Every morning for the past month I’ve gotten out of bed feeling like I was beaten. My back takes a very long time to feel close to normal. I’m constantly stretching and twisting it waiting, hoping for some vertebrae to pop into position. Regardless what the cancer is doing (something, nothing) there is still a tumor behind my intestines the size of a tangerine. I have to assume that is the root cause. I did a week of yoga to test the theory that perhaps it’s muscular, but there’s really no change since then. Yoga is great but only if I’m in the right head space for it (like listening to Pink Floyd), I basically spend the entire time wishing that Shavasana (or, “corpse pose” in English, typically the last pose in a class).
Also as of a few days ago I’ve noticed some fluttering in my intestines on the right side. It’s not painful but perceptible. Impossible to say if it’s related but I’m on high alert for anything untoward.
Finally, I went to the doctor for my toe the other day. She said I could cut half the big toenail which would be about 5-7 days recovery, or I could just wait it out. I wasn’t going to do it. Nope, going to Hawaii without a big bandage on. I agreed to bring antibiotics in case it got infected on the trip.
It’s a marathon, that never ends
I’ve run the Boston marathon 3 times. I’ve been reflecting on those races lately. Specifically about how I approached them, untrained as I was. This is not a complement by the way, but a critical observation. In 67% of them (2/3) I put my head down and just did it. I ran smart races but there was nothing to savor in them. If I’m really honest with myself they were hardly memorable.
I attached to the goal and a time outcome and that was it. I’m too good at suffering through whatever it is I sign up for. In that regard being overly disciplined is a character flaw. The only time I remember much of that race was the one I ran poorly. I had shifted strategy midway, from a time goal to an experience goal. The reason was that I started the race too fast and blew all my energy, bonking hard around the 22 mile mark. I walked for several minutes (unheard of!) to see if I could regain my composure. It was that or quit and I was desperate. So, with the time goal out of reach I focused on enjoying the race and noticing things around me. There was a smiling kid on the sideline cheering me on. He was enjoying the race. I figured I was actually running the race so I should do the same!. And I did. One question planted in my mind then is how to move performance and pleasure to the same side of the ledger. I’m specifically talking about the times where things are pushed to the edge of one’s ability (note: pleasure and performance co-exist just fine within one’s comfort zone). Here, how can I battle cancer while enjoying the process? It’s like a koan.
The solution? Love is the bridge. If you must do it then you must love it. The approach I’ve taken is to find a way to love the process, hard as it is. I’ve decided that for now writing is the best tool available so I’ve been using it to explore this terrain and share the experience. It’s been working reasonably well thus far.
And there is no real finish line. Yes, we have milestones but then there’s another one after that. The end becomes the beginning and the end – looping through an infinite yin/yang symbol – until it stops. So I’ve been trying to stay aware that while the upcoming scan is a milestone I shouldn’t fixate on it. While the outcome here matters (understatement) – it’s the difference between going back to work I love, or back into treatment – I’m trying to remain equanimous about it. I don’t control the damned outcome so energy going outside that perimeter of control is wasted. When my attention drifts outside that perimeter I pull it back in. I’ve gotten so many reps in that it’s almost becoming automatic; drift and yank.
What’s the value of more?
The other night I met a prominent CEO/founder friend for a drink. His company is running out of runway quickly and he was working 18 hour days trying to get funding. We remarked on how our situations felt stressful, stemming from uncertainty – NO!, stemming from uncertain outcomes with known timelines. By necessity our ego has built up various biases that provide a balm of certainty. The big difference is not so much that we’re actually living in more uncertainty than others (though we may be), rather it’s our heightened awareness of the uncertainty – it’s right in our faces. It’s a key distinction.
So I suggested an odd question we both found interesting. In fact, we both thought that if we had a single question to ask this would be the one. What’s the value of more?
Isn’t it implicitly obvious? More days, years of life, or of business runway is obviously better than fewer. Ok, why? If you pull on the thread it’s hard to come up with a logical answer. Just because. Why life? Just because. Ok then. More is better and thus we should be sad that our lives (or business lifetimes) are not infinite. Indeed we should prioritize longevity above all else. QED, right?
Maybe. But a better argument hinges on the idea of compounding. Why is living longer better? Because you can do more good in the world. Actions and decisions filled with goodness can compound the good in the world and reduce suffering. And conversely evil can amplify, Hitler lived too long.
So, do more good. How? Here’s a non-exhaustive set of possibilities:
- Have kids. Those kids will perhaps go on to have kids of their own and so on. I often look look at pedigree charts or family trees to convince myself of this power.
- Spread kindness. Kindness compounds – kindness begets more kindness, rendering the world less scary.
- Be better, do more. If one is a parent it could mean being more present and aware to raise kids more likely to to do more good of their own. If one is a manager it’s being a damned good one. If one is a friend/aunt/cousin/son-in-law – then do more. You are a mighty lever impacting the lives of your loved ones or subordinates.
Doing good compounds our existence, providing a clear answer to the question of “why more“. Being awake, aware and intentional matters as it helps us be positive models for others and reinforce the idea that the world is good. Call it the case for the Mitzvah (מִצְוָה, good deeds).
I booked these tickets to Kauai on learning I have cancer last year. It was my gift to myself and my family for completing 6 rounds of chemo. I didn’t say for beating cancer. The key point is the celebration was de-coupled from the outcome. I can tell I’ve matured because the younger me would think such an idea misguided. The younger me would have been ferociously planning and saving money etc. if the outcome was poor. He would be willing to trade his own experience and suffer through whatever it took for an outcome.
Screw it! It feels indulgent, but if ever there was a time for that now would be a good one. So I splurged. Did I need to book the presidential suite? Yes I did! There’s a time to scrimp and save. Now now. It’s about memory making. If you’re going to commit then do it right.
Mold grows everywhere. Nothing is perfect. Experiences don’t exist in isolation, for us to plug into like modules. There is no party that’s objectively good or bad but what we bring to it makes it so. We don’t just show up places to have ourselves magically transformed. It’s our intention and mindset that matters.
The plane ride to Kauai was pretty stressful. Lua was like a little animal out of her cage the whole trip. Kids were acting up, acting spoiled which boils my blood more than anything – I will not tolerate raising spoiled kids! I was getting stressed. Once we arrived the kids were hungry and generally intolerable. Not sure if I mentioned that I got my phone glass fixed about a week ago after having dropped it (in a moment of clumsy non-awareness) on getting the news that I still had cancer. As I was getting the kids into the rental car, multitasking while holding the phone I dropped it – literally onto a bed of sharp rocks – smashing it yet again.
But in a way it was great, seriously! I looked down utterly bewildered at my stupidity. I was reminded about my tendency to focus on doing over being. That outcome was a function of pure inattentiveness. Every time I now pickup the phone, covered in packing tape to keep the shards intact, I’m reminded to be present. Yank!