I can clearly remember my wife's voice when
she called me with the bad news.
honey..." she said quietly as her voice trailed-off into silence.
said hello back, expecting her to finish her sentence. Instead what
followed were the sounds of her heavy sobs. Softly she
finally managed to say, "Your doctor just called with the test results.
You have cancer."
II, Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma to be exact. My mind reeled as my worst case
scenario was now a reality. “I can’t die! I have a young son that relies on
me,” I thought. “I have a wife, family, friends, not to mention my employees
and my company, Athletic Stuff to think about. I can't let them down. This can’t be happening!”
until this point, I had been a healthy as any middle aged man could be. I had
played sports at various levels since elementary school and kept myself in
pretty good shape for a guy my age (51 at the time). But participating in
sports and exercise does not make you immune from this deadly disease.
I tried to calm my wife down the best I could,
not exactly sure what to say. But just moments later, and if by instinct, my
resolve kicked-in. It was a familiar feeling, one I had experienced many times
during a big soccer game. It grew to a strong, defiant voice in my head, and it
filled me with strength. “Bring it on,” I said firmly to myself. I wasn’t about to give
up and go out with a whimper.
I was athletic, smart and most of all,
mentally tough. My grandmother was the foundation of our family and was the
toughest woman I have ever known. I imagined that her unyielding strength
flowed through my veins and allowed me to persist where others failed. It gave
me a quiet confidence that I carried with me whether I was playing Dodgeball, Basketball or Football on the playground, or as the goalkeeper on my Soccer teams through college and beyond. That fateful day, it gave me the strength I
knew I would need to get me through this challenge.
Choosing My Team
They say that life is a game, and I truly
believe that. Both have a start, objectives, goals, rules, obstacles and
finally, a finish. And much like sports, your best results come from having a
good attitude, a strong team and perseverance. And so I started to put together
my team. To me this meant contacting the people who I knew I could depend on to
fight this disease. This included family, friends, employees, doctors and
Each one brought something important to the table. For some that
involved emotional support, a kind word or a kick in the butt. For some it
involved helping around the house, preparing meals, driving me to appointments
or picking up my medication. For others it meant running my company and
covering many of my daily duties.
I also found profound inspiration from
memories of my father and grandmother, both of whom lost their fight with cancer years ealier. I remembered my dad and how he handled
his illness to the end. He was always positive, loving and present –
never slipping into fear or remorse. I would think of my grandmother and how
she consistently handled the pain, and always focusing on her family. To the
end she would tell me, “Mijo, be tough!” as she balled-up her little fists to
get across her point. Both my father and grandmother served as team members for
me, bringing me inspiration that survived them both.
And just like with every good team, there were
ones that did not make the cut. It was just as important to not include those
who would drain my energy, or fill me with fear and concern. This did not
minimize them to me, but the reality is that we can’t make every team out
there. I can’t hit a baseball to save my life, but I can sure stop a soccer
ball rocketed towards my goal!
Knowing that I was not in this alone, that it
was a team effort and I had many strong shoulders to lean on made a world of
difference for me.
Keeping The Right Attitude
When I was younger, I had a soccer coach that
used to preach to the team an old Charles Swindoll quote, “Life is 10% what
happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” He would say it
over-and-over again to us (usually when we were losing!) To be honest, it meant
nothing to me until one day the meaning hit me.
What you focus on creates your
reality, and how you perceive it creates your emotions. We could
have thought to ourselves “Oh no, we’re losing 1-0 to the best team in the
league and there’s only 5 minutes left!” or we could have thought, “Wow, we’re
only down by one goal to a great team and we still have 5 minutes left to
Both perceptions are equally true, but only one creates a
positive attitude and provides access to your maximum abilities; the same ones
necessary to win at the highest levels. It is what allows you to get into the
zone to achieve amazing things. We see top athletes who seem unstoppable.
They can’t miss a shot, or be taken down. It’s almost like they are
unconscious to what is going on around them.
To stay positive, my wife always kept a mental
picture of me totally healed, and remind me to do the same. So I focused
on the day my doctor would look me in the eye while shaking my hand and said,
“Congratulations Jason. You’re cancer free!” It made a world of
difference to me.
I used this same approach during every
chemotherapy and radiation session. I would think to myself how fortunate I was
to be there. I was so excited to get treatment that my heart would race
every evening just thinking about it. To me, it was my chance to say
“Look out cancer, now it’s our turn to kick your butt!” I
honestly felt my treatment was a gift rather than an inconvenience, and that
changed the way I prepared for it. We all have the choice to view situations as
we choose to, whether it be in sports or in life. Why not choose the one
that makes things better for you?
Perseverance is much like a muscle. It
can be practiced and made to be stronger over time. To consistently push
yourself past your comfort zone over-and-over creates a powerful habit that
carries far beyond the current circumstance.
For years I had spent countless hours training
to be the best soccer player I could be. I would run hills and wind sprints
until my lungs burned. I would practice stopping the same shot time and again
until my hips were covered in large strawberries – the painful grass burns that
keeps you up all night. After catching my breath and dusting myself off, I
would do it again. The desire to play sports to my physical and mental limits,
and then to find something deep down inside to push beyond those limits, is
something that I can still find inside of me today.
There were days when treatment got the best of
me. I remember the days when I would soak in the bathtub until the water became
ice cold, and then pull myself over the edge of the tub. For what seemed an
eternity I would lay on the bathroom floor with my towel draped over my head.
My energy levels were at an all-time low and I felt horrible inside.
Perhaps my lowest moment came a few days
before Christmas, 2016. I had driven to a local office supply store to buy 2017
calendars for the office, and to try and get some food into my stomach. Pulling
into a nearby parking space, I sat in silence while looking at myself in my
vanity mirror. I was in a bad place that day. Our company sales were down
drastically due to my extended absence, I had not done any Christmas shopping
for anyone, and I looked and felt horrible. I stared at this strange
person in the mirror and wondered who he was. He was completely bald, a shade of
pale gray and had dark circles under his tired eyes. I was exhausted and felt
like vomiting. “How did I get here?” I wondered to myself.
I felt helpless and depressed. “I give up!” I
cried out loud. I honestly felt as if I could not go on any longer. I was in a
deep hole and felt I could never crawl out of it. But just a moment
later, a familiar voice filled my head and said firmly, “You NEVER gave up on
anything! All of those years of pushing yourself and you’re going to give
I felt a surge of energy flow through me – and
the same never-say-die attitude that carried me through so many tough practice
sessions, day after day was back. Years of training and practice had
created a resolve that simply would not quite. Looking back at myself in the
mirror I said out loud, “As long as you’re going through Hell, get all the way
through it.” I made a promise to myself that one-day-soon things would
get better, and that anything is possible.
A Victory Against Cancer
As fate would have it, that day came on my 52nd
birthday; March 8th 2017. At exactly 2:15 PM, the exact date and
time I was born, I completed my last radiation therapy session and was
pronounced cancer-free. As I lay on the table receiving my treatment, I thought
back on everything that I had been through to get here, and allowed me to
defeat a disease that had claimed the lives of two of my family members. I then
realized that exactly 52 years ago to the minute, that my mom was laying on a
similar hospital bed giving birth to me, and the tears began to stream down my
face. “I made it!” I thought to myself.
Looking back I appreciate the lessons that I
learned from this challenge. I can see how years of playing sports provided me
with valuable tools that serve me to this day, and have a new appreciation for
every day I have to play in this magnificent game we call life. I hope my story
provides inspiration to anyone going through their own challenge. Remember to
set your goals high and go for them. It’s amazing what teamwork, a good
attitude and perseverance can achieve.