It was Valentines Day. I had just told my wife that that I had throat cancer. And I was leaving for two weeks for an adventure trip to Antarctica with our daughter. I told myself: “I’ll deal with the cancer when I get back.”   I was very much at peace with continuing with the trip as planned. I did wonder whether I was delaying the start treatment and whether that would make a difference. I chose not to dwell on that question, and took comfort in the doctor’s advice to continue with the trip as planned. But I was very worried about my wife. I feared that the learning of diagnosis would have a devastating effect on her.  And it did.

During the morning of that first day, I was happy to have something all-consuming upon which to focus. We had to complete final preparations, as we would soon be on our way to JFK airport. It was exciting. Krista and I would be setting foot on our seventh continent.   We had both been all over world, but this was a different kind of trip.

I don’t really remember the drive to JFK, but I do recall a feeling like being in a fog. Quiet times led to a thousand questions passing through my mind. Of course, there were no answers for the questions; at least not yet. Answers would only come over time.

The biggest worry initially was “is the cancer widespread? Has it metastasized?” I did not speak of this worry. Instead, I told myself that I was going to need to let this play out. There was no benefit in worrying or continuing to ask “what-if” questions.   I realized that this cancer journey was going to take mental discipline and emotional control. I resolved to prepare myself. I was determined to develop routines and habits that would help me deal with whatever was thrown my way.

I was very fortunate in that cancer struck me at time when I had developed habits and routines that would serve me well. A notably positive thing about the timing is that I was quite healthy and fit at the time of the diagnosis. I had lost 25 pounds over the past 18 months. I was exercising regularly and focusing on my diet. At the time, I was well into eating the Ketogenic diet, which was working quite well for me. Coincidentally, the low carbohydrate high-fat Ketogenic diet is one that research has shown to be beneficial in the battle against cancer.

Five months before the diagnosis, I had taken up the practice of meditating. After a slow start, I had been practicing daily meditation for several months. The other routine I had established was daily journaling. I was doing two types of journaling: 1) a daily “5 minute” journal (which I did in Evernote);  2) a longer hand-written journal, which I did tried to daily but settled for 4-5 times per week.  These routines would help me internalize the diagnosis, process my thoughts and emotions, and decide how I would think and act during the battle.

Tim Ferriss (author, podcaster, and evangelist of leading life hacks) speaks of his journaling as “taming his monkey brain.” In other words, clearing the clutter and getting focused. It certainly worked well for me, especially as I prepared to battle cancer. The following is directly from my handwritten journal, grammatical errors and all, written on February 15, 2017 at 8:50 AM, on Aero Argentina flight 1857 from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia. This is how I internalized the diagnosis.

So, the day came to get the test results. And guess what? A new game in town. We are now in the “C” game. Not what I wanted, but honestly, I was not surprised. It has been less than 24 hours since I got the report from Dr, Gallagher. Awkward timing. But what timing would be god for this. My first thought was “How would Deb deal with this?” I was thinking about how I would tell her before the doctor was done explaining.

Gotta play the hand your dealt. And this is one I’ve got to play very well. No room for screwing around. Must become an expert. This is now part of who I am. Part of my reality.

Key Principles:

1) Positive attitude

2) No whining – no blaming – no looking for cause

3) One step at a time (live in the moment)

4) Team effort (cannot do it myself)

5) Health & fitness first priority

6) Must get good rest everyday

7) Complementary protocols

8) Document the journey

9) Knowledge is power (follow the data)

10) We win – no matter what

Live your life. The disease is only one factor. It does not own me.

How do I reconcile my goal to ski at 100 with the near term challenge of surviving the next 5 years? Of course, this is just part of the journey. This is a necessary chapter in the book. My experience conquering cancer will prepare for the rest of the journey. And it will help me to value and enjoy every day. I also think it will help me and Deb. It will bring us closer together. It will make the other stuff far less important, some of it totally unimportant.

I must be sure affairs are in order. The financial plan will likely change. Unlikely to be able to get life insurance at reasonable price. So other strategies come into consideration.

So enough about “C”. Krista and I are on our way to an adventure of a life time. In just a few hours, we will be in Ushuaia. In 30 hours, we will be boarding the Silver Explorer on our way to Antarctica. Hard to believe! But if you can dream it, we can make it happen.

Until I started to work on this blog post, I had not re-read that journal entry since the trip to Antarctica. I now know that my thoughts that day, set forth sloppily in my journal (my handwriting is so bad, I need to print so I can read my own notes), laid the foundation for how I would think and act in my battle with cancer. The principles I listed actually guided me on my cancer journey, and allowed me to really enjoy the journey to Antarctica.

2 thoughts on “Internalizing the Diagnosis

  1. Lee,
    My dear friend & brother, As always, I look forward to sharing your sound wisdom, deep spirituality and practical advice. Being with you is a great adventure ,inside & out!. Joe


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