“How brain cancer put my life goals into focus” (step 3 of my 8-step plan to get you back on track towards pursuing the life you envision despite a cancer diagnosis or other major life-altering event).
Identify your goal(s). What goals did I have prior to my diagnosis? What goals do I still have now? Are there any new ones? Write them down.
While attending Greg Sousa’s funeral, Ashley and I had the good fortune of being introduced to Tom O’Donnell, a fellow brain tumor patient and endurance athlete. Tom is another fantastic, shining example of how one should LIVE and BE with brain cancer, and he quickly became a brother and hero of mine. After being diagnosed with a brain tumor and prior to having his first of three craniotomies, Tom followed the advice of his neurosurgeon (Dr. Allan Friedman, who also performed my craniotomy) and decided that he would work on improving his personal health and fitness to help mitigate the negative effects that brain surgery could have on his body. As a former recreational runner in college who had fallen off of the wagon, he now had a compelling reason to dust off and lace up his running shoes and start running again. Not only did Tom find that he thoroughly enjoyed this fresh new experience of what it felt like to run, but he became REALLY good at it VERY quickly.
In 2010, just eight months after his first brain surgery, Tom completed his first full-distance marathon. One year later, Tom qualified for the Boston Marathon (the “holy grail” for SERIOUS marathon runners), and he ran his first Boston Marathon the next year in 2012. He has since run a Boston-qualifying time in every race he has run while simultaneously taking chemotherapy, and he ran his fastest marathon just three months before learning that he would endure a third surgery followed by radiation and more chemotherapy. Fast forward to 2018, Tom has now run twenty-one total marathons since being diagnosed with brain cancer, he is scheduled to run his sixth Boston Marathon this year, and he has never looked back.
In early 2016 another good friend of mine and Ashley’s, Jennifer Cox at Endurance Magazine, was looking for someone to feature in their Annual Cancer Awareness Issue and she contacted me about it. I saw it as a great opportunity to share our story and use it to hopefully motivate and inspire others who may find themselves in a similar situation. I told Jennifer that she would have my consent, but on the condition that the article would have to prominently feature Ashley as well because the story means nothing without her, and she truly is the better half of the story. Jennifer agreed and asked me and Ashley to each write our own perspectives of our brain cancer story. After we completed a professional photo shoot for the article, it was published in the July 2016 issue of Endurance Magazine, and we were even featured on the cover (you can read the full article here: http://magazine.endurancemag.com/HTML5/Endurance-Magazine-LLC-Endurance-Magazine-July-2016). In this article, I outlined three very specific goals for the near future, goals that I had set BEFORE being diagnosed with brain cancer and that I was still very passionate about: I wanted to complete the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run with Ashley as my crew chief; I wanted to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and take an African safari with Ashley; and I wanted to start a family with Ashley.
In another moment of clarity, Tom once plainly put into perspective for me why the simple activity of running is so powerful and important to the two of us; he said to me, “We run because we are able and because we have the time.” I always keep Tom’s words with me because they apply to anything and everything that I do every day. Tom and I also understand that, in a sense, we have picked up Greg’s “torch” and it is both our desire and our obligation to run with it and to keep it burning as brightly as possible for as long as we possibly can.