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

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

Segment Six – Risk Management

For those for whom this is our first “meeting,” I am, unequivocally, the Risk Guy.  I earned that title.  I taught risk management for 20 years for PMI® SeminarsWorld.  I’ve written three books on risk management, including the one I just finished:

I share this only to affirm that I’m not just someone who understands risk from a cancer patient level, but also someone who understands risk management.

Cancer exemplifies risk.  But risk is considered both threat and opportunity.  Yin and yang.  Up and down. And cancer, for me, has represented all of those aspects. As a risk professional, I really would have appreciated someone like me reminding me of the duality of all threats early in the process.  From the first time the world “cancer” was uttered, all I could see were the dark clouds and the depressive aspects of what was ahead.  Instead, I should have been scouting for opportunities, as they are legion.

What good can come from this?

  • Physical awareness
  • Renewed friendships
  • Empathy
  • Heightened gratitude

Each of those is a fundamental outcome of a cancer diagnosis.  Early in the process, it’s very hard to see the sun breaking through the clouds, but let me assure you, the sun is there.

My wife’s father, James George Adams, was the master of recognizing the brighter side.  On any one of our annual vacations to Ocean City, Md, Jim (Scotchie) would look out at the gray skies and the rain-drenched beach and say, I think those clouds are breaking up.  I’ll bet it’s sunny by afternoon. The weather forecast would not agree.  Those huddled under umbrellas walking down the boardwalk would not agree.  But Jim saw sunshine.

He was not a “half-glass-full” kind of guy.  He was a “my glass has plenty in it, want some?” kind of guy. He’s the one who invoked the sunshine.  We should all take a page from him. The introduction of cancer into your life opens the door for a Jim-like attitude, but we have to open the door.

Physical awareness

When was the last time you checked your weight?  Your blood sugar levels?  Your magnesium?  Your sodium? Your chromograninA? I get them checked every other week.  At first, I found all that a little disturbing.  Now, it’s intriguing information.  (Well, maybe not the weight…but, everything else). Hidden in all of the “you’re HIGH!”, “you’re LOW!” drama are some fun nuggets.  My sodium is low!  Bring on the salt and the soy sauce! 

My glucose is high, but under control.  My kidney and liver functions are fine, despite the assault from the cancer.

It’s very encouraging when you find out that most of your body is functioning the way it’s supposed to be.  And that I have cancer markers that are (quite literally) 10-15 times higher than yours is fine.  They used to be 100 times higher than yours.  I color that as a triumph and an opportunity to celebrate. 

Renewed Friendships

I just got off the phone with Lisa H. and Dave N., two of my best professional friends.  And in the course of our conversation, they shared that another friend, Sheila D., was asking after me and was thrilled to hear that I’m getting almost into “platform teaching shape”.  (That’s what I do for a living…professional corporate training).  Friends. 

The best man from my wedding is coming down from Ohio tomorrow.  I’ve spent hours on the phone with old work buddies, radio buddies, neighborhood friends, and church friends.  Until the cancer hit, we never made a point of reconnecting.  Now, I hear from them and I sometimes feel the tears (of joy) well up in my eyes. 

I would have missed SO much were it not for the cancer.  It’s like we somehow needed a license to connect.  We didn’t.  But the cancer makes it so much easier to make the phone call and say, I was thinking about you and just wanted to touch base.  I was.  I did.

Lesson Learned: Do not wait for a grim diagnosis to make the phone call or send a note.  Do it today. If you don’t know where to start, start in LinkedIn with your connections list.  I have about 6800 connections.  Even if you have only 68…that’s a few months’ worth of people to “ping” and say “HI” to. 


I feel your pain.  (Now, say that in your best Bill Clinton impersonation).  I do!  I was reading my latest oncologists’ report, and one of the startling things she wrote was that I had no abdominal pain.  (I don’t). But the way she wrote it sounded like she was somewhat surprised.  The manifestation of my cancer on most days is nausea.  It’s pretty constant, but with the wonders of modern pharmacology, it’s controllable.  Still, it…

Excuse me, Carl, but aren’t we supposed to be talking about risk?

We are talking about risk.  We’re talking about the upsides!  It’s the opportunities.  And one of those opportunities is empathy.  I am far more empathetic now than I was a few years ago.  Despite watching the suffering of those I love dearly from the same disease, I couldn’t really empathize with their conditions until it hit me.  Now I am so insanely grateful for every step forward in modern medicine, enabling me to have good day after good day (and only the occasional bad day).

Lesson Learned: In working with a major engineering and robotics firm, I found out that when they presented risk to management (who could readily equate to anyone in your inner circle), they were welcomed to present information about the bad things that may happen, with one caveat.  The caveat was that with every threat risk event they identified, they had to also affirm one piece of good news as a result of that event. Would that we all were as prescient as their engineers and project managers.  Would that we would do the same when dropping bad news (or potential bad news) on friends, neighbors and family members.  You win more hearts when you can find the positives amongst the dark clouds.

Heightened Gratitude

I was reading an article this morning about “quiet quitting” and “working to the rule.” Those are supposed to be major risks for project managers these days, but I swear, they are risks to us all, and in some cases, people do them accidentally. 

I woke up this morning. 

I was thankful.

My dog woke up, too. 

I was thankful.

I answered a few e-mails from clients. 

I was thankful.

I received a truckload of topsoil to start spring planting.

I was thankful.

If you’re noticing a theme here, good.  You should.  We all should spend a significant chunk of our days being grateful.  Why? asks the “risk guy”.  Because, oddly enough, heightened gratitude minimizes risk and exploits opportunities. If you are thankful for your team members (personal and professional), they’re not going anywhere.  If you are thankful for any accomplishment, no matter how minor, you can kiss “quiet quitting” goodbye. 

When you are grateful for someone, that means they’re being noticed.  It’s very challenging for them to work to the rule when they know they’re being noticed.  And they’re less likely to quietly quit if they feel like their efforts and their outputs are genuinely appreciated.

My mother-in-law is the queen of gratitude.  I am her tech support.  When you do a task for Carol, you can bet that she’ll be grateful.  She taught elementary school.  You can hear her elementary schoolteacher voice when she says, “I really appreciate what you’ve done.  I couldn’t have done it without you.  We really need you around here.” There is no artifice in her words.  She means it.  Every word of it.  And it’s humbling to be able to contribute.  If quiet quitting is the potential disease, this is the cure.

In the next segment, we’ll look at some pieces of implementation for the Cancer Project.

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