ONE WORD 365 – Growth

iStockphoto © sefaoncul

My One Word for 2011 was “pause.” 

Who would have known this one word could have impacted my mindset throughout the most challenging and rewarding year of my life.

~2011 was a year where my dream of being a husband and a father became reality with one single “I Do.”

~2011 was a year where I faced cancer for a third time and battled to the best of my ability through five months of chemo and trusted God period for what I could not control.

~2011 was a year, had I not slowed down and paused through in the midst of every challenge and in every blessing I would have missed seeing God’s handiwork in my life and the lives of those who joined me in this journey.

My One Word for 2012…hmmm? My One Word focus for next 365 days err…325 days?

After much thought and deliberation it has to be Growth, a word that is so appropriate to focus on after the year I had in 2011. I want to take all the life lessons learned…the good, the not-so-good, and the awesome and grow from them. I want to share them with the hope they may help and influence others in a way that they too can grow from my experience.

For me I’m talking about total…across the board growth, both personally and professionally. Growth in the five areas which I feel encompasses a full and complete life.

It is Well With My Soul

Worship Wednesday

Image Hands Raised Worship

This post was almost titled Can’t Get A Break. Unfortunately a minor set back last week literally knocked my legs out from under me, physically and mentally. Fortunately, I heard the old classic, It is Well with My Soul, on the radio in the midst of my “pity party” which offered a shift in perspective and provided a better title for this blog post.

It Is Well With My Soul

Written by Horatio Spafford – Performed by Todd Fields

Here is a link to the story behind the hymn. I know for me after learning the story, I even in more awe of the powerful lyrics and the faith it took to pen them. Please also enjoy North Point Church Worship Leader Todd Field’s acoustic version of this inspiring hymn of Worship and Praise.

How Are You Feeling?

How are you feeling is a common question I get asked several times a day, and a few times there is a follow-up question that gets asked before I answer the first question, “bet you get tired of answering that question don’t you?”

Actually I don’t mind answering that question at all because the fact that someone asks shows they care!

But something you probably should know, and I don’t think I’m alone feeling this way, is that the answer you get may not always be totally truthful at all times. There are a few reasons why, and I’d like to share them:

Milestones

I’m not sure if I should classify today as a milestone or an anniversary? Truth be told four months ago a conversation took place which caused me to circle this date on the calendar and I hoped I would reach this milestone.

milestones-leverage-your-life-now

iStockphoto © Victor Correia

4 months, 4 years, or 40 years

I always envisioned the day my fiance and I applied for our marriage license would be a fun day. Unfortunately March 3, 2011 was anything but fun as we had to squeeze in getting our marriage license between a series of doctor’s appointments. The last two weeks were a blur of activity as Shari and I learned my cancer I not only returned but had metastasized to the point where I was now categorized with Stage 4 merkel cell cancer. Our plans for a Fall wedding were radically changed with the cancer news and we found planning for our wedding which was only 21 days away. Sadly I never allowed myself to experience fun or joy this day, I was too busy feeling sorry for myself, being angry, and I was looking for someone to blame…God!

When God Winks On Love

when-god-winks-on-loveWhat you see here is what greeted Shari on the afternoon I proposed. Most people would say three weeks is just too short of period of time to plan a wedding.

We crammed a lot of life and so many experiences into those 21 incredible days leading up to our wedding day. Our decision to be married, despite the circumstances surrounding my cancer‘s return, was met with so many affirmations which lead us to move forward with our decision to be married in the Spring rather than later in the Fall.

Shari and I were were so grateful for the affirmation we received from family and friends who saw in us what we believed God was doing in our lives and in our courtship. We were also blessed by the God Winks which became apparent during this period and helped us to choose to become husband and wife on March 19, 2011.

The Greatest Day of My Life!

Regardless of the size wedding, planning and coordination are key when planning an event of this magnitude in one’s life . The planning should take in all the aspects which create memories which span a lifetime for you and your wife along with the special guests who attend.

Time usually is the best friend for the bride and groom in the planning as they have months to prepare for the big day. Unfortunately Shari and I didn’t have the luxury of time as circumstances dictated there were only 21 days for us to plan and celebrate our wedding day. Despite all the obstacles and the coordinating of all the logistics, somehow, everything all fell into place for us to be married.

when-god-winks-on-love-proposal

Our God Wink Story

Shari and I met in 2008 while we attended different locations (campuses) of North Point Church. We met, but for this part of our story it started and ended with this meeting.  Despite meeting then, both of us would go on our separate ways for the next two years but the meeting in 2008 would be an important footnote in our story which would come together two years later.

Random, Fate, or another God Wink

Fast-forward to the spring of 2010 where we both find ourselves in the North Point Church Singles environment called Fusion. Despite the odds Shari and I find ourselves placed same host home as opposed to the other five during this cycle. We believe the odds for us to be placed in the same host home twice in two years was astronomical and we believe this fate of our placement to be a big defining God Wink in our lives!

This time something clicked, and in our re-connection something was different; and we were different! As we came to know each other through the North Point singles ministry we also connected on another level as learned we had both battled cancer. It was through this connection we grew closer as news of my cancer spreading impacted both of our lives.

Cancer Life Lessons

No one issued me my cancer playbook when I got the news I had cancer. But I soon found out there were plenty of cancer life lessons to learn before my treatment season began.

cancer-life-lessons

Reactions vary when you get the news cancer has entered your world but most the reaction is some form of fight or flight. Those who lean toward flight can withdrawal or move into forms of denial as it takes time to process this news. Those lean toward fight can be using it to mask their denial. Either way you most process the news fully before moving forward in a healthy way. Looking back now, I know moved into the “fight” mode too quickly and did not process how the news of my diagnosis would impact my life. I simply thought I would beat it by powering through whatever cancer through at me. So much like preparing for a big football game, I said let’s do this…Game On!

