Paradigm Shift

iStockphoto credit © James Driscoll

If you think of your life as a story, there will always be a plot and sub-plots running concurrently at any given time.  I adopted this thought process in 2009 after reading Donald Miller‘s book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years What I Learned While Editing My Life.   Miller offers a great lesson in how we all have the opportunity to edit our lives so they tell a better story.

Writing A Better Life Story

Since 2007, there has been no greater plot in my life than coming to understand that my purpose has very little to do with me and everything to do with Whom I serve. Up to that point, I pursued my own American dream: good income-check, nice house-check, company car-check, church-check, family-check, friends-check…my plan, my life, my destiny.

Matthew 6:21 “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Martin 1:1 For where Tom’s treasure is and where Tom’s time is spent, there his heart is.”

I had a head for God and was grateful for my life, but my heart was for me and for what I had determined my purpose to be.  All this worked amazingly well for many years, but when your world gets knocked off its axis, like it has for so many of of us these last few years, you can’t help but question a lot of things:

How did I get here?

Where am I going?

How’s It Going?

It’s a question that gets asked a million times a day, but have you ever been in a situation where you honestly have a hard time answering the question?

For me, it’s that moment in time where you’re experiencing the highest of highs and the lowest of lows precisely at the same time. How is that possible, some may ask, but I think most of us have experienced it at some point in our lives.

  • Picture a work life where everything is going up and to the right….quarter after quarter…yet the home life is disintegrating from the inside out.
  • Picture your house in order financially, emotionally, and spiritually….yet a family member is struggling and fighting all efforts which can provide help and healing.
  • Picture being in the best health of your life….yet that promise of a second interview call never comes.
  •  

Right now I’m in that exact place. In a recent post Out to Lunch, I mentioned a clear PET scan which was awesome news and started the year off in glorious fashion. Some unexplained pain in both legs began shortly thereafter, however, and subsequent tests suggest the possibility of some scary scenarios. Results are pending for other tests, and even more are on the horizon. In the midst of all this, I am experiencing love in a way I never thought possible. Having someone in my life who happens to be a cancer survivor is a gift from God to this cancer fighter, and that’s further compounded by her periodic reminder that it’s one thing to end each post with Trusting God Period, and it’s another thing to live it out.

We believe there is a big God, a God of healing, a God of love, a God of comfort, a God who walks with us every step of this journey, and a God who is in control!

So if you were to ask Shari or I, “How’s it Going”, our reply would be: “Good… so good, because we continue to leverage our Faith in a way that allows both of us to trust God period!

~Shari & Tom

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Life Lessons Part 4-Fast Forward

As promised Fast Forward does just that, brings my merkel cell cancer journey to the present tense and picks up where Off Season left off.

New Season

A routine follow up on the skin graft of my hand afforded me the opportunity to ask my surgeon to look at the scar under my arm where they removed three lymph nodes in December. This for all practical purposes should have been a visual check and was initially, but in his words: “something told me to not only look at the scar but to also feel under the arm as well.” He said he felt a lump, but the look on his face told the story a biopsy later confirmed, that cancer was back in my life. A key thing not to miss and what I consider to be a blessing, had the surgeon only looked and not felt, most likely the cancer would have continued to spread unchecked for at least another six months when my next follow-up appointment was scheduled.

When cancer re-enters the picture you really can’t have another “Pin Drop” moment, but a fist through the wall moment is certainly justified. Unfortunately or fortunately there really isn’t too much time for that because your life becomes very scripted at that point and you follow the sequence laid before you. Biopsy’s bridge to scans, CT & PET; tests are followed by more tests confirming what your heart already knows. A script and a sequence are what you need to navigate those days because an idle mind is the breeding ground for doubt and fear….not only in the skills of your medical team but also in where God is in all this. The purpose of the scans was to see if cancer was present anywhere else including my organs and thankfully it was not. For me both scans lit up for cancer under my arm but in no other area of the arm. I took that as great news because that would have opened the door to a conversation that could have included the word amputation.

