Defeating Cancer As A Team
This evening, I was invited to give a speech at the Naples Relay For Life Team Party. Tonight was about preparing all the teams for their big night coming up. I was asked to give a speech on survivorship. For those that would like to see the actual transcript, here it is (sorry, no video tonight due to technical problems):
“One of the best compliments a captain or the manager of a professional sports team can receive is not just by winning a championship, or by how the team earned the championship, or even when its championship design is duplicated and imitated by other teams, but rather when every participant of his or her team, come together with one common goal, completely unified, focused on the task to be done, actually makes it happen. The west coast offense of the San Francisco 49ers football team. The stifling trap defense of the Florida Panthers hockey team. And then of course there are the endless resources strategy of the New York Yankees baseball team. Winning teams know how to do just that, win.
The Relay For Life may never get the status of a professional sports endorsement but there is definitely no greater effort put out by anyone, than those involved with the Relay For Life, and the teams that raise funds and awareness every year, in every city. The success of Relays over the decades has made a difference and gives each and every cancer survivor hope for the future.
Dr. Gordon “Gordy” Klatt of Tacoma, Washington is credited with a novel team concept for fundraising that began with a simple and modest 24 hour effort originally called the City of Destiny Classic Run Against Cancer in 1985. Friends, family, and other supporters donated $27,000 while Gordy ran and walked over 80 miles around the track at the University of Puget Sound for 24 hours on his own. Just as in professional sports, the concept that originally began the Relay has resulted in something much more meaningful that all of the professional sports trophies combined. The following year, 1986, 19 teams participated in the first Relay For Life, which today nationally has raised more than 5 billion dollars to go towards cancer research and support programs. Dr. Klatt lost his life this past August from heart failure while battling of all things, cancer. But if anyone proved that one person could make a difference, Dr. Klatt was that one person.
The American Cancer Society proclaims a cancer patient a survivor from the moment that a patient is diagnosed. So, with that, I would like to share with you, another successful game plan that I hope will leave everyone inspired and believe that long term cancer survivorship can be achieved.
If anyone knows about success, it is my team. Now if you notice, I did not say that “I” knew about success. Last week, to the day, I became a 25 year cancer survivor of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. But I clearly did not get to this point in my life alone. Combining strategies professional sports teams like the Yankees, the 49ers, and the Panthers use, my team was formed in November of 1988 in a small hospital in Bethlehem, PA.
I had my faith which admittedly had been shaken with my diagnosis and once the shock had worn off I reaffirmed what was going to be the foundation of my survival.
I had the best role model for beating cancer in knowing the first person in my life, famous or not to have survived cancer, my grandmother.
I made sure that I was being taken care of by the best staff assembled, and by best, I do not mean from the biggest hospital networks with the biggest superstars or best touchdown percentages. I had to feel and believe that those treating me, had every interest in seeing me in remission as a human being, not just as a statistical goal. From the oncologist, to the nurse, to the technicians, to the emotional support, I actually had made several changes in my care until I was confident in my prognosis.
In the stands, were all of my family, my friends, and my co-workers. For most, I was their first exposure to knowing someone who had cancer. And up until my diagnosis, they also knew only that people died from cancer.
And then of course there was the challenge itself. But one thing that I made known from the beginning, I was not only going to beat cancer, but the team that had been put together, I was not only a team member, but I was the team captain, the head coach, the manager. I was going to be as much of a part of the decision making process as the doctors involved.
Then came my championship moment, getting to hear the words “you are in remission.” But just as a professional sports team wants to return and repeat as a champion, so is the life of a cancer survivor. From the word remission, we want to hear “still in remission” year after year. And for teams to maintain that championship caliber, adjustments need to be made, year after year. The frequency and dramatic level of the changes vary from year to year, and personnel will most likely also change. And not every game is won. Cancer has not been kind to my family as I have lost 5 immediate family members to cancer, and said goodbye to well over a hundred friends who lost their battle to cancer. And I have also had my challenges throughout my survival, physically, emotionally, financially, relationships, employment, but one thing has remained constant. I will not let anyone take away from me, what I have accomplished over the last 25 years. I have not become a long term cancer survivor just to give up, EVER.
The fact is that I am constantly encouraged to go on not only from my current doctor who wants me to “ be a grandfather” someday, but to the hundreds of cancer survivors I have met with a longevity more than twice as long as mine. Yes, even a 25 year survivor needs to be, and can be inspired by others.
The only change to my strategy came when I decided to add two very important members to my team. I was blessed to become a father to two beautiful girls. They are now my driving force to continue on. And if anyone thinks I was difficult to deal with before because of my tenacity, my daughters are my world and I know how much I mean to them. I live for them. They never knew me as a cancer patient, and I was fortunate to never hear them ask, “is Daddy going to die” just because I had cancer.
Today, because of research and progress, with the help especially of the Relay For Life, my daughters will only have heard that at one time cancer was unstoppable, a long, long time ago. Today, my daughters know only that Daddy survived cancer. And they are proud of that. When involved in fundraising projects, in seeking benefactors, their recommendation is always to someone battling cancer, or specifically Hodgkin’s Lymphoma because they want others to share the same success that I have lived.
Teams are successful, and repeat success with one simple action, believing in it. See it. Feel it. Live it. And believe it. And just as each successful team takes one game at a time, take each day at a time. When you look back, it will already have been a week, then a month, then a year, then a decade, and more.
I am not a professional franchise or a professional athlete. I am just a normal person, who had cancer. And I do not think that it is necessary for someone to be famous to be inspiring when we just want and need to know someone who has beaten cancer, like I have done. Beating cancer is not about how much money you have or how famous you are, it is about what you have inside of you, and using every ounce of your being, to one day, be a long term cancer survivor.
I will wrap up with a quote that I use frequently through various support web sites that I am involved with:
“As I drive on the road of remission, I will keep looking in my rear view mirror to make sure that you are still following me. And if for some reason, you are not on that road yet, hurry up and get on that highway. It’s a great ride once you hit the road.”