We often learn the greatest lessons in life at the deepest and darkest of times. We can be gifted with clarity on the realness and fragility of life that we didn’t understand prior to the battle we are faced with. There is this teflon feeling of being indestructible that many of us hold onto. We see others getting sick, dealing with issues, but we believe in our hearts that it cannot happen to us. When we are thrust onto a new path, one we never voluntarily chose, we see things differently.
In 2013 I was 39 years old. I was married to my soul mate Rebecca; we had three children, Luke was 5, Jake was 4, and Lola was 2; and we had built our dream home in beautiful Washington Crossing, PA. I was in the financial services field, and my career was booming. Family, business and life were all like a dream come true except for one thing; 2 years earlier, at 60 years old, my father-in-law Larry had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic cancer generally has a very short shelf life, and Larry fought like a Warrior. He never bitched, he never moaned, he fought to be with his family as long as he can. It was an honor and inspiration to be part of this journey. I wish he didn’t have to deal with this, as we knew what the ending would eventually be; it was inevitable. What it did was showed a sense of love and family that can’t be duplicated in other situations.
In May of 2013, as Larry continued to fight, and at 39 years old I was diagnosed with a Grade 3 Astrocytoma; Brain Cancer. My wife now had her husband and father fighting aggressive cancers. My perspective changed immediately the minute I got diagnosed. I started to see life through a new, clearer set of lenses. I was young, in great shape, and I realized quickly how fragile life is, and how important it is to live in the moment and appreciate the now.
I went through a craniotomy, chemo, and radiation. My will, my love of life got stronger by the minute. I started to understand what truly defines us. I was given this gift, and when I saw it, I grabbed it, and I owned it. For all the optimism I had inside me, there is a component of fear and anxiety that comes along with it. I would push that deep down into my belly to avoid it. Eventually, that angst and fear needs an outlet or it will combust. Writing became my outlet. I never really wrote much before this new life I was living. I wrote for ME. It became my catharsis to alleviate the negativity. I wrote on my perspective, my appreciation of life, my fight with cancer; I did it for ME! It was like vomiting; once I wrote, I got it out of me, I felt better! I never really read any of my messages after I sent them out, I was good.
I had so many people following my messaging, I realized cancer was like buying a car. You buy the car, you leave the lot, you notice the car everywhere. Reality is it was always there, you just never noticed it until you had a direct connection to it. I saw that every family had some connection with cancer in some capacity, and we are all a family; a family of WARRIORS! I decided to write a book on my journey called, “Starting at the Finish Line.” I wrote it for me, it made me feel better, and I never cared if anyone read it; it was my mine, I did it for myself, I owned it. A week after it came out in 2018 it was a bestseller in 4 different categories on Amazon. I was shocked and blown away! There was no business plan, no marketing, it was a self serving way of handling the negative emotions that come with cancer.
Since then I have done 3 TEDx Talks, been on ESPN NY, I do countless interviews, podcasts, and I speak keynote at events and conferences all over North America. I talk about my story and the necessity of financial planning in advance of the bad. I am an ambassador for Head for the Cure, and we raise money to beat this evil disease and to support the families that need financial help dealing with brain cancer. This was my calling! By getting this off my chest, I was able to communicate on social media with people all over the world who have taken on their own challenges with cancer, disease and life in general and let them know they are not alone on their journey. I get thank you notes on my book, my talks, and my direct connection everyday from amazing inspirational warriors; what they don’t realize, is they are the ones inspiring me, keeping me doing what I do! I am beyond humbled and thankful, but it’s not me that ignites the fire in my belly; it’s all those who fight and never give up!
Larry passed in 2014, he made it just over 4 years with Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer. He showed me how to act with independence and dignity, how to fight for family, and how to leave a legacy. It’s been 7+ years since my diagnosis, I now get MRI/MRA every 6 months to make sure the tumor hasn’t grown back. For all that I have TAKEN form cancer, am I glad it happened? NO!! It’s evil, awful and I cant wait to end it so others don’t have to deal with it ever again! Finding my catharsis, writing, speaking, and sharing I do believe happened for a reason. I learned to be a better person, parent and husband and how important an outlet is to take on difficult challenges.