He was so busy with “his life.” What his dad told him that day woke him up to what’s important and changed his life.
Ten years ago, I sat down at the edge of the hospital bed my father was laying on, surrounded by my wife and mom. I was not prepared to hear what was about to be said.
My Dad had been sick for a couple of weeks. He had been coughing and exhibited low energy, but my life was so busy. I barely noticed any of it. Suddenly, I was about to wake up to how self-absorbed I had been. I had been consumed with problems around my business and lost my awareness of the ones that meant the most to me.
On that Sunday afternoon, my dad had been at the hospital for a few days already for some tests. I came into the room where Dad greeted me with all the cheer he is known for. I remember my Mom and wife looking very uncomfortable, as I still was clueless to what was coming.
My Dad was about to discuss the results of all the tests he had done. He looked at me and directly said, “I have cancer.” Just like that. In three words, our lives would be changed forever.
These three words were a gift for me (and hopefully you, too). But it was a gift I didn’t recognize until ten years later.
Those three words, “I have cancer” from my Dad, would begin a new journey. I was shocked and at a loss at how to process those words. I had so many questions and no answers. I didn’t question why he had cancer and was not surprised when he said he had lung cancer. My Dad was a smoker for more than 50 years.
At that moment, my worries and problems dissolved and everything changed in a flash. Over the next six weeks, he took every step he could including chemo. The daily battle he faced was nothing like I have ever experienced before. The treatment of cancer is full of uncertainty and new things that are scary.
I recall one moment when he was admitted to the emergency room (ER) for shallow breath and chest pains. I had never seen anyone stop breathing, and the nurse turned to me with a look that frankly scared me to death. She asked if he a DNR. I didn’t understand her medical speak to me. She explained DNR stands for “Do Not Resuscitate.” There were three nurses attending to him, all I could do is watch with tears in my eyes. I was not prepared for any of this. Dad did pull out of that experience in the ER to continue fighting the cancer.
My core reason for writing this story with you is to highlight the gift of this experience. It is not always easy to see the gift in adversity, but my Dad gave me the best gift he ever gave me in those moments.
When Dad told me he had cancer, he said it in such a way that held no sense of blame or worry. He exemplified that he had a choice at that moment. He could have blamed God or even cried in resistance, but he didn’t. I know I cried as he explained what was going on. He had the strength to accept what life presented him and decided to choose courage.
Let me be clear here. I would not have been as strong in sharing a similar message, but my Dad demonstrated incredible restraint and power with his decision. As a result, he left our family with this empowering memory of him.
This extended into how he chose to handle his next six weeks of treatment. He just did it. He took it all in with confidence and hope. He did not spend the last days with those that loved him sulking about what was going on. He made jokes and continued to share his laughter with all the nurses, doctors, and our family–all of this from his hospital bed. These are my final memories of my Dad.
I look back on this now with a new awareness about our choices in life. You have a choice to accept what happens and move forward anyway. This lesson has been something that helps me every day and has even helped me serve my clients as a business coach, too. There are many times that my clients are faced with a new challenge, and I can always pull from this memory.
Realize that you have a CHOICE. You have a choice in how you react to life’s challenges. You can blame others or focus on the fear if you want. But, this won’t serve you. In fact, this will only hurt you because you are not moving toward what you want.
Learn from my Dad and focus on moving forward. Do it with strength. Do it with a good attitude, because it is a choice. Most people don’t live from this space of freedom but if you are willing to to see it, it will transform your life.
Now, I also want to tell you that even though my Dad had a great attitude and fought the good fight with cancer, he passed on June 15, 2005. This was four days before Father’s Day, and at the time, I didn’t realize the gift he was giving me. Ten years later, I look back realizing that my Dad, Wendell Hammett, gave me the drive to always move forward in my life and business. I hope it helps you do the same.
It is so hard to say goodbye to our loved ones, but we will always have the wonderful memories that will live inside us forever.
Photo: Flickr/ Don Harder