Friday, July 26, 2013

A Cancer Survivor at Two Years: Some Goals

In December 2011, six months after diagnosis and months before this blog became public, I wrote a few New Year's resolutions. Keep learning. Keep anxiety in check. Accept people for who they are. That's the summary. 

It's been a long two years and in most ways, I feel like the same person I was two years ago, and yet, I feel like I have one more layer to me now than I did before follicular lymphoma was a regular part of my vocabulary. There have been far more good times than not-so-good times -- kind of like life -- and I couldn't have made it through with my sanity in tact  without my old friends, my new friends out in the cancer blogosphere, my care team, my family, and, most critically, Stacy. 

As I said back in 2011, I'm not great about making resolutions (let alone keeping them) but as I move into year three of the epic, award-winning drama, "Life with Cancer," I thought it'd be interesting, maybe even helpful to set out some goals. 

As a baseball and soccer coach for a whole bunch of kids teams, I always tried to boil things down into easily remembered steps. The earliest list I had for Matthew, for example, was: Line up your hands. Line up your feet. Eyes on the ball. Swing hard.  I've probably said, "Step straight. Throw straight." about 10,000 times over the years. 

I've also developed what I guess I'd call a philosophy of coaching that can be summed up in four rules. 
  • Play Hard
  • Play Fair
  • Listen to Coach
  • Have Fun
That's it. Do I want soccer players to stay in position? Yes. Should baseball players swing at strikes? Yes. Hit cutoffs? Pass the ball? Clear it wide? Anticipate the play? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. But overall, those four rules are the most important principles to me. And it struck me the other day, they also apply to cancer survivorship. 

Living takes effort.  Sometimes we need to overcome the inertia to do things and not just talk about how we want to do things.  I don't believe in bucket lists or in simply accumulating experiences. But the flip side of that coin is: I don't want to avoid experiences because they're new, unknown, take planning, take effort -- that's what makes them experiences.

I know that I'm at my happiest and best when I keep myself busy -- with work and with play. So my goal is to live fully. To not back away from difficult things. To do things that I want to do, even if they're hard. Sometimes it's hard to get off the metaphorical and literal couch, but as we say in baseball coaches land, you can't get a hit if you don't swing at the ball. Play hard.

Life isn't always fair. No one equitably distributes opportunity, wealth, health, or box seats to the Red Sox. If life was fair, there wouldn't be 13.6 million cancer survivors. But just because life isn't fair, doesn't mean we can't live fairly. We can pick up our fellow survivors when they're down, not bemoan the bad bounce of the ball that led to diagnosis, and not begrudge others' successes. I don't need others to fail for me to succeed. Play fair.

I have a lot of ideas. Even more opinions. But apparently, so do other people. And often, their ideas are different than mine. Maybe even better. Their way of doing things may be different. Generally speaking, I'm not someone who seeks out conflict. But as comfortable as it would be if we all agreed on everything, disagreement and conflict can be the door to learning. And the way to open that door is to listen. Hearing people doesn't mean I have to take them up on their advice. I just have to listen.

When I go over the four rules with any youth team, I always leave Have Fun for last. Most kids have little trouble with this one; having fun is baked into most kids' nature. 

Sometimes, we can learn a lot from kids.