When I was a young boy I always enjoyed rainy days. Sure baseball was cancelled and I couldn’t ride my bike outside but I knew the next day there would be left over puddles on the way to school. Jumping in puddles was one of our favorite small pastimes and making splashes while trying not to get soaked was a fun goal of mine.
I had the luxury of living so close to my grade school that my brothers and neighbors walked to Juliet Low elementary. One of the games we designed was to get to the puddle first and with one step make the splash and try to soak the person to your right or left depending which way you leaned. (I didn’t say jumping in puddles was always a sweet gesture). We all knew the risks of puddle roulette but it was a game, an adventure before a day of arithmetic, science and art.
I still am very fond of these memories as I reflect back. I even still stay in touch with the gang I grew up with even though I live out of state.
About a year ago, I woke up one day with some pains in my left leg and my left shoulder. As a typical male I chalked it up as aging pains or even leftover sports injuries, which I am very proud of. After the pain continued for many days, I eventually had to seek some medical advice and my outlook turned very serious very fast. After an MRI, it was revealed to me that I had stage 4 lung cancer that had spread to my liver, kidneys, spine, shoulders and hip. The prognosis was bleak but they said “they will make me comfortable.”
Those words resonated with me and reminded me of Walt Disney. When Walt was asked what time Disney closed, he always responded “We are open until 10:00″ always turning the words into a positive. I just received those same “spin” words and my reality changed on the dime. My first words after I heard the bad news were, “I guess I am going to Disneyland.”
Well I realized pretty fast my days were numbered and I specifically asked my doctor not to reveal the predicted outlook. It seemed to me it was best not to know. The next few months were obviously challenging and the side effects from chemotherapy and radiation were just as brutal. Fast forward one year as I type this and I have survived the original prognosis and found my way into remission.
I don’t write today to vent or seek accolades but to share the gift of cancer: the gift of making you wake up to life. Had my situation kept going south or not improved, I realized I was still going to enjoy each day no matter how many I had left. And Yes Disneyland is where I went as soon as I could walk.
I was lucky enough to study business at Indiana University and found some great stepping stone jobs out of school. I then built my own business in investments and real estate and basically work for myself with the freedoms that come from not having a punch card.
But as I started to win my health back I woke up to the fact I am not sure what I should be doing with my allotted time extension I have been granted. I was so appreciative for my grace and for the outpouring of kindness that my wife and daughters witnessed that going back to the life that I had built didn’t — and doesn’t — seem important.
One’s mind wonders when under heavy morphine and the thought of mortality is one that is hard to digest since I never really gave it much thought. But as I came out of this tailspin I realized I don’t jump into puddles anymore… When did that stop? When did I take the simplest most enjoyable risk out of my world? When did I stop riding bikes for fun and turn it into exercise only or worse ride a stationary bike that goes nowhere? When did I stop collecting baseball cards? Basically when did I stop living my childhood dreams and write them off as I was growing up?
As I thought about this, I decided to redirect my energy towards some old school passions. Not a bucket list, but true deep down loves. Things that are unique only to one’s personal tastes and flavor. We all have them but somehow I learned a way to suppress them and cover them up with adult dreams when in reality our childhood dreams are the ones that are truly rich.
I have 48 years of life experiences to tap and be rolled over into my 49th year. There is more than enough wisdom of what I enjoy and what I do not enjoy to make a masterpiece out of 2016. Nothing like a NDE, Near Death Experience, to jolt your world back in line with what’s really important. All the amazing experiences are surfacing back to life and I really am starting to feel amazing despite having no cure.
Today I write from Sedona, Arizona where I took the family via train from Indiana to Flagstaff to see some beauty and then attend a spring training Chicago Cubs baseball game. I even bought some baseball cards just in case Anthony Rizzo and John Lester, both cancer survivors, are close enough for me to get an autograph.
Why this adventure? Because that is what a kid would do. From every reaction there is an equal and opposite reaction. Cancer has woken up my Childhood dreams. It was a gift.
Now I just have to find some puddles.
By Steve Demas