenses, we remember the struggles, we remember the day and minute we get the call. We need to remember the laughter, the lessons and the steps that lead us to the many victories, the celebrations. Tonight, I had dinner with family and played a little bingo. Laughing, winning the meat raffle twice and sharing special moments that make up a good life. So as the numbers are being called, remember to yell “bingo” when you win. It’s more often than we count.

“God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.” – James M. Barrie

“God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.” – James M. Barrie

Be Brave

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” – Nelson Mandela

We often get defeated by the day to day, the small. Harsh words from a customer. Work filled with unending unreasonable deadlines. We get lost in transactions, lists and the sheer volume of tasks, losing our humanity in the process.

I started this blog to write more, to challenge my introverted self to open up and to search for the good in each day. We long to be lifted out of the small and to be cast into the moment, into the light. We have the power to shape our life and to encourage others along the way.

The video below was made by the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital. The young lady in the beginning of the video and who has the courage to remove her wig in the middle is the daughter of my boss. She’s gone through a second round of treatment for a rare cancer. The bright beautiful smile you see in the video is who she is through and through, finding and giving joy despite the depth of her circumstances. The video was posted on October 7th on YouTube and now has 288,820 hits.

Take a few minutes, turn up the volume and count your blessings. Be brave.

Forgetting the Unforgettable

“You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.” – Woodrow Wilson

“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” - Marcel Proust

“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” – Marcel Proust

In the daily details of the unimportant, we forget the unforgettable moments – life changing events. Marriages, births, anniversaries, deaths – mournings, milestones, celebrations and victories.

Last week, Linda sent me an email to commemorate my 14 years cancer-free of melanoma (wear sunscreen, you look good in white). I forgot. This past week, running buddy and awesome friend Terry celebrates 12 years cancer-free. And today, my cousin, traveling companion, hero, babysitter (in the past and still today), and friend, Jeanne celebrates 10 years cancer-free of breast cancer.

Each of us have, are or will go through “life-changing” experiences that put what’s truly important in crystal clear view. The little things are exposed for how really little they are. Family, friends, faith, purpose, generosity, love and joy grow in proportion, to the size they are meant to be.

Remember those unforgettable moments that are meant to shift our life, our perspective, our path. Celebrate each day, for it is the only promise each of us has, so spend each well.

Jeanne, Terry and me – happy anniversary! Remember that life changing moment, share it with others and keep celebrating each day to fullest! Never forget the unforgettable. Remember, remember.

Just When You Think…

“If I had my life to live over, I would perhaps have more actual troubles but I’d have fewer imaginary ones.” – Don Herold

Just when you think you’ve had it tough, you get a whack to the head on how blessed you really are. This morning, I joined my “sole sisters” – Jeanne and Linda at the Challenge Cancer run. Jeanne is celebrating almost 10 years breast cancer free and 13+ years melamona free for me. Other survivors stepped forward to get recognized. A nine year old boy – 6 years cancer free, diagnosed at 18 months old. And then a young woman who was just diagnosed in April with brain cancer, still going through chemo.

We often focus on our burdens, instead of our blessings. Many times our burdens are our blessings. They teach us to accept what we can’t control and let the rest go for God to handle. We may not have the choice on what we go through, but we do have the choice of how we go through it.

Celebrate your life today, tomorrow and next week – burdens, blessings and the whole darn mess.

“If things go wrong, don’t go with them.” – Roger Babson

And the Clouds Break

“Be thou the rainbow in the storms of life. The evening beam that smiles the clouds away, and tints tomorrow with prophetic ray.” – Lord Byron

Every three months for the past two years, we drive to the Mayo Clinic to see if cancer has developed in my Dad’s esophagus. He was diagnosed almost three years ago with stomach cancer and Barrett’s Esophagus. Today, they took a biopsy and now we wait, like we’ve done before. There’s never a conclusion, just a continuation of wait, pray, hope and be grateful for good news every three months. The gift in this reality is that each day becomes a blessing, not to be squandered on the futile.

As we drove home tonight with thoughts racing through my mind, probably the same thoughts others had in the car, I glanced to the left and the sun burst through the dark clouds. And it occurred to me that this is really the essence of life. There are moments of sunshine and moments of clouds, but most days are a mix of both. We can choose to see the sunshine or we can choose to see the clouds. I choose the light.

“Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.” - Rabindranath Tagore

“Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.” – Rabindranath Tagore

Lucky 13

Thirteen years ago today, I got the news that I had melanoma. Anyone who has been dealt the cancer card knows that your world comes to a grinding halt while your mind races with a thousand thoughts. Those problems at work or being upset with someone disappear immediately.  The past, the present, the future – will I be here to enjoy it with family and friends? What’s next? If only? What if?

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