Living with Cancer in Silicon Valley II: Survival Tips from a Hardened Cancer Dude

Although I have a reasonable excuse for not blogging since March, my Kids have become my conscience telling me to update people. Facebook and Twitter are for updates, so instead, here are my ways of surviving the ordeal of cancer.

Originally I blogged because I joined Atlassian. My Inner Writer Nerd also wanted to come out. Then I crossed the line from business topics with my Cancer 2.0: the Killer App blog. No surprise, a lot more people read this. Two lessons: 1) Speak from the Heart and it’s way more interesting. 2) Business colleagues accept one crossing the line from business to something as starkly personal as cancer.

I am on leave from Atlassian, so writing about work is less likely. My focus needs to be elsewhere. So Dear Readers, I am Leaning into It, and will write about personal matters.

How do I survive this Cancer Thing? What would I say to a Cancer support group, which I don’t go to it because I find them depressing? Here are my Seven Survival Tips.

#1: Focus

I have one focus: Get Healthy. Whip Cancer’s Sorry Ass. Everything that follows here is in service of this one Big Goal.

What is difficult about focus? For one, I love my work. I even lurve it, as Woody Allen said. When I had cancer in 2004, I re-evaluated my entire life. I realized that I live here in Silicon Valley and work in technology for a reason: I love it.

My cancer, however, is not a mild or known variation. My cancer is an aggressive, unknown (4 cases ever) beast that grows tumors in my kidney region and attaches to valuable stuff. I have lost one kidney already.

Time to focus, buddy. Taking a leave from Atlassian sucks. I am honored to work in such a special place, and letting go is not fun. But now a singular focus is critical: Health.

#2: Focus on Short-term Goals

I focus on getting through short-term wins or “gates” in the treatment. My 2004 treatment lasted 10 months. This one will be shorter, but when you add up my chemo, surgery, radiation, and the possibility of the treatment changing anytime, long-term goals feel elusive.

An example is chemo treatments. Each one is an accomplishment. I focus on the reward of eventually eating like a Pig, going out, enjoying life, once the toxic crap dissipates.

Now my short-term goal is getting ready for surgery. Nothing else matters. Screw radiation; that’s down the road. I am working out every day to be in shape for surgery.

Remember the precept of good project management: never have a task longer than two weeks? If you an Atlassian-type or engineer, think about some Agile Development principles. Two week goals are great things. Chemo cycles tend to be three unfortunately!. Think short-term; otherwise, the disease is more debilitating mentally.

#3: Don’t Look Like a Patient

“It’s not how you feel, it’s how you look”, goes the Billy Crystal line. If I look good, I feel more invincible. I absolutely hate looking like a patient. Even in the hospital, I wear jeans and t-shirt rather than Their Goddamned Pajamas.

At one point chemo drove my weight down to 175 pounds. I’m 6’ 1” and can easily carry 190, and started chemo at 200 pounds. What did I do? I shaved my head, put on some nice clothes, got out my sunglasses and took this photo for an internal Atlassian blog.


Although I felt like shit, and could not wait to eat a meal, Ben Speakman, one of our developers at Atlassian commented back that I looked “Badass”.

Look like the healthy person you want to be. Be the change you seek.

#4: Follow Your Heart

Yes, my heart is in my work, but I can’t have that right now. My heart is also in my music, my art, reading, hanging with my family. I give these pursuits as much space as treatment allows.

I might call this “Re-Balancing” meaning: if you cannot pursue work, what pursuits can you fit in between hospital time, chemo infusions, treatments, countless doctors? For me, it meant making a project of my music and art. I finally set up a new iMac with all my art, photos, music, movies, and installed Protools for recording. I bought myself a keyboard, and transformed my home office into a real music room. Follow you heart.

