Life After Cancer – Take Action

[Guest blog by Rick Czaplewski]

Rick Czaplewski

In the summer of 1997, I celebrated my one-year cancerversary, a full 365 days in remission from Hodgkin lymhoma (Hodgkin disease). My body bounced back and I took up cycling. I enjoyed renewed health and completed another semester at the university that I had dropped out of to get chemo only 18 months prior. 

Facing and beating cancer twice rewired me. And every July 31, I remember that appointment in 1996 when my doctor gave me the news of remission (NED) and I exited his office a survivor, a man on a new journey without a map, reentering a world that hadn’t changed when I had changed so much. I left behind the doctors and structure of treatment and faced the world alone. 

So, dear reader, you ask, “Tell me, in fewer than 50 words, what are the key takeaways from your experience surviving cancer?” 

So glad you asked, I only need three … TIME ALWAYS WINS

The advice I give my now college-aged son: plan your life according to when you have energy and fully developed faculties. As a young man in his 20’s, his physical faculties and energy level may peak. But experience and wisdom await him as he attempts new things and learns. 

He has the physical ability to train for and complete a marathon, but lacks the knowledge and experience today to deliver a keynote speech at a convention in his profession. Both running a marathon and delivering a keynote speech signify lifetime milestones, but he reasonably could only run the marathon today. 

If we fast-forward 30 years, as an expert in his field, conferences may seek him to speak all over the country, but could he even run a 5k? Time always wins and eventually, his athletic skills will decline 30 years from now. 

I challenge you to match your skills to your place on this timeline. 

Start by listing your skills. What do you do well? Now map them onto your projected life’s timeline. What’s your age? Where are you and your skills on this continuum? Are you seeing any trends?

Cancer taught me, as someone who at the worst point could not walk up one flight of stairs, that time wins. Use your strongest faculties now while you have them. That means pursue that career, chase that achievement, repair that relationship, and make that hard phone call. Time will close doors on all of them. 

The only way to beat time is to take action while you can. Time always wins.

Dream big; find that one thing you want so badly. Research and find out what it will take to make it happen. Using your research, formulate a plan. Next, make a schedule to execute the steps of your plan. Now do it, do the thing, go for it, take the steps, learn from setbacks, and enjoy the journey. Complete your plan – run that race, claim that prize, get it done … finish. Celebrate what you have accomplished.       

Cut and paste that framework from the paragraph above; use your own goals in that example. Research, plan, execute, adjust, finish, celebrate. 

The confluence of time, opportunities, and grit sits in this framework. If you have chosen, researched, and planned a big goal, I challenge you to start your plan and show yourself your own grit. Plan to see setbacks. Grit does not mean blindly accepting pain and suffering; rather, it means finding ways around or solutions to those setbacks. 

Instead of folding, give it an extra day or week. Take a rest or work an extra day. Ask for help. Revisit the plan. Budget for uncontrollable factors in your schedule. Tell yourself, “I won’t go down this easy.” Remember why you started in the first place. Learn, pivot, shake it off, reattempt. Grit. Some opportunities only come around once, get after them; throw everything you have at them, the proverbial kitchen sink if you’ll permit.

Need more motivation? As cancer survivors, we understand the fragility of life and health. Don’t sit as the clock ticks and don’t sell yourself short that just being alive is enough. Get out of your comfort zone and pursue that outrageous goal and if you have doubts, search the internet for ordinary people who have taken on and beaten extraordinary goals. You are next; I believe in you. 

More often than not, you will succeed if you hang in there. I’ve spent the last 27 years doing just that.  

So, next time your cancerversary comes around, mark that day with something big, something you’ve built up to in the prior few months. I can’t wait to hear about it.

Rick Czaplewski is the author of Better Dirty Than Done and has celebrated his cancerversary by climbing Mt. Rainier, swimming from Alcatraz, hiking in Asia, and many other adventures. Find Rick on his website

Rick is part of the Official NCSD Speakers Bureau Roster. To access the Roster, register your event today.

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