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

Segment Twenty-Four– Everything Old is New Again, Or it Should Be!

As you look at that young fellow driving the “antique car,” take a look at his attitude.  This is the same man who will sit in Washington DC traffic for countless hours.  This is the same man who will do a 15-hour, straight-through drive from Ohio to Maine THREE TIMES in a single week.  But in this magic moment in 1962, he is in the driver’s seat.  Master of all he surveys.  Capturing all the joy that Geauga Lake Park had to offer, he truly relished the opportunity. 

Honestly, I don’t remember the moment, but thanks to my father’s proclivity for taking pictures of everything, I have this memento of the event.  And as I look back on my younger self, I recall there were plenty of times when I felt like I was king of the mountain. 

That was 60 years ago.  60 years.  JFK was president.  The USA had just under 190,000,000 citizens, compared with 330,000,000 today.  It was quite a ways back.  In that one prescient moment, this young man didn’t care about anything except “driving” that car.

Why was he so darned happy?  The Vietnam War was raging.  The government felt things were bad enough they would soon declare a War on Poverty.  The Civil Rights movement highlighted society’s inequities.  And here’s this young man, oblivious to all of it, driving his day away.

Don’t you sometimes wish you could transport yourself in time, just for a few minutes, to capture that level of zeal?

It’s hard, whether you’re wrestling with a serious disease or if you’re just wrestling with the day-to-day.  I’m writing this sitting in the waiting room for my oncologist.  Pretty hard to be zealous about the day ahead, replete with phone calls, insurance forms, and the other challenges of quotidian existence.  But zeal is internalized.  It’s about you.  In fact, it’s all about you, and there are things you can do to reinstate zeal in your daily life.

Lesson Learned: Take specific actions to invoke zeal.

My suggestions for the top five things you can do to reinstate zeal?

  1. Find a picture of yourself looking zealous.  I hadn’t seen the picture of me driving the amusement park car in a long, long time.  When I saw it, it brightened my day.  It reminded me that I’m easily amused.  Give me the opportunity to just be both in control and silly at the same time, and life gets better.
  2. Give someone else a little zeal.  Checking in at the oncologist’s office, the receptionist was as pleasant as could be.  I strove to return her kindness in kind.  As a result, we both had a positive exchange, and life gets a little more positive.
  3. Dress for zealous success.  Today, I chose a bright red shirt and my electric blue Converse All-Stars (complemented with my John Cleese Monty Python watch).  It’s hard to be negative when you’re surrounded by brighter colors.
  4. If you have a pet, let them drive the occasion.  Mocha’s walk this morning was an adventure.  She was investigating every flower and fern along the way.  Rather than drag her along to complete the walk, I chose to investigate what she was investigating.  I might have missed a chipmunk along the way if I wasn’t paying attention.  (FYI, chipmunks exude zeal).
  5. Identify an accomplishment or two for the next 24 hours.  Mine is to get another four or five feet of foundation for my wife’s second raised garden bed.  That might not sound zeal-inducing, but it is.  Knowing that it’s coming and that I can realistically get it done is a huge win-win.

Passion.  There are so many things in our lives that bring our passions to the fore.  It’s impressive when we can remember to activate them.  Look at the loves of your life.  Can you remember when all you could think about was the next time you would get to hold them and touch them and feel the shared excitement?  While passion is fleeting, the drivers behind it don’t have to be.  What made that youthful passion for your significant other so significant?  It was new.  It was unknown.  It was exciting.  Everyone told you it would be exciting.  We believed them. 

Trouble.  Cancer.  Grief.  Everyone tells you it will be awful, with no redemptive moments.  And we believe them.  I did.  Or, I should say, I used to.  I had an appointment this morning with my oncologist.  While she spent some time focusing on the more negative aspects of the cancer, I perked up whenever she hit any good news.  And when she asked about how I was feeling?  The honest answer was the I feel pretty darned normal! 

Think about your last life experience.  Even if it was negative, there are positive aspects to be drawn from it. 

Lesson Learned: If we rely on negative anticipation, we’ll miss out on positive outcomes.  Early in my prognosis, I had finally begun making short car trips on my own.  For one, I went to pick up our dog at the groomer.  A 15-minute drive one-way to get her and a 15-minute drive home.  Pretty simple, even for someone who was fatigued walking down the driveway.  I retrieved the dog (Mocha), and put her on leash for the long walk across the parking lot.  One tug, and she pulled me down to the pavement, with my front teeth (central incisors) cushioning the blow.  I broke them both, chipping them to create an A-Frame entrance into my mouth.  We had only been in the area for less than a year, and had yet to establish a relationship with a dentist.  The rest of the family used Dr. Diane Romaine, a local dentist recognized for her cosmetic work.  I called her as I drove Mocha homeward from the groomer’s.  Providence prevailed.  She had a few free minutes if I could come in right away.  I drove there straightaway, calling my wife to meet me there and pick up the dog.  Dr. Romaine was able to see me the moment I walked in the door and fix my teeth to perfection.  Total time elapsed from the parking lot tumble to restored teeth?  One hour flat.  You could tell me that there’s no such thing as a positive dental experience, I could share that it’s there to be found…and celebrated.

Every time I’ve been back to the dentist since, I remind her of her achievement.  I tell anyone who starts talking dental work about the amazing one-hour restoration.  I say it with pride.  And I say it with the joy and zeal of that little boy who got to drive the car at Geauga Lake Park.  It’s weird.  I have always been either scared or angry about going to the dentist.  Just a small shift in perspective changes everything.

For today, I’m likely one of the happier Stage Four cancer patients.  It’s not that I don’t have cancer.  It’s not that it won’t spread at some point.  But today was an I-got-to-drive-the-Model-T day or a Dr-Romaine-fixed-a-pair-of-broken-teeth-in-under-an-hour day.  Life isn’t perfect.  But I have no pain today.  I have great cancer marker numbers.  Today, I have an unparalleled support system with my family and my clinicians. It’s a day that feels like “old times.”  It’s definitely a day for zeal.  It’s a day worth celebrating.

Up next?   A lasting lesson in memorable pragmatism.

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.