Life as I know it...

January 19, 2015

Today, we celebrate the courage of a man who fought for racial injustice - the residual effects that we feel in every part of our lives today. As an ethnic minority, I am a huge beneficiary of those efforts. However, it is not just ethnic minorities that are seeing great strides, people who represent many different types of minorities are advancing to new heights in unprecedented ways. While our country still has a long way to go, Apple's CEO, Tim Cook, perhaps said it best:

"We pave the sunlit path toward justice together, brick by brick"

While my post today comes on a day of celebrating a path toward equality, I am writing to celebrate a different type of courage - the courage that millions in our country also show everyday - the fight against cancer. Once just a concept, the fight against cancer has become a very personal one for me - an uncle, a good friend, the mother of a good friend, and a colleague.

You may not have a personal story of cancer, but your eyes see it all around you. The legendary SportsCenter anchor, Stuart Scott, who coined the terms "booyah" and "cooler than the other side of the pillow" recently lost his battle, and earlier this past summer, Tony Gwynn, perhaps the greatest hitter in baseball history succumbed as well. I would also be remissed if I did not mention that arguably the greatest innovator of our generation, Steve Jobs, also passed away from cancer in October-2011. It is hard to imagine what life would be like without the many things that Steve Jobs contributed.

The similarities in the fights against systemic problems like racial injustice and a devastating disease like cancer are deep:

  • They both require a "beat the odds" mentality;

  • They both require strong physical and mental stamina;

  • They both put you on the canvas and ask you, "are you willing to go another round?"; and lastly,

  • They both require a tremendous amount of hope.

Whether you like it or not, cancer is going to touch you in a major way at some point in your life - it may not be today, it may not be tomorrow, but some day it will floor you in a way that you have never experienced:

"It will make you think about what is really important in life, and more importantly, it will make you appreciate the people you have been able to share your life with."

LinkedIn is a professional networking site, so why does a post like this deserve the light of day? It is worth writing about because we all know somebody at work or in our professional network who is either personally battling this dreaded disease or helping somebody who is. Additionally, the ambitious careers we embark on often leave us in the "no man's land" of moving ourselves forward while being supportive of those we love that are in need.

In the spirit of LinkedIn, whose posts often focus on "steps" to achieve a professional goal, I provide the following steps to celebrate those who are fighting the injustice of cancer:

  • Be Present: One thing I have learned is that sometimes the smallest things mean the most. Most of us cannot make two-hour long phone calls every night, but we can send a text of encouragement; we can post a note on all the social media sites out there that says, "thinking of you". Being present is about consistency, it is not about abundance of time.
  • Celebrate Life: If you know anybody that is going through cancer treatments, you know that there are good days and bad days. When those good days come around, encourage the things that give the mind a vacation - take a walk, go out to dinner, spend time doing the things that cancer says you have been forbidden to do. Live life as if cancer did not exist.
  • Give Space: One thing that is a bit surprising is the need for people to have space - whether they are battling cancer or not. I think there is a tendency to smother people, which in some weird way, can make them feel even sicker. There are times when people fighting cancer need 24-hour care - no question about it. However, I do think it is important, that when appropriate, give those fighting this dreaded disease the opportunity to clear their heads and show some emotion - some are more private about that than others. Additionally, giving space often means centering conversation, thought, and laughter around anything but 'the obvious' - every mind needs a vacation, even if just for a little while each day.

I may take flack for this, but I am a Lance Armstrong fan for as long as I live. I do not admire cheating and lying, but I do admire those who give hope, and whether you love him or hate him, he has given hope to millions of people around the world who fight the cancer battle. Most people don't realize that Armstrong's cancer spread to his abdomen, his lungs and his brain, and he was given a 20 - 50% chance of surviving, which his doctors later admitted was overstated just to provide that ounce of hope.

There is no magic formula to helping support somebody who is fighting cancer - just like there is no 'secret sauce' to fighting inequality. However in both instances, there is tremendous value in encouragement, hope, presence and the celebration of progress. Those are things that we can each do that becomes a way to add our "own brick" in this courageous fight.

D.I.; J.P.; I.L.; K.I.; S.S.; [tsm]

"Cancer can take away all of my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart, and it cannot touch my soul."

- Jim Valvano
ESPY's - March 4, 1993


"You beat cancer by how you live, why you live and in the manner in which you live. So live, live, fight like hell.  And when you get too tired, [lie] down, rest and let someone else fight for you."

- Stuart Scott
ESPY's - July 16, 2014