A Project Manager’s Game Plan for Dealing with Incurable Cancer

Segment Eleven– Go Placidly Amidst the Noise and Haste…

If you are a baby boomer (or older Gen-X’er), you may recall the kerfuffle surrounding a simple bit of prose called Desiderata.  It was a fascinating document (and can be found easily on-line — https://www.desiderata.com/desiderata.html ).

When it was originally released in the 1970’s, it was tagged with the line: Found in Old St. Paul’s Church, Baltimore A.C. 1692. Everyone who read that believed that a little 17th-century insight had somehow survived the centuries and found its way into the needy minds of the flower children and hippies of a more modern era.  It was later revealed that it was the work of author Max Ehrmann, a poet and lawyer from Terre Haute, Indiana, in 1927. 

It was rendered as a spoken-word song, peaking at Number 8 on the Billboard® charts in 1971.  It was on posters. It was cited regularly as evidence of emotional intelligence (before there was such a thing).  Young people memorized it.  Pastors used it as fodder for their sermons.  And all it really was was an effort by Max Ehrmann to leave a meaningful manifesto behind to improve mankind.

Well done, Max.  You arrived.

While I was one of those young people who memorized the thing in my youth, I had largely forgotten about it in adulthood, until I got the cancer diagnosis.  Line by line, it has come to have at least the same depth…if not a deeper meaning than it did 50 years ago.  A few lines, however, are standouts that deserve a little 2020’s attention.

As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons…

Desiderata-Max Ehrmann (Public Domain)We should all take that one to heart.  As I’ve mentioned before, friends and acquaintances (personal and professional) have come out of the woodwork since I revealed my diagnosis.  Some are people that I really wanted to reconnect with.  Others, not so much.  And yet, I strive to be on good terms with all of them and discover something amazing.  Those who were not on my personal radar are often those that enrich me the most.  They say the right things.  They make me hopeful.  They bring sunshine into the darker days.  To a one, I count myself fortunate for all of them, and I’m very grateful that I’ve remained on good terms with all of them.

I do like Ehrmann’s word choice of without surrender. For those who would consume my time without value, I’ve also learned not to surrender.  I try to give freely of my time, but I also recognize that there are relationships worth greater investments than others.  When I get a chance to share time with people I value, I’m reminded of why it’s so important to remain on good terms.

Lesson Learned: I’ve found that certain e-mails and voicemails are true “pick-me-ups”. And I strive to make notes about who leaves me feeling that way.  One woman, Roxanne, regularly leaves notes and comments behind when I post or when a mutual acquaintance shares a thought.  She is not a lifelong friend.  She is, however, a person I value above so many others because just the notion of spending time reading what she’s shared or running into her at a professional gathering lifts my heart.  She has taught me to keep track of the people who make me feel that way, and to find ways to run into them more often.

Another element of Desiderata is Ehrmann’s suggestion that…

Everywhere, life is full of heroism.

It is. My wife is a hero.  My sister is a hero.  The list could easily go on, but I’ll leave it with those two as my examples.  Both Nancy and Ginny would contend that they are not heroes.  But they are.  Nancy does eldercare for her mom without batting an eyelash.  She sees injustice in a social circle and works to either correct it or shut it down. All that’s missing is the cape.  She’s a hero.  (And come to think of it, I think she has a cape or two in her wardrobe).

Ginny is a hero.  She is the beloved “Nin” to her nine grandkids.  She works to ensure they all get the grandmotherly attention they merit.  She makes sure her house is a home.  She finds a way to keep the whole family united.  Everywhere, life is full of heroism.

Lesson Learned: Call out the heroes.  Don’t miss a single opportunity to show serious gratitude when the heroes in your circle perform those simple acts of heroism.  Letting someone know that you know how much they contribute can make their day.  And it encourages more of the same.

The last line of the narrative is perhaps the most telling.

Strive to Be Happy

Jeez, that’s hard.  When your cell phone goes off for the eighth time today and it’s the same recording telling you about how you have a unique opportunity, it’s tough to be happy.  Snarky?  That’s easy.  Happy?  Not so much.  I’m writing this while waiting for my oncologist to walk into her office.  I’m wearing a mask, it’s late in the afternoon, and I just want the latest episode of the Stage Four story to end.  Happy is a challenge. 

But happy is definitely up to me.  I know I’ll bring a little joy to my good doctor.  I brought her a loaf of my fresh-baked bread.  And when she tells me I don’t have to do that, I’ll see her smile nonetheless.  (No one can be bummed out around fresh-baked homemade bread).  And seeing her positive response will evoke a positive response in me.  It’ll make me happy.

In an environment where you’re surrounded by others with similar medical conditions, getting poked, prodded, measured and evaluated, you have to make your own happiness.

Striving to be happy doesn’t mean just trying.  It means doing. (Thanks, Yoda).

Lesson Learned:  Perhaps the goofiest non-adult thing that I do is wear Converse All-Star (low-top Chucks) tennis shoes in every color and pattern imaginable.  I’m sitting here just before Easter, wearing neon green ChucksOddly enough, almost everywhere I go on a regular basis, the shoes are a conversation-starter and a source of stories and upbeat connection.  (I don’t recommend that you collect 40 pairs over the next 50 years as I have, but…).  The key is to find something that makes you approachable, personable and unique.  In its own weird way, my tennis shoes help me and those around me to strive to be happy.

While Desiderata was Max Ehrmann’s effort to be noble for those around him, I think he’d just be happy to know that his words are remembered.  And whatever you do that makes you just a little more (positively) memorable, you’re heading in the right direction.

In the next segment, we’ll look at the simple, Facebook-class accomplishments (How many states have you…  What foods can you not…  How many family members…), and the endorphins they induce!

If you want to review the previous elements of this e-book or blog, they’re all posted at www.carlpritchard.com/blog If you have insights you’d like to share or comments or conversations, my e-mail is the best way to reach me at carl@carlpritchard.com.  I’ll always get back to you within 24 hours.  Always.  And if you think I missed the mark?  Check your spam folder.  Thanks for joining me on this journey.