#5: Exercise

No matter how feeble you are, get your Sorry Ass to a gym, go for a walk, anything to fight it. I started with a 12×8 centimeter tumor planted on my Psoas muscle. I was in so much pain, I couldn’t sit in a chair. Every day I was taking 160 mg Morphine, 900 mg Neuronton, and 50-60 Oxycodone/Percoet…


Once my tumor shrank from the chemo, I worked off the morphine. Then I started walking. Now I have zero pain and run at least 2 miles almost every day. I am on a Mission for God, and the God is My Health. Working out helps me mentally get through the agony of chemo, and I am certain, prepares me better for surgery.

#6: Live

That’s right: live. As a cancer patient, you are closer to death. It is trying to kill you. With some cancers, perhaps death is a long way off. With mine this time, the docs gave me a few months if I was not treated aggressively.

So I aim to live during this pain-in-the-ass treatment. Living, to me, means enjoying things you might now ordinarily do as a beaten-down patient. In 2004 during chemo, I flew my son to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, Yankee Stadium, and Fenway Park. I was told not to be in large public places while my immune system was weak. Sorry pal, I had to live while I could, and it was a trip my son will never forget.

During chemo this time, I played guitar at a local Stanford University Relay for Life. Here’s one of the tunes I played…

I love playing outdoors, and witnesses will tell you I was rather loud. Live, Baby.

#7: Be Positive

This could easily be my first tip, but I already blogged about the mental game in 2007, and recently when my cancer returned. Also, I am a natural optimist, so I really don’t do anything, I just am this way.

I also cannot say this to a patient after options have run out. I have had frightening diagnoses, but not that tough. I do know that every medical professional with whom I have discussed the power of positive thinking, strongly advocates it.

Focus on the positive. Tell cancer to “Piss off”

51 responses to “Living with Cancer in Silicon Valley II: Survival Tips from a Hardened Cancer Dude

  1. Jeffrey,

    So good to have you back online, and even better is to see you’re in your true spirit. This is what makes you invincible!

  2. Jeffrey – great to hear your fighting spirit is still strong.

    Love the video – real guitar hero! 🙂

  3. Jeffrey,
    It’s good to hear that you’re chasing cancer and telling it to piss off!

    As Zoli said, it’s good to see you in your true spirit, and thinking positively.

  4. Jeffrey,

    You’re a real inspiration to all of us. “I had to live while I could” are words we should all live by.

    Wishing you well.


  5. Thanks for the update, Jeffrey. There’s a lot of wisdom in your words. We miss you, and can’t wait until you’re back with us.

    In the meantime, keep up the good fight! We’re all in your corner.


  6. Hey Dude!! Your back – kicking C ass. I can breath again. Was worried with the silent. Great to see you doing so well. You are awesome!! Nick

  7. You really are a big bad badass. Love to you and Jessy. Em x

  8. I kept looking around at the Summit thinking you had to be there somewhere. Your actions are inspiring.


  9. Jeffrey,

    having this post pop up in my aggregator made my day. Great to hear from you, and great to see you’re kicking ass. Looking forward to the next time we’ll meet: keep on kickin’!

  10. Thank you – I really needed that kick up the ass.

    Keep it up buddy. You are awesome.

  11. What an inspiration you are, Jeffrey. Thank you for writing this and keep up the fight!

  12. Jens Schumacher

    Thanks for the update Jeffrey. As always, your advise is invaluable.

    What a shame I couldn’t be there to watch you playing at Stanford.

  13. Great to have you back blogging, I actually just passed your blog to someone close to me who has a daughter battling cancer so, keep up the posts about living “bad ass” and beating cancer.

  14. Words to live by and beautifully written. Sending good vibes your way.

  15. Pingback: Jeffrey’s Seven: Cancer Dude Back Online | CloudAve

  16. Pingback: Jeffrey’s Seven: Cancer Dude Back Online | Zoli’s Blog

  17. Glenn Mangurian

    Greatings from Red Sox Nation. Remember — People won’t remember how far you fall but rather how high you bounce back. Keep bouncing high!

