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

The Introduction and first four segments to this multi-segment blog/e-book can be found at the links at the bottom of this article. 

Segment Five – The Cancer Project Plan

Time, Cost and Requirements.  The famous triple constraints of project management.  They are also the classic constraints for your life. At some point in your life, the time constraint will come into sharp focus.  (Clearly, this is one of those times).


I once read a paper written by John Homer, titled 51 Names for Time. I loved that paper.  It analyzed the differences between city time and country time, between classic working time and Native American time, and between what ultimately boils down to your time and my time. The Native American aspect of it fascinated me. 

It will be done when it is meant to be done.

That’s the basic philosophy of the Ak-Chin community, and I work very diligently to keep that front of mind (read: Native American time). Everyone…yes, even you…has an expiration date. I actually have a weird proclivity for almost hitting mine every ten years.

Age 11 – Spinal meningitis

Age 22 – Anaphylactic shock (Allergy to ALLERGY medication)

Age 32 – Moped accident with crushed skull and subdural hematoma (yes, kids, wear a helmet)

Age 42 – Hit head-on by a Peterbilt semi (and walked away)

Age 49 – T-boned in my brand new (not even an hour old) car

Age 63 – Neuroendocrine cancer of the liver

It will be done when it is meant to be done.

I’m actually optimistic that in the 2030’s, I’ll be writing about the next near-disaster, and that it will not be done. 

The perspective sounds vaguely fatalistic, but it’s not.  It’s an acknowledgment of our limited influence over the clock.  However, as good project (and life) managers, we should be seeing how much we can cram into that time.

We need to be protective of our time.  It is the only non-renewable resource.  When someone suggests a non-productive activity that doesn’t bring us closer to our peers and our objectives, the best possible answer is that we don’t have the time. 

You’re busy? they may ask.

YES, you are!

Yes, you are.  (Thanks to my late father-in-law for being the master of seizing the day).

Even if you’re busy with trying to have just one day where you don’t have to deal with oncologists, pharmacists, radiologists, phlebotomists, and every other “ist” on the planet, you’re busy.  Sometimes, in all projects, you need a little time away.  If you don’t set the boundary, you’ll never be un-busy. 


I mentioned earlier how expensive this can be, and how insurance has granted me an amazing level of medical privilege.  When you’re trying to budget out your life in cancer treatment, it’s the BIG project with a very high price tag. By way of example, next week I’m scheduled for a monthly injection.  It’s over $15,000 a month. When I was doing radiation therapy on a monthly basis, the once-a-month treatment listed for over $55,000 a month. Take that times four months, and you’re probably ready to blow the project budget.

In building cost into this project plan, the only ways to afford it are either through comprehensive insurance or through the kindness of strangers.  If you hear of someone doing a gofundme or other fund-raising for a project like this, supporting those folks is a true mitzvah.   

For the cost aspect, you’re only ready for this if you have properly addressed risk up front.  Many people don’t think of their health insurance as a risk response strategy, but it is.  My wife and I became experts on the options available and the implications of Medicare Parts A, B, C, D and G long before I was ever diagnosed.  By transferring the lion’s share of the risk to insurers, the costs are survivable.


It’s weird to say that the requirement for this project is living a longer life with a high-quality life.  When it comes to requirements, I just committed one of the ultimate sins.  Adjectives.  Undefined adjectives are the bane of a project manager’s existence, but they also create enormous opportunity. Longer life.  I’m there!  Milestone achieved! I’m living longer today than I expected to two years ago.  One of the nice things about well-defined requirements is that you know when you’re there!  You know what “done” looks like!  You have the opportunity to build in new requirements (as part of the next phase of the project). My new version of “longer life” for Phase 2 is surviving through 2035.  (Today, that sounds far away, but it won’t sound far away in 2034). 

Then comes the other adjective.  “High-Quality”.  Right now, my wife and I believe our retirement accounts will be intact for the next decade.  We’ll still be able to eat out occasionally, go on reasonable vacations, and indulge our adult children as they have needs.  In our minds, that’s a high-quality life.  High-quality does not mean I’ll be driving a Bugatti any time soon.

When it comes to achieving the objectives we discussed in the first segment, the requirements serve them in a hand-in-glove fashion.  As we’re refining requirements, we’re breaking them down into manageable chunks. We’re getting them down to something we can tackle and foresee.  Requirements become much more real when we can see what we’re doing to make them happen.

That happens when we start creating our project backlog (an Agile management term) or our work breakdown structure (a traditional management term).  They share the notion that this all works only when we break things down into manageable chunks.

If you learn nothing else here, remember, life and projects become manageable when you break them down into digestible pieces.

Lesson Learned: As life turns daunting, don’t try to solve all of your problems at once.  Identify one project problem you can resolve in the near term.  Figure out what success looks like for that simple effort. And then ensure it happens. My next victory will be when I have both my PET scan and my chemo injection done by next Friday (6 days away).  I believe that’s do-able.  You have success when you achieve the goals you set, no matter how small.

Your life has not happened in one 30- or 40- or 50- or 60-year swoop.  It has happened in small increments.  If you can celebrate their completion on a regular basis, you are definitely winning.  And you don’t win something as dramatic as your life battles without chalking up a host of little victories along the way. Want others to celebrate with you?  Inform them when there’s a win. And today?  You need to find something over which to declare a win.  It’s not too daunting, and it feels wonderful.

In the next segment, we’ll look at Cancer Project Risk Management.

If you wanted to read the lead-ins to this segment, they can be found at: