Tag Archives: inspiration

Living with Cancer in Silicon Valley

Enso, a symbol of Zen Buddhism

Enso, a symbol of Zen Buddhism

My cancer returned Monday. In not exactly a subtle way. I have two tumors, one of which is 11×8 centimeters. They are messing with my left psoas muscle which explains all the back and leg pain I have been having.

Being the occasional idiot I am about ignoring pain, I waited too long to get medication. Now I am on an intense mixture: the morphine is the platform, the percocet dulls the spikes, and the neurontin is nothing less than a bomb going off, so thankfully it’s reserved for sleep, something I have not had for weeks.

This is my life. I am living with cancer, I have had three major operations — here comes #4, I have had a frightening amount of chemo, and I lost a year of my life right before joining Atlassian. I can struggle or I can embrace it. Those of you who know me understand I have only one option. Not because I consciously choose. I am just innately positive.

Lean into it. A shrink once gave me this wonderful Zen advice about facing challenges and problems: they aren’t going away, so you can choose to fight them or embrace them. Embracing them means finding the positive, and turning the badness into goodness. Cancer is an opportunity.

I sincerely believe cancer has been more positive than negative. Thanks to my first battle, I had time to focus on my son, who was struggling with teenage issues, and help him make a remarkable turnaround to a focused young man. It was in him, but I learned how to be a better parent thanks to cancer.

I learned how much love there is in this world. All you have to do is get in touch with it, and it’s everywhere. Even out here in the social-2.0-blogging-weird-o-sphere, the connections can humble you. People may be conversing in Seemingly Strange Ways like Twitter, but there are humans behind those electronic bits and the messages and meaning can lift my spirits. That was the lesson I learned about blogging about cancer and seeing the love come back. My blog inspired people, and the Awesome Karma came back inspiring me through a major surgery.

A friend reminded me: I have a blueprint for this journey. Getting the news Monday about the two tumors sucked. I was upset to say the least. I love my life. Four years ago, I married the most Incredible Woman on the Earth, I bought a new house, and I met this incredible little company called Atlassian. I just love my work. I love living here in California. I am the luckiest guy in the world. My blueprint starts with reminding myself that I do all these things — the ritual Sunday night family dinner, the sandwiches my daughter Brittany brings me while I am sitting here waiting for surgery… the list is long — because I love them. And yes, it includes the work I love.

The first priority on the blueprint is of course getting the right treatment and recovering. But the blueprint includes trying to work when you can. I called a customer Tuesday morning, just 20 hours after getting the news. Willie Doyle had read my blog and wanted to share their agile development story. I love talking to customers and learning what they’re doing. The point is: cancer is not going to stop me from learning new, cool things like this.

Surely I will have to cycle down and let things go during surgery. Right now my biggest challenge is managing this intense concoction of drugs so I can still do the little things I love: like blogging.

Awhile ago I chose to write about personal things in this blog, and not just talk about software, business, Atlassian, and the expected. That’s also part of my blueprint: people have complex, interesting dimensions, and sharing these opens up opportunities.

Hang Tough and Live Strong

The community of inspiration I felt when I blogged about my cancer is still alive. Lance Armstrong just sent me this great note:
lance-note3.jpg
My friend Fred Harman happens to be on the board of FRS [stands for Free Radical Scavenger -- which would be a much cooler name -- a great Health Energy drink] with Lance. Fred told Lance about my blog where I talked about telling my kids about my Plan to whip cancer, “The one difference between Lance and me is that I didn’t have to win the Tour de France. I only had to beat cancer.” All true, and one of those truly emotional moments.

Getting this is wonderful and inspirational for me. Lance was one of my attitude inspirations three years ago. When Lance writes “Hang Tough”, you know it’s coming from someone who defines Tough.

And I absolutely _love_ the last three words on the bottom of the card: Attitude is Everything. Check.

What I learned from Cancer 2.0

recovery.jpgSix days after surgery recovering in the California sunshine.

Last week was a Really Great Week. Everything went my way. When you’re a cancer survivor, you don’t forget weeks like this.

The pathology on the tumors they removed was 90% probability they are benign. I did not receive inter-operative radiation. Surgery took two hours and then while still open, the Docs evaluated the tissue for an hour. I could feel the difference when I woke up. My prior surgeries had been eight and fours hours. I knew this one was not as bad.

It was an intense emotional moment to have my wife Jessy tell me the news. When you have a one foot incision, it’s damn hard to laugh or cry. I wept.

Four days later I came home, and five days later I was off pain meds. I feel pretty good.

I learned something powerful when I blogged about my cancer. Although I have a number of incredible lessons from my one-year battle in 2004, this time I was the beneficiary of yet another.

I struggled with writing publicly about cancer. Originally I was only going to blog internally to my fellow Atlassians. It is easy to be inhibited about disclosing this disease to the business community. But everyone has either had cancer in their family or friends.

I wrote the blog last Monday when I found out my surgery was Wednesday. Tuesday, 1002 people viewed my blog thanks to:

The community was awesome. People I never even met wrote me passionate emails. I was touched.

Tuesday, the day before surgery, would not normally be a Real Groovy Day. You go onto a clear liquid diet and clean out your system for the surgery. Not a regimen I would recommend. Instead, it was an exhilarating day. Watching the comments, emails and views pour in from people I inspired turned out to be a massive inspiration to me.

What I learned is inspiration is circular: giving it is very inspiring back. The blog became this powerful therapeutic thing. Right before major surgery. I was psyched. I was so up I ran two miles at 6 A.M. before my surgery. I checked my blog stats one last time Wednesday before going under the knife. I could see I would touch 2,000 people before I was done.

Every time a nurse or resident or Doc talked to me at Stanford, I told them to go read my blog. I jokingly nagged the pre-op team to read my blog while they got me ready. They did! They loved it.

Everyone fundamentally wants to have a positive attitude. I am blessed with being a Pig-Headed Blind Optimist. Paul Herman sent me research that says optimists live longer. Brad Porteus also gave me the Norman Cousins book, Anatomy of an Illness that says a patient’s own powers – laughter, courage, and tenacity – are effective weapons against disease. That’s my strike zone. I guess it’s second nature for me.

Next month I hit the three-year milestone of being cancer free.