  18. It’s beautiful to see an entire community, including strangers, forming around your declarations. And these are declarations for living, not just surviving. Humble thanks.

  19. Keep up the fight. We’re pulling for you.

  20. Jefferey, as always – you rock on with your positive attitude and unbeatable spirit. You are an inspiration to rest of us.

  21. Rock on, blog on, Jeffrey. Everytime I wear my Occasionals t-shirt I think of you and your fabulous attitude.

  22. Rock on Jeffrey. Good to see a blog from you again. 🙂

  23. “Badass” is the word. Love the John Lee Hooker shades, Jeffrey. Follow your heart, and keep on blogging.

  24. I jog 2 miles/week. You’re seriously kicking my butt. Do the same to the cancer’s. Looking forward to seeing you in the office next week.

  25. Brittany Walker

    Put up the other videos!! xoxox

  26. I’m so happy that you are back to blogging! Thanks for these tips — they hit close to home and they also help me to feel like I’m hanging out with you in person, across the miles. Love reading your writing and hearing you play, too!

  27. Your posts and attitude as always leave me speechless.
    You are the winner man.

  28. Nice licks, Jeffrey – and an attitude that won’t back down! Hope you keep playing at RfL for many years more … maybe even join us at one downunder!

  29. Less talk, more rock! +1 on more videos or clips of your playing.

  30. vickie oconnell

    Hi Jeffrey, I love the 7 tips you gave us and thought I would leave you 1 of mine. Sept 29,05 I was given 2mo. left to live.4th stage gall bladder cancer.Next,surgery,33radiation treatments with chemo and 3 more yrs. of chemo.On my deathbed Feb.6,09 I found Know the Cause.Com.In 4 days I was up,8days I was taking care of myself and in22 days I was driving again,and telling every one I can about this program.Nutrition,Immunology is the key.Your ass will be badder than its ever been.

  31. Keep leaning Jeffrey. As always – more good mojo comin’ attcha.

  32. Brooke Ellison

    Rock on Jeffrey!!!! Thank you for this beautifully written post.

    Always keeping you in my thoughts!

  33. Jeffrey, you have always been a badassss! Take care

  34. Brett Bonthron

    An awesome read Jeffrey – you sound like you’re doing much better than loads of people that Cancer has never touched. Keep on truckin’ man.

  35. Jeffrey,

    Been a long time, my friend. Great tips, not just for cancer, but for life. Write long, write strong.

  36. Jeffrey,

    Thank you for sharing – best thoughts and wishes for your fight against that “unknown” bastard cancer.

  37. Hey Jeffrey, great to see such wonderful writing and best wishes for the fight. Loved the guitar performance at Relay for Life. You, indeed, rock!

  38. Trish Moylan Davis

    Jeffrey, It is great to hear from you…thanks for blogging. You, as always, are an inspiration. I love your view on life and living…You inspire all of us to refocus on what is really important. You are the “change” and thanks for the reminder…

  39. Jeffrey, what an excellent and inspiring blog. I forwarded to my father-in-law who is fighting his 4th or 5th round of lymphoma. Stay strong and keep blogging. We need you!!!

  40. I understand the mixed emotions about writing and sharing. Please understand how inspiring and helpful this is to so many of us…thanks.

  41. Edoardo Causarano

    Thanks for this post… it’s inspirational.
    In bocca al lupo! Get well


  42. Kelli Pellegrini

    Just a note to send my best to you, Jesse and your family. I’m Louie’s wife (Louie, your most recent “roommate” at Stanford Hosp.). I want you to know that after meeting you, Louie’s attitude has totally changed regarding his cancer. He is fighting it-and quotes you often as inspiration. Thank you for being a hero to him and me.

    • Hi Kelli

      I’m so happy that Jeffrey’s fighting spirit has inspired Louie to battle his cancer. Louie is so young and vibrant – I can’t imagine him *not* fighting!

