“I want to inspire people. I want someone to look at me and say because of you I didn’t give up.”
Jim Valvano suggested that we “have an enthusiasm for life” and I seriously try, even on my worst days – we all have them but they all have meanings and answers beyond the question “why me”. Coach Valvano is an inspiration not only for the “Cinderella” team that won a national championship but what he did before his death from cancer. Most of us know his famous speech at the ESPY awards @ 20 years ago when he announced the creation of the “V Foundation”. In that speech he said the foundation might not save his life but might save his children’s lives. What I learned today through an interview with his brother that the coach’s daughter, who was in the audience at the ESPY’s, developed breast cancer @ 7 years ago but is cured now. However she was told that had she been diagnosed 20 years earlier, her cancer would have been untreatable. The $150 million raised by her father’s foundation for cancer research most likely saved his daughters life, just as he hoped and I wrestle with tears right now as I think about the beautiful irony.
I do my best not to hate things, especially people, because hatred only blackens my soul. With that in mind, I TRULY F’ING HATE CANCER! Of course there are the obvious reasons. Cancer is senseless and indiscriminate about who it attacks. It’s blind to age, gender, race, religion, poor people, good people, and those who you’d think have suffered enough for unrelated reasons. It’s also f’ing dishonest because it can lead you to believe that improvement will mean remission while it lurks in the darkness ready to strike again. I’m not angry anymore because of the pain it caused me when it took my parents 20 years ago, but I still carry a grudge over the pain it inflicted upon them.
What I really f’ing hate though is that cancer is a thief. I’m proud of my parents that they conquered this awful enemy each day after their diagnoses until it finally got the upper hand. What angers me is that cancer had the audacity to temporarily steal my hope and extinguish my optimism in their final days and countless ones afterwards. I mean John Lennon said “where there is hope, there is life”, so part of my life was taken for awhile never to be returned. It evaporated my disregard of my morbidity and mortality. I could no longer feel like anyone’s child by stealing the two people I could never replace and it has made me feel like an orphan to this day.
It unfairly infringed upon my right to introduce my sons to their grandparents and although I try to keep them alive through photos, videos, and stories, I have to accept that I am nowhere near capturing the essence of their existence. Given that my father loved baseball and my sons are exceptional at the sport, I was robbed of the opportunity to sit next to him at their games and marveling in that we had a part in their creation.
Most importantly, it stole and dismantled my whole belief structure so to the extent I had to rebuild and reconfigure it with the resulting construction noticeably different than the original. Although I never lost my belief in God, I did temporarily lose my trust in Him given that I lost my Mom and Dad in the course of ten months. It actually made me lose my trust in most things for way too long but I’m pretty sure He’s forgiven me for that lapse in confidence. I kept telling myself everything happens for a reason and to learn from every misfortune but for the longest time, everything I came up with was less than convincing and of little consequence.
Wow! I guess I had been repressing a lot more than I thought and thanks for hearing me out! Time passed and I eventually “got my mind right” or something like that to get back on track. Cancer in the end beat my parents but I had to recognize that it did not beat me because I am still here and so ALIVE! I was hurt pretty bad last year but by carrying my parents’ name and legacy, there was no room to act like a victim or martyr and I built upon the hope and optimism that I slowly reconstructed over the last twenty years. I understood, like we all should, that “the past is not our potential … and in any hour we can liberate the future.” I’ve had so many great moments after my parents’ passing beginning with those I’ve shared with my wife and sons. Beyond them though, I’ve included just about anyone to potentially be parts of the simple precious moments of my life. Mind you I am not lonely when I’m by myself but I can only measure life’s value by how I share it with others and how I accept what is shared with me in return, and the pleasant surprises have justified the risks of that sharing.
Now back to coach V. He died at 47 years old. My parents 57 and 60. I am 52 and a parent of two sons. The goal and dream is to provide more for your children than you had and I know my parents did that for me and I’m fairly certain I have as well during my time on this earth. However Coach V did more than I could ever imagine accomplishing. Not only did he give his daughter life once through her birth but THROUGH his words at the ESPY’s and it’s message, the foundation raised funds for additional research which led to her cure and as a result it, gave her life a second time after his death. In her case, cancer lost!
If it’s true that one out of four people will develop cancer at some point in their life and given Coach V’s daughter’s recovery, think of the increased number of patients who have survived or have had their lives extended as a result of Coach V’s inspiration. What’s most important to me is if there is a genetic component between me and my parents disease, then I have hope that the outcome will be different for me with the application of their will to beat there own cancer. Maybe like coach V, his efforts were too late to save his own and my parents but in the event I or someone I cherish is unfortunately stricken, they have an increased chance of being saved. In any event, I will continue to “have an enthusiasm for life” because maybe, just maybe, someone may be inspired to do the same!