Life Lessons part 3….Off Season

 Off- Season refers to the time between when my first round of radiation ended and the reemergence of cancer in my life this past June. 

Truth be told I never anticipated a second chapter to this story….and if I can be so arrogantly bold I thought my merkel cell story was Won & Done in April.

You would think with an attitude like that I’d been ready to climb the next mountain, tackle the next big project, restructure my life plan, but for me the off-season was a season of complacency. I withdrew, I went through the motions, and had I been honest should have acknowledged I was probably depressed. I expected everything to look different on this side of treatment, but the problem was I never changed the lens I viewed my life through.

Heal

I think it is important when you experience something similar to this, you allow time to regroup before immersing yourself back into routines. There can be an overwhelming urge for your life to return to normal, the only problem is what was normal before may not be normal now. Trauma is trauma (could be grief for a lost loved one, could be separation or divorce, could be job loss) and the mental rehabilitation may be more important than the physical rehabilitation with the results far less visible.

For me, not taking time to come to terms with how all this affected me minimized the effect it had on me which kept me from appreciating the potential for what God could do through me.

Wearing a yellow bracelet might signify I was a survivor……only problem was I didn’t feel like much of a survivor, only an existor. OK, existor is not a word, but it is the only term that describes the place I was in. Everything on my horizon lacked significance in my eyes. Sure I had family, friends, a job….more than what a lot of people could say, but I was also turning 46 and there were a lot of things left unchecked on my “to accomplish” list.

Focus

As I struggled, a key realization was brought to light when, in the span of 48 hours, I was reminded 3 times the opening line of Rick Warren’s book, Purpose Driven Life“It’s Not About You”. My lack of purpose and significance stemmed from the fact I was trying to leverage my cancer experience for my benefit, rather than consider that God’s plan all along may have been to leverage my experience for His benefit. Each time “It’s not about you” was quoted it gave me a glimpse of what effect life with cancer could have on me and what God could do through me if my focus shifted from me and was leveraged where there was significance and purpose. 

This blog is not the significance I speak of, but it’s a component; doing my job better has purpose because that income facilitates what and where my focus can be leveraged. What the effect now looks like for me is being more intentional in all things and modeling what I believe. Survivor bracelets are great….they raise money, and they show support for the cancer community, but wearing something and being something are two different things.

Act

So before I place a bracelet on my wrist I need to do a little recasting of my DNA, that way the makeup of who I am and Who I serve will be the place I find purpose and I hope that will be the place God begins to leverage this experience. 

 

If what you’re committed to isn’t Who you’re surrendered you will have a tough time finding purpose in your life and an even tougher time finding peace-my life lesson.    

Is there something standing between you and the purpose your heart craves?

What is keeping you from removing those obstacles?

Let me know how or if I can help you!

~Tom

trusting God period

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Off Season  is part three in a series of posts called Life Lessons, all centered around life with cancer. Check back for Fast Forward which will bring this journey into the present tense.

False Alarm….It’s All Good!

Based on the comments, emails, and private messages I received all day it would appear that my poor choice of words led more than a few folks to worry unnecessarily about the place I was in this morning after reading my Facebook update about a new post to this blog. 

When facing adversity you always have a choice, succumb to it or rise above it…..I’m trying to rise above it and I could use your help today!

The better choice of words would have been…..this is my way of rising above it…..and then went on to describe how I felt my fundraising project for Charity Water was an example of that.

If you didn’t get the chance to read the post, please take a minute to do so and consider partnering with me to help build a well which will bring clean drinking water to a place where this is none.

While my choice of words might have led to some to possibly doubt my mental health;  for me there is NO DOUBTING how much support and prayers I have coming my way on a daily basis, something which humbles me to the point of not really having the words other than to say: 

Thank You, Thank You, Thank You, one and all!

