Being Strong Can Make You Weak

A few days after my 34th birthday, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer.  Surgery successfully removed the tumor, along with my right testicle, and I was cancer free.  The only real suffering I went through was the relentless jokes from my buddies.  We all had a ball laughing at my predicament.  (Please tell me you got that…)  Several months later after thinking I beat cancer, my doctors and I discovered cancer had spread to my lungs.  All jokes stopped.

How do you treat cancerous tumors in your lungs?  In my case, radiation was not an option.  Radiation only kills certain types of cancer cells.  I ended up with the type of cancer cells that radiation would not kill.  Chemotherapy was my only option.  Chemotherapy kills EVERYTHING — good, bad, it doesn’t matter.  So I began an intense three-month cycle of daily chemotherapy.  Monday through Friday I would arrive at the cancer center around 8 AM and leave around 2 PM.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Anywhere from four to six hours, depending on the day, of toxic shit being pumped into my body.  Five days a week.  For three months.

I experienced everything you hear about:  weight loss, hair falling out, zero energy, an immune system reduced to nothing, mouth sores, numbness in hands and feet, and an agonizing pain that can only be described as if someone was taking your insides and twisting them, wringing them out.  After leaving the cancer center I’d shuffle home and spend time curled up in the fetal position.  Praying.  Trying to read.  Maybe sleeping.  Definitely NOT eating — sipping a little water when I could.

Towards the end of the three-month cycle, things got really bad.  I was literally a zombie.  In many ways The Walking Dead have it much easier than I did — because I wasn’t dead.  I wasn’t really fully alive either.  I remember asking my oncologist what would happen if the tumors weren’t cleared up after the three months — would we do another week?  Another month?  He tactfully explained that, no, the three months was it.  Any more would kill me.

Chemotherapy finished up and the tumors in my lung were reduced to a millimeter or two — basically dead scar tissue.  They still had to come out.  So I was given one month to recover as best as I could before surgery to remove half of my left lung.  The lung surgery was crippling.  I woke up in the ICU on a ventilator — a machine was breathing for me.  I recovered in the hospital for a few more days with more tubes coming out of me than snakes on a plane.  I left the hospital in a wheelchair.  My body was so weak from chemotherapy and lung surgery that I was unable to walk, barely able to talk, and definitely not able to take care of myself.  (Thank you again, Mom, my savior, a million times over.)

Being a two-time cancer survivor taught me a lot of valuable lessons.  The one I want to share with you is that being strong can actually make you quite weak.  Besides catching the occasional cold, I had never been sick a day in my life before being diagnosed with cancer.  I was at the height of my physical prowess — invincible, confident, independent.  I was also egotistical, naive, shortsighted, and woefully under supported.  Suffering through and recovering from my cancer treatments — the chemotherapy and surgeries — showed me how limited I am as an individual.  I needed to learn how to request help and support from friends, family, and sometimes complete strangers.  I also had to learn how to accept unsolicited help and support when it was offered to me.  It was either learn this or die.  Literally.

I’ve also seen this principle in action time and again in learning and teaching the martial art of Aikido.  For example, a big, strong person can power through a martial arts technique that a smaller, weaker person has no choice but to learn how to execute perfectly.  The smaller person can consistently make his technique work on anyone.  Whereas the big, strong person has a difficult or quite impossible time performing the technique on someone bigger and stronger.  The same is true when running a business or managing a team.  A small, agile company or team can run circles around the plodding, over-confident, arrogant behemoths.  When was the last time you bought film for your camera?  Heck, when was the last time you bought a camera that wasn’t part of your cell phone?  Have you purchased a new CD recently?  Or DVD?  Why bother when you can just download or stream music and movies?  I haven’t walked into my bank in years — I do everything online.

I am now 10 plus years cancer free.  I ran my first marathon after having half of my lung removed.  I have a beautiful baby girl, conceived the good old-fashioned way.  I am a successful serial entrepreneur doing what I love to do, where I love to do it, and with people I love to be with.   None of this would be possible if I let my strength hold me back.  If I didn’t learn how to ask for and receive help and support.

Where is your strength making you weak, limiting you, holding you back?  In what areas of your personal and professional life are you trying to muscle your way through to create mediocre results?  Where does your ego get in the way of innovation?  There are many easy ways to discover the answers to these questions — you don’t need to suffer the way I did to figure it out.