Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Lesson Learned

Day+ 19 Health Score 81

“Dad, you always do that when it’s going to be a teaching moment,” Rebecca reminded me. I don’t remember what the issue was. But she was a senior in High School at the time and just had told me of some experience she had had where the outcome was undesirable. I moved forward to the edge of the couch cushion and raised my left hand with my index finger pointed as if to indicate that I was now literally going to make a point. I was just about to expound wisdom on ‘what do we learn from this experience?’ as she caught me with the observation above. I realized that my children had seen this particular pose all of their lives as I would turn every experience in to a lesson in life learning. It’s not that they resented this tendency of mine, but that it was so common in my approach to every problem.

So at this point in my journey I pause to reflect, “Class, what have we learned thus far?”
First of all, it must be stated; life isn’t fair. It was never meant to be. Bad things happen that are beyond our control. Unfortunately, because of this, some people become discouraged or despondent; some will ask, “Why me?” and even, heaven forbid, try to blame others for their problems, even blaming God. This response only leads to wasted energy and wasted time. It would be like a man sitting in a taxi in midtown Manhattan; the driver is off getting a knish and toffee peanuts. He sits alone, the meter running, while the world is passing him by.

My nature has always been different than this. I record very few failures in my life, mostly because of the way I define failure. Failure is when an outcome is bad and you don’t learn anything from the experience. Generally, I can always learn something from my ’failures’ and not make the same mistake in the future. Simultaneously, I find that often, in failure, we learn the most. I believe that we gain confidence from our successes and learn from our failures. We need both.

T o succeed is critical; for without it we would never gain the confidence necessary to progress. However, no confidence is gained if the action did not contain the risk of failure. Parents who attempt to remove the risk of failure by ‘stepping in’ at the last moment to spare their children from failure may irreparably impair their ability to act independently and build confidence.
In any worthwhile endeavor, we practice over and over to continue to improve. One particular surgical procedure done in Urology is a great example of this principle. The TURP, or transurethral resection of the prostate, is done in men with a benign enlarged prostate that have significant difficulty in urinating. The procedure is done with a specialized cystoscope where the tissue of the prostate is removed one piece at a time. Essentially, you are ‘sculpting’ out the inside of the prostate. It is one operation where experience really makes a difference, the more you do it, the better you get. With each successful outcome, your confidence increases. Every prostate is different in size and anatomy and some are very difficult. There are complications, but over time you learn both to avoid them and recognize and address them quickly when they occur. A surgeon cannot operate without the confidence that they can succeed.
Interestingly, the two animals that are the best at urinating are kids and race horses. I know this because after a successful TURP (or Roto-Router, as the patients call it) a man will often say, “I haven’t pee’d like this since I was a kid.” Or sometimes exclaim, “Doc, I’m peeing like a race horse.” But I digress.

I guess what this all means to me is that I expect things to turn out well. They always have. I am, as many have observed, ‘the eternal optimist’. Since I always prepare for the worst, and hope for the best, I am never disappointed.

Then one day, you learn you have a rare and fatal illness. How does that fit in to your life philosophy? Everyone who is faced with a diagnosis that is fatal goes through the same process. It’s is the opposite of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. On the contrary, a light goes on and you see the door at the end of the tunnel. Life has an expiration date and death is on the calendar. Mortality is no longer and abstract idea. It is as real as what you had for breakfast today.

People react very differently to this knowledge. For me, however, it is just another challenge that I must learn from. I have learned things about myself in the last nine months that I could not have learned in any other way. This is good. Additionally, I still expect things to go well, and they have; unbelievably well; miraculously well.

Faith is a critical part of this process. I have not only my faith to rely on, but have been blessed with the combined faith and prayers of countless numbers of people. I cannot comprehend the combined effect of the faith of so many on my behalf, but I feel it every single day. There is so much goodness out there; I wish that everyone could see it.

I have just come through the bone marrow transplant. It was not uneventful. I was really sick. But my doctors were swift and skilled in their care for me. And what they learned from my complications will give them the confidence in treating those who follow me.
But I never feared that I wouldn’t make it this far. I expected things to turn out well, and they did.

Fear of failure that paralyzes a person into inaction is the greatest curse that could inflict any individual life. Faith will always swallow that fear.



Anonymous said...

Wow! What can I say..(nothing). I am in awe with your faith, spirit and your outlook in life. If I (we) all could live life through you, and all your journeys, are BIG things would seem so SMALL. I get inspiration through you.

Take Care, Susan

Anonymous said...


It is almost uncanny the similarity with which you and I approach the challenges in our lives. You are so right about failures. If we don't learn from them then we aren't paying attention. Since being diagnosed with Type AL Amyloidosis last month, I have looked to your blog for the wisdom you share as you maneuver through the abyss of the transplant process and "cleansing" of your system to retard the amyloid process in your body. You've been a source of strength for me and will be in my prayers all the way from NY state. Thanks for the gift of your blog so that other amyloid sufferers will have hope for better days ahead.

Kent Johnson

Tony said...


Great words to live by!
Patients I visit at SMC who have great faith always seem to be at great peace with life and the One who holds the future!
You are moving at U2 speed, you are so blessed!
Time to celebrate soon with a great steak at Tahoe Joe's in Roseville? We had a great diner last January along with a nice walk and a Peet's near the Whole Foods? We might just run into you two there some day in the future?
See you in Walnut Creek town?


Darlene Anderson said...

It's good to read what you've learned and are learning...the very hard way. Thank you for sharing your story and optimism/faith; I'm looking at my life differently and making feeble attempts to live with more purpose and passion. You're setting a wonderful example of living fully and I'm THRILLED to read you're doing well. Lots of love to you and your family.