“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” -Charles Swindoll
In May of last year, I wrote a post on career curveballs and how I set in place a personal roadmap for the remainder of the year. By October, everything was going exactly as planned. Got triplet kids into college, sold the home in Texas and my wife and I moved to our hometown of San Diego. What seemed impossible at the outset of 2014 was within reach by fall since I had just one more box to check-off...landing a career role in Southern California. Things were rolling and I was certain the year would end perfect according to plan. Then I got a call...
In early November, my son Marshall, a freshman student-athlete at Penn State, called me and let me know he was at the Penn State campus medical offices getting checked for what he believed were symptoms of mono. It seemed plausible since kids in college get these kinds of things. I even had it as a sophomore in college. But then shortly later, I received another call from the doctor doing the examination. "We are putting Marshall in an ambulance and rushing him to Penn State Hospital in Hershey". Shocked by the news, I asked the doc if I should make plans to get there. She said, "if it were me, yes". The blood test for mono revealed that his platelet count was at 3,000 where normal is well above 140,000. At the time I was unsure what this meant although the doctors knew exactly what the symptoms pointed towards. I hopped a flight the next day thinking this all will blow over and he'll be back at school in a few days. How can a healthy 6' 5'' 325lb offensive lineman out with friends on Saturday night and experiencing flu-like symptoms on a Sunday have something life threatening on Monday? This is probably just a viral or bacterial infection and the docs will give him a prescription to clear it all up...so I told myself. Yes, this was a coping mechanism kicking in, also known as denial. In a couple days after multiple tests, the doctors confirmed the diagnosis as they had suspected all along. This was more than a curveball, it was something more unexpected; a screwball. He has Leukemia.
My cousin Craig Lefferts pitched in the majors in the 80's and 90's His signature pitch was the screwball. Most every major league pitcher threw heat and curveballs, but he was one of a handful who threw the screwball. It's startling. At only 75 MPH it drops on you totally unexpected. It freezes you unlike any other pitch. Learning that you have cancer at any age is a stunner. But getting it in the fall of your freshman year really stinks. It's a total screwball dropping on you unexpectedly. This is supposed to be a highlight of your life...the most fun ever. New freedoms, new surroundings, being on the football team, it was all there. Then this happens. But as we know, " what happens to , to it that matters".
After about 3 weeks, we got him stabilized to the point he could travel back to our new home in San Diego where he is receiving top notch care from UCSD Medical Center. Marshall's attitude is awesome. After a very short couple days of "why me?" he then adopted an attitude of "I will beat this no matter what!" and sees it as a bump in the road on the way towards achieving his goals. He has to receive treatment for another 6 months and is out of school for the rest of the school year, but we have every reason to believe that he will be ready to go back to school this coming fall. He has responded to treatment phenomenally well and early signs point towards a full recovery. Marshall's positive attitude has been an inspiration to the doctors, nurses, family, friends and in particular to me.
I am convinced that maintaining a positive attitude in the face of a personal crisis is the only way out of that crisis. It's not easy to do, particularly if you're sick and not feeling well. That's true for kids with cancer as well as for parents of kids with cancer. We feel fortunate that we caught it early and have access to the best medical help possible. My last post was in October and then I kinda fell "off the grid" in November and December as supporting my son was front and center. Although the treatments make him feel terrible at times, he keeps on keeping on and is even making plans to get back into the gym next month. He has taken personal responsibility for getting healthy again which frees me up to get back to checking off that final box on my 2014 plan. We all get curveballs thrown at us from time to time. But when you get thrown the more rare screwball, it tests your attitude like never before. I'm a big believer of the quote at the top. It's easy to get down at even the most simple of roadblocks. And I'm sure any problems my son or I have pale by comparison to many others. We are blessed with a positive attitude and I wish the same for everyone.I believe the most significant decision I can make on a day to day basis is my choice of attitude. It is more important than my past, my education, my bankroll, my successes or failures, fame or pain, what other people think of me or say about me, my circumstances, or my position. Attitude keeps me going or cripples my progress. It alone fuels my fire or assaults my hope. When my attitudes are right, there is no barrier too high, no valley too deep, no dream too extreme, no challenge too great for me -Charles Swindoll