Don’t Bury Your Head in the Sand

In an earlier blog post I cited a classic Clint Eastwood (aka Inspector Harry Callahan) line from the movie Magnum Force: “A man has got to know his limitations.” I used it to emphasize a point on giving and givers. Well, I think it’s time to dust off another well-known Inspector Callahan line from the movie “Dirty Harry.” This one is in reference to a bad habit that many of us have: ignoring early signs or symptoms of an illness, otherwise known as choosing to bury your head in the sand.

Do You Feel Lucky?

Inspector Callahan is on a dock, at the end of the movie, staring down the barrel of his 44 Magnum that is pointed at the villain. As the villain makes a move toward a gun, just out of reach, Inspector Callahan says to the villain: ”…I know what you’re thinking, did he fire six shots or five…You’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do you feel lucky? Well, do you, punk?” 

So what does this have to do with ignoring symptoms? Well, if you have a nagging health issue, you have two choices. One is to bury your head in the sand and hope that it goes away. The other is to go to a doctor and find out for sure. And if you choose the former, then there is one question that you have to ask yourself: Do you feel lucky?

The Dangers of Opting to Bury Your Head in the Sand

Your body has various ways of telling you when there is something wrong. You may have a pain; an ailment or discomfort; or a feeling of being “out of it” that stays with you for an extended period of time. It’s important to keep in mind that most nagging health issues don’t just go away. The longer you wait to diagnose and treat them, the higher the cost of the medical care and the longer it takes for the body to heal.

And if your health matter turns out to be serious (e.g., cancer, heart disease, etc.), you may actually be giving the disease a head start in a race that could have a finite time period to treat or cure.

There is also a negative impact that comes with the stress of worrying what’s wrong. Wouldn’t it be simpler just to face it head on?

Today’s the Day to Face Your Fears

I hope that this blog post sheds light on the importance of listening to your body and taking action when you have a health matter that won’t go away. This also holds true for family members. If you notice that a loved one seems to be out of sorts, encourage him or her to go get checked out.

So if ignoring symptoms is your thing, or if you tend to choose the bury your head in the sand approach to resolving health issues, then let me ask you this: Do you feel lucky? Well, do you? And is it really worth the gamble?

What Is the Definition of Win in a Cancer Battle?

In today’s society, a lot of emphasis is placed on winning and losing. But why? And what is the definition of “win” anyway?

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not a fan of everyone getting a “feel-good” ribbon for participating in an event. In fact, I’ve found that some of life’s most valuable lessons are acquired through experiencing the competitive thrill of victory or agony of defeat. But when we’re talking about a cancer diagnosis and battle or contest, it’s an entirely different ballgame.

Winning Isn’t Everything? Really?

Seldom does the topic of winning come up, in any aspect of life, without mention of the famous quote: “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” That quote is often attributed to the legendary head football coach of the Green Bay Packers, Vince Lombardi. And yet, you may be surprised to learn that in the documentary titled Lombardi, a sportswriter recounts a conversation with Coach Lombardi where the Coach told him, “I wish to hell I’d never said [that].”

Coach Lombardi went on to say, “What I believe is, if you go out on a football field, or any endeavor in life, and you leave every fiber of what you have on the field, then you’ve won.”

Apparently, Coach Lombardi learned some life lessons after his famous quote. It made him rethink his definition of win.

You vs. Cancer: The Definition of “Win”

The cancer battle discussed throughout Know Your Enemy isn’t “won” in the traditional sense.

I believe, as Coach Lombardi, that to win means having the physical and mental toughness to take on this enemy head-on, with every ounce of your being every day. It requires a total commitment to doing whatever it takes in terms of the team you build and the treatments that you pursue, and leaving nothing on the table. Lastly, it means surrounding yourself with your faith, family, and friends to help you to navigate one of life’s most difficult challenges.

If you were to ask me what is the one thing readers should take away from this book, I would say it is having an understanding that in cancer, as in life, there are many factors beyond our control—stage, type, detection, genetic composition, environment, diet, fate, etc.—all of which will play a role in determining the outcome of the battle.

