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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”

Lessons from the Obama Campaign for the Software Business

Yesterday at the 15th Annual Stanford University Accel Symposium, I heard an energizing talk with Chris Hughes, Facebook, and Architect of Obama’s Digital Campaign Strategies, and Matthew Barzun, National Finance Team for Obama and Former Chief Strategy Officer, CNET Networks, Inc. on “Technology Priorities: Lessons from the Campaign”.

Three powerful lessons leapt from the stage that certainly any software company trying to do something different should understand. These apply to any company who cares about their customer community and focuses on growing a large business.

Scale and Focus

Traditional software counts on hunting down customers and finding those willing to pay the large price tag. Kind of like traditional political fund raising where fund raisers seek big-heeled donors for the $5,000/plate dinner.

The Obama campaign’s New School thinking concentrated on creating scale and community. Instead of only mining a list for the 1-in-5 donor with the big bucks, they started asking 25 people to go out and each find 25 more to pay $25 to show up at an event. The first time they tried this, they sold every ticket. So they tried it again, and next thing they knew: 1,800-person venue sold out.

Thinking how to scale from a smaller list of initial supporters (Obama challenge) was very different than thinking how to divide-and-conquer the large list of potential donors (Clinton early advantage). Matthew said it required concentrating on metrics that really matter – a mantra within the campaign, lowering the barriers to entry for donors and supporters, while having high expectations for the ultimate outcome. Aside from this concentration on large scale, they were relentlessly focused on immediate outcomes: they had to win Iowa; there was nothing after Iowa. Matthew represented this new thinking…

Farming vs. Hunting

The campaign compared their marketing strategy to Seth Goding’s Farming and Hunting analogy. The new school campaign focused on farming a community versus only game hunting (Yes, they did both: about half small donors; half large.). The idea was to spread word-of-mouth, build a bigger community using the existing base of early passionate supporters.

The trick was multiplying the base versus the traditional 1-in-5 division game of hunting. Build the community through networking. Get 25 supporters to rally another for a small entry fee. This is how Matthew illustrates some of the early results…


Once the Obama campaign got this farming working, the multiplier trumped any notion of relying on the traditional approach.

Values Matter

Communities thrive on trust and respect. If you are serious about building a community of supporters or customers, start with asking how to treat people. Here’s the Obama Campaign Code they handed out for the Iowa caucuses: three simple values:


At one caucus the Clinton people showed up with 13 supporters, which on a Cold Day in Hell in Iowa is a good showing. The Obama supporters on the other side of the room numbered 68. But the Clinton group was below the 15 count needed to participate. The doors to the caucus closed at a specific time, meaning no more participants. The Clinton team was potentially without a quorum.

Then after the rules allowed, in walk two more Clinton supporters, giving Clinton a quorum. This was against the rules. What did the Obama supporters say? Let them in. Include them. They deserve to be here. The spirit in the room was immediately more inclusive.

Software companies (all companies frankly) would do well to start by treating their customers with respect, treating them well, and concentrating on inclusion. A couple values we think apply to software companies is treating customers equally and fairly regardless of their company’s size or the size of their orders, and opening up information about your company (pricing, licensing, source code, bugs) so you build trust.

Applying new school marketing thinking and concentrating on scale, inclusion, and low barriers made a whopping 100% difference to what Obama raised. What would it do for your business, Mister Software Man?