Which brings me to something I want and need to ask YOU…..

How can I be praying for you?

One thing I’m learning in all this is, for me to be able to leverage my faith in the midst of cancer, my focus has to be redirected from within and shifted UP and OUT.

By UP, I mean my focus has to be on God and the lessons He wants me to learn.

By OUT, my focus has to include the community around me, especially the relationships both old and new from which I draw so much strength.

So would you please allow me the opportunity to leverage my faith by letting me know how or what I can be praying for you?

  • One way would be to leave a comment at the bottom of this post which would allow the entire Leveraging Life community the opportunity to pray for you….something I think would be incredible especially when those who do prayed acknowledge it with a comment like so many of you did for me today on Facebook.
  • If you would like to keep the prayer request private click here or on the contact tab at the top and it will stay between you and me.

Thanks again traveling this journey with me!

trust God period!

~Tom

trusting God period

 

Will you help make a difference?

The most important Friday Favorite ever!

Most Fridays I feature a website or a blog that for me has become a favorite. 

Our Friday Favorite for September 24, carries far greater importance than anything I’ve posted on Leveraging Life. For me it speaks to the core of what I believe Leveraging Life calls us all to do…Leverage our life experiences and life lessons for a good greater than ourselves.

 

  [cancer]  me + You =Charity:Water

The formula listed above is something that began earlier this summer when I learned my cancer had spread. As I came to terms with another surgery, more radiation, and possibly chemotherapy I fought the frustration by trying to find the silver lining, the lesson that was to be learned,  a way to turn lemons into lemonade.

And this is where my story, your story, &  charity water all intersect….at a WELL….eclipsing briefly one disease by preventing  other diseases simply by providing clean drinking water where there is none.

Please take a few minutes to watch the videos in this post and learn more about the work charity water is doing around the world.

The Turning Lemons to Lemonade campaign comes to an end on September 30 and $5,000.00 is needed to build a well or 100% of what is collected will be combined with other groups to build a well, so it is a “win-win” situation either way!

Is it possible to raise $4,130.00 in a week? That’s not for me to say and only time will tell. But I do believe anything is possible when you have Trust & Faith in God and a group of people put His words into action.  So really this has as much to do with honoring Him by acts and deeds as it does in the final number.

Please take 3 steps right now to make that difference.

  • Boldly pray for the effort and pray for the outcome.
  • Use the share buttons to the right and share this effort with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, & via email by providing a link to this page.
  • Make a donation, remember $10.00 or $20.00 makes a significant impact in the overall picture and the $870.00 raised thus far will change the lives of 43 people.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post, for your efforts to share the formula & this story, and for partnering with me to leverage life for a greater good!!

~Tom

trusting God period

And the winner is……{name this} Contest

Puff the merkel cell Dragon

 

The winning entry comes from Dave in Fresno who is part of the merkel cell google group I am a member of and is also a mcc survivor himself. Dave said the machine resembled a dragon, an invisible fire breathing dragon, set out to kill any straggler cancer cells that surgery might have missed.

For any other cancer survivors out there dealing with radiation, feel free to adopt the name during your treatment, and just fill in the blank.

Puff the any cancer  Dragon

I have 18 more encounters with Puff over the next three weeks, so at least now I can greet him by name and challenge him to get the job done.
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In describing the story behind the lyrics for Puff The Magic Dragon, Peter Yarrow has frequently explained that “Puff” is about the hardships of growing older, he has also said of the song that it “never had any meaning other than the obvious one” and is about the “loss of innocence”.  Ifound this after selecting the winner but it does actually reinforce the selection because, as the lyrics suggest, cancer truly is a hardship of growing old and anyone who has experienced radiation treatment will attest there is a loss of ones innocence! 
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Thanks to everyone who entered and those who continue to share Leveraging Life with friends on Facebook and Twitter, those efforts help make this difficult season of radiation more tolerable!

~Tom

trusting God period

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.