It’s important to remember to focus your time and energy on the things you can control or change. As the Serenity Prayer says:

God grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change;

Courage to change the things I can;

And wisdom to know the difference.

That is the secret to standing tall against the enemy. That is the definition of “win.”

The Real Warriors: Cancer Fighters

In the dedication section of Know Your Enemy, I described the individuals that I believe are the real warriors of our time.

They are not to be confused with so-called warrior athletes, labeled as such from their “freakish” exploits on the field of play. The individuals I am referring to are not playing a kids’ game; they are adults and children, patients and caregivers, and medical professionals engaged in a daily struggle against a formidable opponent—cancer.

In re-reading this description five years later, I don’t think I could say it any better today, so I’ve included an excerpt for this blog…

They are the chemotherapy patients on a cocktail so strong they have little energy to get out of bed in the morning—or the radiation patients that suffer treatment side effects, such as severe joint or nerve pain or burning skin. Then add the responsibilities of raising a family or maintaining a career, and now you’re talking about a Herculean effort just to make it through the day.

They are also the caregivers whose worlds are turned upside down when a loved one is confronted with a cancer diagnosis. They need to be strong in helping to battle this enemy, while coping with their own fear and trauma.

Last, but not least, they are the medical professionals on the front lines caring for, supporting, and consoling patients and family members in their greatest time of need.

— Dedication excerpt, October 2015

Do you have someone in your life that has exhibited extraordinary strength of character in their battle with cancer? If so, have you told this real warrior that he (or she) is your hero? If not, what are you waiting for?

So here is my ode to the real warriors in my life.

To my mother, Maxine R. Antonicelli; my wife, Alyson C. Antonicelli; my little buddy, Derek Johnson #223 (son of Tina and Scott Johnson); personal friend and neighbor Stephen B. Wagoner; and all those who are engaged against the enemy—cancer—this book is dedicated to you, for you are true warriors, gladiators in the arena of life.
Frank Antonicelli

Time is Precious

I realized early in the cancer journeys with my mother, Maxine, and wife, Alyson, that time is precious and finite. Our time on this earth is fleeting, often said to go by at the “blink of an eye.”

These experiences caused me to reassess the value that I placed on time and what I really considered to be my priorities in life.

I was never one that felt the need to define my being with material things. I would never say something like “I live in a $450,000 house (which I don’t). Instead, I’d be more likely to say, “I live in a house that is warm and welcoming, and friends say feels comfortable to them.” One of my go-to sayings that I think captures this sentiment best is: “I want all my belongings to be able to fit in the back of my Ford pick-up truck.”

A new measure of happiness … time

But as I went through my cancer journeys, my priorities shifted. It was no longer about how much (or how little) stuff I had. Or how well liked I was. In this new world order, I found a different type of personal happiness and fulfillment; one that involves family and friends that have a similar appreciation of time and friendship. These relationships are very special because the people are authentic, comfortable in their own skin and “givers” (see prior blog post: A giver has got to know his/her limitations).

Now, I also try to focus on investing my time in activities that give me a real sense of joy and accomplishment. I seldom find myself in situations that are uncomfortable or “just not my deal.” Now that I understand just precious time is, I have learned that the word “no” is not a bad word. In fact, it often leads to a more enjoyable experience for all parties because each participant is committed and all-in.

And that led me to write the following poem. Have these questions in mind as you read it:
“How would your life and decisions change if you knew the end was near? Would you play it safe or take a risk and venture outside of your comfort zone?”

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Time is Precious…

How would your life change if you had but one year?
How would the news impact your hopes, dreams, and fears?

Would you invest more time in your current profession?
Or feel the need for greater purpose and expression?

Would you settle on a relationship long since grown stale?
Or seek a special bond you know will prevail?

Would you surround yourself with loyal friends from the past?
Or spend time with new acquaintances unlikely to last?

Time waits for no one and only you hold the key.
To unlock the door and set yourself free.

So live each day as if you had but a few.
And savor every moment like you are starting anew.

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Remember. Time is precious. Live every day to its fullest.