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.

I’m No Stranger to the Loss of Loved Ones

The universe shed

a tear of sadness today

for a man who touched many

in his own special way.

He greeted those close

with a big bear hug.

and when parting, expressed

 feelings of friendship and love.

He lived a life

void of want or of fear

and followed a drummer’s beat,

audible just to his ear.

He knew what he wanted,

the way he liked things to be.

He would tell you about it,

particularly.

Vinny, Vin Man, Vincenzo,

Mike, Michael, Barbaro;

He answered these calls

with a hearty, “Lets Go!”

Up for any adventure,

Michael always came through.

He was the perfect wingman

with a take no prisoners attitude!

We have loved and lost him,

no longer where he was before.

He is now wherever we are

and will be ever more.

–Frank Antonicelli, Matt Mumber

 

As you’ve read from my book Know Your Enemy, I’m no stranger to the loss of loved ones. Though it is no less hard these days, it is always a reminder of what matters in life (to me). It reminds me of how love is infinite, but time is not.

Matt Mumber, MD, a good friend and co-author of “Sustainable Wellness: An Integrative Approach to Transform Your Mind, Body, and Spirit”, and I collaborated on the poem above as a way of coping with the recent, sudden death of our mutual, long-time friend Michael.

This collaboration led me to again take account of the remaining people in my life and the people who have been in my life. I could choose to focus on the loss, but instead, I choose to focus on the time I did have with the people I love(d) like Michael and how much they (and he) contributed to my life. I choose to focus on the people I still have in my life.

People might look at my life and be sad for me for what I am now lacking, but the reality is that I have been rich. I have been blessed with such amazing people in my life and amazing experiences. The enemy of cancer in my life has actually brought about quite a huge shift in my life, some of which allowed me to find these people and value my life like I hadn’t before.

If I could, of course, I would choose for my wife and mom and Michael to still be here. I still miss them and love them and there really isn’t such a thing as “moving on” from that. They live on in me forever, though. They live on in remembering who they were, what they taught me, and continuing to remember that my time on this earth is limited and to make every minute count.

Spring is coming into bloom again and flowers around us are reborn from death. Change is all around us; the cycle of life continues with or without us. Similarly, I’ve found with loss comes transformation and renewal and rebirth of sorts. We can choose to dwell in the muck or we can choose to soar and be reborn stronger than before.

What will you choose?

 

Why Blog?

Up to this point I have resisted suggestions to “start blogging,” but now the timing feels right to me. For those of you that read my book Know Your Enemy, you may recall that I stated early on I never intended to write a book, let alone a cancer book. I believe this book was written through me and I was merely the conduit to get a message of hope and can-do spirit to first-time cancer patients and caregivers.

I plan on using the same approach for this blog; that is to let thoughts and topics flow through me and post them to the blogosphere. I intend to write about subjects that are universal in nature. I want the message to be positive, motivational, authentic, and hopefully inspirational. I will also follow the simple rule of leaving subjects of politics and religion at the doorstep.

The writing style for this blog will be conversational. I want readers to feel like they are sitting around the kitchen table or breakfast bar with a group of friends discussing topics of the day. Since I relate best to the world through music, specifically song lyrics, humorous stories and famous quotes or sayings, I will use these forms to present the content found in this blog.

I began appreciating these forms of writing when I realized how inspirational such forms could be for people. Often times, some words of encouragement or a little act of kindness can be all that it takes to get a person back on track. For me, I had this epiphany 30 years ago and it is when I wrote one of my first poems. The poem was written for an IBM colleague and friend from the Windy City who was going through a difficult time. I wanted to write a little pick-me-up piece to lift her spirits and penned the following poem. I’ve always liked the message of persistence and perseverance that it conveys and regardless of your age or lot in life, I believe it remains relevant today. This poem can also be found in Know Your Enemy. I hope it will resonate with you too:

 

Untitled

When times get tough, as they often do
Plant your feet firmly; you’re going to make it through.
Dig down deep inside, and don’t be afraid to cry
But whatever you do, don’t ever ask why.
Remember what got you this far; you made it on your own,
But also remember family and friends are here
To make sure you’re not fighting alone.
Today the chips seem down, tomorrow’s a brand new day
And you know what you have to look forward to.
Everything-Going-Your-Way!

A New Way of Thinking for the New Year

“Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.”
–Winston Churchill

Each New Year brings new opportunities to change and improve how we choose to live our lives.

Aside from the standard resolutions many of us make (and often break) such as “I’m going to eat better, exercise more, quit smoking, etc.” what’s helped me is to focus more on changing the way I think and cope when dealing with what life has thrown at me, as in my case, dealing with cancer.

For 2017, I plan on not letting negative thoughts and fears overtake me. I’m not going to let myself worry more than I have to.

Something I’ve found myself grappling with over the past few years is the fear of recurrence. This started after a loved one completed treatment and received news that the cancer was in remission. Initially, this gave me strong feelings of relief and gratitude.

However, not long after the good news arrived, feelings of anxiety and fear started to creep in. I kept constantly thinking to myself “what if it comes back” and “what if they didn’t find it all”. I eventually started to dreadfully anticipate hearing the words “the cancer is back”, even though everything was going great.

In a lot of ways, this fear negated the positivity and hope I worked to achieve throughout the treatment process.

So basically this New Year, I’m going to let go of my fears of the things that haven’t happened yet.

Life isn’t predictable and doesn’t come with any guarantees. I’m a firm believer of rolling with the punches, and when a real challenge arrives, that’s when I’ll fight back.

I’m going to keep reminding myself that fear really doesn’t help in the fight against cancer. Instead, I’ll let my strength guide me and get me through it. I’d rather focus on what I still have, versus thinking about what may be lost.

This year I also plan to connect with other survivors of cancer. Hopefully I can do this with this blog. If you would like to share your own experiences, thoughts or have questions, I encourage you to leave a comment or send me a message.