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

Segment Nineteen – So THAT’S How Hope Sounds!

Just finished watching a couple of on-line releases with my wife.  Aftershock: Everest and the Nepal Earthquake (Netflix), and Thirteen Lives (Amazon).  If you’ve watched either (or both), you know that many of the same themes run through them.  Nature throws its worst at people who were ill-prepared for it.  There is an innate sense of hopelessness.  Yet hope takes the day.  Both movies are well worth the time invested.  Both drive through how we, as human beings, can be at our best when the world is caving in around us.  (And frankly, some folks are at their worst). 

There’s a soundtrack to hope.  The sounds are normally preceded with anticipatory anxiety, followed by a triumphant “YES!”  This week, I had an appointment with my oncologist.  She was very happy to tell me that my cancer markers had reached a new low—down 96% from where they were when the journey started.  She quickly pointed out that they would never go away, but that the stats were very encouraging for my long-term survival.  YES! 

In both movies, the soundtrack of hope pervades.  There’s doubt.  There’s fear.  There are moments when you wonder if any good news is forthcoming.  Then there’s the moment of release.  YES! 

Lesson Learned:  There’s a “Yes!” moment every single day.  They sometimes are sufficiently routine that we forget to acknowledge them.  In my late 40’s and early 50’s, I had severe, sometimes crippling back pain and sciatica.  Thanks to medical, chiropractic, acupunctural(?), and outpatient surgical intervention, I don’t think about it much at all anymore.  The last words from my chiropractor during the healing process were—“I think I’ve done all I can.  My best advice to you moving forward is pretty simple—‘Don’t be Stupid.’ Whenever I overdo and start getting a twinge in my back, his words echo back to me.  Don’t be stupid.  And I celebrate the relative lack of pain in my back—YES!

The soundtrack of hope comes in sometimes ridiculous ways.   My printer just screamed at me about an hour ago.  I suddenly had the fear that we would need a new one, or this would involve a dozen reboots and then, surrender.  Instead, I pulled out the paper cartridge, added more paper, and the screaming stopped.  The soundtrack of hope is a starting car, a humming-along printer, or ice churning out of the refrigerator.  It’s pretty mundane stuff. And yet it should serve as a reminder that many of life’s conveniences go unnoticed until they don’t serve us and are no longer convenient. 

Take a moment right now and listen to the universe around you. 

I can hear the ticking of my wall clock.  I can hear my lovely wife rustling around in her office down the hall.  I can hear the dog hopping off the couch to go chase the cat.  This is the soundtrack of hope.  John Williams, it’s not.  But it’s the wonder of the ordinary.  It’s the routine that we often lose sight of.

When my wife and I were hospice volunteers, one of the things they stressed in our training was the power of hearing.  It’s believed that hearing is the last sense to go during the dying process.  Our auditory system goes looking for familiar sounds before we go.  There’s no reason that we shouldn’t hunt out those same sounds when we’re not at death’s door.

Lesson Learned: In addition to reveling in the soundtrack of the world around us, we have amazing opportunities to be the soundtrack in people’s lives.  Your voice is an amazing and powerful tool.  People come to recognize it and it provides a sense of familiarity.  You may not see your voice as distinctive, but it is.  I spent a decade in radio news (News Director, WASH-FM, Washington, DC) and always loved it when someone would say “Have we met?” knowing that we hadn’t but I was a component of the soundtrack of their life.  You can leverage that by using key phrases and intonation consistently.  Those who know me well know that if they ask how I’m doing, they’ll often get the reply—“It’s another day in paradise.”  They know the rhythm of how I’ll say it.  They know the phrasing.  It’s a component of my idiom.  I’ve actually had people ask me if it’s NOT another day in paradise if I forget to say it.  I’ve come to realize it’s part of their conventions and part of our shared soundtrack.

So many people in our lives lift us up by just being there.  The way my youngest son starts every phone call with “Hey, Dad,” fills me with joy.  When my eldest son does his Stewie (Family Guy) Griffin imitation, I’ve arrived.  It’s all good.  Think about all the movies you’ve loved where you only need to hear a single phrase, and the entire movie comes rushing back to you (and to be on the positive side, think about the comedies, please).

  • Young FrankensteinYou take the blond, and I’ll take the one in the turban (Marty Feldman)
  • Happy Gilmore – The Price is WRONG, Bobbie (Adam Sandler to Bob Barker)
  • Weekend at Bernies – …and we’re two schmucks!  (Jonathan Silverman)
  • Animal House – Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? (John Belushi)
  • Blues Brothers – It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark and we’re wearing sunglasses (Dan Ackroyd)

Right now, some of you are looking at these examples and thinking about all of the movies I missed.  You have your own classics (feel free to include them in the comments). It’s your soundtrack of positivity and hope.  You need that.  And you can BE that.   

I’ve mentioned them before, but only because they have this element so right.  Randy Englund and Alfonso Bucero are project management instructors with the mantra of “Today is a great day.  Tomorrow?  Even better.”  If they don’t say it, you’re surprised.  It’s practiced.  They do it over and over again.  Many people have these kinds of insights.  I can still hear my mother’s first-grade-teacher voice saying, “You never know that tomorrow might be the best day of your entire life.” Mom passed away almost two decades ago.  Her soundtrack of hope is still in my head.

Lesson Learned:  Sound like yourself, but pick the mantra or message that reflects the best you.  I know I’m not the only person to say “It’s another day in paradise.”  It doesn’t matter.  I own it.  My way.  When you identify your idiomatic expressions, consciously consider the message they send.  I honestly believe that every day I suck breath that I’ve been blessed with another day in paradise.  Despite all of the challenges and stresses of our world, I believe what I’m saying.  And even though it’s been almost 20 years, I believe my mother believed that tomorrow did always have the potential to be your best day.

The soundtrack needs to be yours.  And it needs to be genuine.  (Ever hear a band do a lousy cover of a favorite song?  It almost hurts).  And relish the soundtrack you’re given.  I just heard my dog Mocha’s claws clicking on the wood floor in the hallway, heading this way.  It’s a great day. 

Up next?  What if you drank the water at Fort LaJeune, worked with Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF), used baby powder, and drank sugar-free soda by the gallon?  What’s YOUR destiny?

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.