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

Segment Fifty-One—Back in the Saddle—Personal Reinvention

As a birthday present, my wife’s sister gave her a trip to Pittsburgh for what may have been the last full-blown concert by Aerosmith and Steven Tyler.  (The band’s last concert was in Belmont, New York, which is where the legendary frontman blew out his vocal cords).  My wife declared the concert “amazing.” She talked about how surprising it was to see the septuagenarian Tyler in full voice for songs like Dream On. And then, the news came.  He damaged his vocal cords to the point of bleeding and would push back the concert tour dates by at least a month.

After that?  Who knows?

Steven Tyler may have to reinvent himself. It wouldn’t be the first time. He’s had health challenges in the past and has overcome them. To date, however, all of his re-inventions have looked eerily like the original version.

But what about YOU? Maybe we all need to do a little reinventing (and hopefully, can do so without a dreadful medical diagnosis).

When I came up with the title for this segment, a long-time friend of mine immediately came to mind.  Vashti is an amazing woman. She was queen of client relations and administration in a company where we worked together. Years later, in 2018, she abandoned the corporate universe to become self-employed, working with horses (and saddles, too). We all knew she was an animal-lover, but jumping from corporate DC-dweller to horsey-lady in Florida was quite the jump. How do you make a jump like that? You do it by recognizing (as we discussed in the last segment) the want has become a need.  (Get it?  Horses? Back in the Saddle?)

As for me, the driver of the change has been obvious. In a single day, you go from being an average soul with an upset stomach to an incurable cancer patient.  How do you get back on the proverbial horse?  There are a few key steps to making it happen.

  1. Don’t focus on what you don’t have, but on what you do have.  It’s easier to make a new world around yourself if you recognize what you have working for you.  (My thanks to my wife, Nancy, for that one.  She’s my reminder on that score).
  2. Look for new opportunities. Figure out the new options on your horizon. For me, semi-retirement was not part of the plan. It is now!
  3. Heal privately. Don’t bemoan your condition and its negative implications outwardly in public.  Lesson Learned: At the hospital, a standard question now is “Do you have any anxiety or depression?  And if so, is it mild, serious, or debilitating?” While I answer that question at the hospital, it’s a question I don’t answer publicly. It’s OK to talk about your challenges when you’re trying to get back in the saddle, but the notion of sharing levels of depression or anxiety publicly creates a bit of self-fulfilling prophecy. When trying to restore life to normal conditions, you have the best hope when you give yourself hope. Positive self-talk goes a long way toward becoming positive public talk.  The more you can tell yourself that you will get back to a “new normal”, the more likely it is to come true. In the year before my wife and I got married, I worked in small-town radio. Just one problem. It’s a fun job that pays little money. I thought I would never be capable of supporting a household and a wife. My hope was waning. My saddle was slipping. I then realized that a little personal reinvention (remember, this was before the Internet) was in order. I searched everywhere for work-from-home side hustles. Found it. I became a transcription typist for the local courts. I could do it from home, thanks to one asset I owned—an IBM Selectric Correcting II typewriter. At a dollar a page, I was in store for some serious cash. Two months later, I was no longer a poor news guy. I was a guy who could afford to take his fiancé to the jewelers to pick out a ring. I didn’t moan and groan about being poor. I healed and reinvented. And I was back in the saddle.
  4. Celebrate progress. Think of any time you have been (as Alice in Chains put it) down in a hole. Small steps in the right direction are what will get you back in the saddle. And by celebrate, I mean a true moment of recognition. Document where you were and where you are. It’s an amazing opportunity to experience triumph—both small and large.

Back in the Saddle and Down in a Hole and Back in the Saddle again

My wife and I had this conversation just this morning. We talked about the debilitating nature of setbacks.  Heaven knows we all have them. The major challenge is trying to figure out whether they’re temporary or permanent. Almost anyone can manage and handle a temporary setback. It’s a blip on the radar screen.  My late father always prided himself on the fact that his colon cancer came and went when he was in his early 50’s.  As a physician, he was able to reassure himself throughout the experience that any setback was temporary.  Another relative had cancer in her 50s, recovered, and then encountered related medical issues again in her 60s. Hers is a story of the ultimate Back in the Saddle event. How did she pull it off a second time?

  1. She had faith in things larger than herself. She believed in the Almighty, her family, and her care providers.  They all stepped in and affirmed that she had good reason for hope.
  2. She battled the negative. In addition to walking, getting out into the fresh air, and tackling her household activities, she refused to succumb to those who would focus on the negative.
  3. To the degree possible, she altered her focus away from her physical concerns.

Lesson Learned: Time and again, we see evidence that our focus drives our outcomes. I laugh at an episode of Frasier where Frasier is trying to ride a bike and focuses on the mailbox that he doesn’t want to hit. He hits it over and over and over again. When I was about 10, I had a similar experience on my Schwinn Stingray bicycle coming down one of the steepest hills in my hometown. I knew it was a tight curve at the bottom of the hill, but as long as I could navigate it without hitting the curb, I’d be fine. The curb. The curb. The curb. As you might imagine, in Frasier-like fashion, I whacked it, was thrown from my bike to the sidewalk, and totally scraped my knee. Over half-a-century later, I still have the scar. In retrospect, if I had envisioned the middle of the road rather than the curb, I probably would have made it. We get what we envision. We need positive vision.

It’s much more challenging than it sounds. But if we can catch ourselves in the midst of negative self-talk, we can shift ourselves to a positive experience.

Up next? The Little Dog’ll Get You!

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.