Scouting

Most football teams have scouts who learn everything there is to know about the opponent with the hope of finding weaknesses that can be exploited. Research was my way of scouting merkel cell cancer (mcc), unfortunately there is little published about this relatively new type of cancer, and there is even less focus by the cancer community from an awareness and funding perspective due to the low number diagnosed each year. Despite the limited information, my scouting/research confirmed enough of what had already been discussed with the medical team I was assembling to move forward with my game plan of surgery, skin graft, sentinel node dissection, and 6 weeks of radiation.

 Team Meeting

Another component of my Game On involved those difficult conversations with family and friends who needed to be told. I approached those talks under the false belief, that if my attitude was positive and upbeat it might somehow lessen their concern and worry. In my eyes I did pretty well; as I had my facts together what mcc was and what the medical team planned to do about it, that was until I spoke with my brother Mike. As I was telling him the news in my best upbeat spiel, an image of my 3 nieces flashed in my mind followed by another image where I was missing their proms, graduations, and weddings. I’m not sure if he caught me starting to choke up, but I’d have to admit that was the shortest of all my Game On conversations.

Intangibles

Work was a different type of Game On, similar to a player trying to convince his coach that despite being at 80% he could still contribute to the win. For me it was important to reassure the owners of my company that I regarded this only as a bump in the road with minimal disruption at the dealership. But I knew it would open the door, and for the first time in my career, where my ability to do what they hired me to do would be evaluated not only on talent but also on availability, something I  had little say or control over.

You Have Cancer

Tom, “You have cancer.”

you-have-cancer

When you find out you have cancer everything changes. There’s an expression, “you could have heard a pin drop,” not something people normally experience but something which describes those surreal moments in life. But on the day the doctor told me, “you have cancer, I swear you could have heard a pin drop. And when you find out you have cancer the pin which drops is more like the pin of a hand-grenade.

Defining moments are the times in our lives where time stands still, and one of my defining moments occurred when I was told I had cancer!

Your defining moment might have been when finally got your diploma, or it could have been the day you said “I Do”, or it maybe it was the day you held your first born child. These life changing moments become defining when the world as we know it is forever changed and our life takes on a new trajectory.

You Have Cancer Moment

Such was the case for me on December 12, 2009 when phone call led to a defining moment for my life. I was leaving a shopping mall after doing some Christmas shopping when I noticed I had a missed a call and there was a voice mail. I recognized the number as it was from a doctor who had recently done a biopsy for me and figured the call was a formality with news there was nothing to be concerned about. Unfortunately the message received was not what I expected as my doctor called, rather than her PA, with instructions to call her as soon as I possible.

Cancer Road Trip – Part Three

Traveling to Seattle

traveling-to-seattle-part-three

One of the things I looked forward to when I was planning my cancer road trip to Seattle was the planning of what I would do in the down time away from the cancer center. Unfortunately I didn’t have much time to plan with all the work I had to do at my Subaru dealership before I left town. I literally boarded the plane with only the address of my hotel, what time my three doctor’s appointments were at, and no real game plan for my downtime in Seattle.

The randomness actually started in the seating assignments. Booking the trip within two weeks of the flight left me in a middle seat flying from Atlanta. The thought of over 5 hours sandwiched between two people compelled me to play the medical sympathy card which helped me secure a window seat. Once settled into my seat I began to read Pete Wilson’s Plan B book. Reading held my attention for the first hour or so until I glanced at Delta’s flight tracking map to see how far we had traveled. As gazed where we were and we would go as we were traveling to Seattle, realized how little I have seen of this country.

Not enough personal time, too focused on career, stuck in a routine of visiting the same places because it’s easy…comfortable…and safe.

It was in this moment my cancer road trip to Seattle turned into an adventure rather than a quest for clarity in my cancer journey. Traveling to Seattle offered me a break from my routine, an opportunity to explore the city I had never visited, and a means for personal growth I would not have experienced staying home in Atlanta.

Cancer Road Trip – Part Two

Traveling to Seattle

laptop-books-apple-picture

I knew my cancer road trip to Seattle afforded me the opportunity to unplug and reflect on the last few weeks of my cancer journey. Eleven hours in the air flying from Atlanta to Seattle and then back to Atlanta, along with the customary downtime in the waiting room gave me ample time to catch up on my reading. The only question was, which books from the growing pile on my nightstand would make the cut and go with me on the trip. 

Cancer Road Trip

Traveling to Seattle

seattle-skyline-tom-martin-coaching

I’ve taken many a road trip in my life. During my senior year of high school, a group of us headed to Daytona Beach during Spring Break to celebrate our upcoming graduation. In college, there were many trips around the Southeast following the Georgia Bulldog football team. And after graduation, a group of us would road trip once a year to a new golf mecca for our annual golf outing.

Cancer Trip to Seattle

No, my traveling to Seattle is not a pilgrimage to the home of Starbucks to pursue the art of making the perfect Skinny Vanilla Latte. Actually, the purpose of the trip is to gain clarity and consult with the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance at the University of Washington. I have a rare form of skin cancer called Merkel Cell Carcinoma. There are less than 1500 cases of merkel cell cancer per year so the diagnosis is rare and there is no defined treatment protocol like you would have with breast cancer or prostate cancer. Merkel is most prevalent in people over the age of 65 and most of the treatment options are based on a less aggressive approach due to their age. So in my situation, being only 45 with the merkel cell cancer now having metastasized, it seemed like a good time for to travel to where the research was being done.