      I’d like to add a few of my personal tips as the spouse of Cancer Dude:

      1) ATTITUDE: We have found statistics to be meaningless – positive thinking, love and attitude are what its all about (along with a little chemo and surgery…)

      2) DON’T HOLD BACK – In a weird way you have been given a gift. You know how fragile life can be, so embrace it fully, no regrets. Say everything you want to say, now.

      3) BE PRESENT – Try not to think about what *might* happen down the road – it will wear you down. Focus on what’s happening today and tomorrow.

      4) ADVOCATE – No matter how good the hospital, doctors and nurses, don’t be afraid to ask for what Louie needs. Be nice but push. Learn ‘their’ system, from where the linens are to how you get the resources you need (I could write a book…)

      5) CARE FOR YOURSELF – I know this sounds obvious, but you need to carve out time every day for yourself. I hike 60 minutes a day. I make sure I eat well and regularly. I sleep in my own bed at night (the cots at the hospitals suck). It does the patient no good if you’re on the verge of a breakdown. A good therapist is invaluable!!!

      6) ACCEPT HELP – Figure out how your friends can help (they want to help) and assign them tasks. Or ask a friend to be the point person. I don’t like people to bring me food, but I like them to grocery shop for me.

      Someone once told me that its a marathon, not a sprint. So pace yourself accordingly. Louie will be better off for it!

      Hugs and much love, Jessy

  43. Hello Jeffrey,
    Just heard from Ernie tonight that you are back in Stanford Hospital….. and so straight to Radiowalker I went to hear your voice, your incredible love of life! And there it was LOUD and CLEAR life first cancer last. A strength so clear and determined to enjoy all that life has to offer. This gift of yours I will share with many.

    Bryan and I spoke this weekend about getting back to what gives us one of our greatest pleasures and that is having dear friends over for dinner. Bryan can really cook. I think I have told you and Jessy that. You and Jessy were first on the list. I was to call you this week about dates. So here is a goal, simple and small, dinner at chez Wilmer/Shiles.

    By the way, I am off to Holland again in October and would love to see the Atlassian office in Amsterdam. I am guessing it may be in need of some design help! So do your thing and tell this cancer thing to “piss off”, come to our home for dinner and see you in Amsterdam in October.

    So good to hear your strength, know that you are taking care of yourself and accepting help. How can I help from SF? Not sure but if you have family or friends flying in and out of SF needing to be picked up or a place to stay before an early morning flight out of the city please do not hesitate to call. And yes an open invitation to dinner at chez Willmer/Shiles awaits you….. I really miss the fact that we were not able to make it work last year.

    Much Love, Sarah

    p.s. loved the guitar solo.

  44. Jed Wesley-Smith

    Jeffrey, Jesse, Brittany et al.

    I want to send you all my and my family’s love and support. Jeffrey you are a great mate and a wonderful inspiration for us all, both as a friend, colleague and muso.

    Atlassian has been a sombre place since we heard the news, but we have been comforted by the thought that you live your life to the fullest. I have been privileged to have shared some small part of that with you, and am inspired by your example. Our thoughts and prayers are with you all.

    the greatest love and affection,
    jed and family.

  45. Pingback: Cancer Dude’s Last Battle. Good Bye, Jeffrey | CloudAve

  46. Pingback: Cancer Dude’s Last Battle. Good Bye, Jeffrey | Zoli’s Blog

  47. the 20 years were irreplaceable. you will be forever in my heart for brittany and mac. rest peacefully.

  48. You will FOREVER inspire me. Love you and Miss you lots!

    Your Friend,

  49. ooops … my concussion head type-o! and one thing I left out.

    Which is– I’ve been hearing your musical spirit in the Fall breeze and it fills my soul!

    That would be from Denise Rae Kouzoujian not Kenise!

    Your friend always,

  50. You? republicans need to fight me!

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