National Cancer Survivors Day – June 5th

There are 28 million people living with cancer right now across the globe. Each day, in the U.S. alone, over 4000 more people are diagnosed.

Stand Up To Cancer and LIVESTRONG are joining forces in recognition of the bravery of those in the fight and those who have won the battle. We are calling for survivors to declare themselves and inspire everyone living with cancer to stand up and keep fighting.

Chances are, cancer has touched you in one way or another in your lifetime. In honor of National Cancer Survivors Day, here is your chance to give cancer a piece of your mind. Whether you are fighting the battle, standing in support of a loved one or if you just hate cancer, we all have something to say.

So join us, declare yourself, and donate your Facebook status by clicking here.

 

Cancer Confessional – Why Me and Why Now

iStock photocredit © Lise Gagne

Why Me and Why Now is the second installment in a series of posts called My Cancer Confessionals, where I lift the mask on how I “try” to leverage my faith in the midst of adversity. I outlined earlier my concern that my optimistic and encouraging attitude might lead readers to believe I somehow never have doubts, fears, or concerns…all of which couldn’t be further from the truth.  For me, trusting God period is a day-to-day challenge, and some days are just harder than others. But thanks to my personal relationship with my Heavenly Father, on those tough days when I don’t have what I need, He is there to bridge the gap and that relationship grows deeper.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” Proverbs 3:5 NIV

Truth be told, my world, my life, and yes, even my faith has ebbed and flowed in the midst of all the sub-plots in my life and was what I was referring to in my post entitled Paradigm Shift.  As one dream was coming true, Shari and I deciding to get married and were signing up for our church’s 2:1 pre-marital mentoring program, a nightmare re-emerged as I learned my merkel cell cancer had metastasized. What was thought to be remote and isolated had now taken on a “popcorn” effect (one doctor’s term) and popped up in multiple areas of my body.

Cancer Confessional – Behind the Mask

iStockphoto © PeskyMonkey

If you were to take the time to poll my family, my friends, and my co-workers asking them to describe my outlook on life, most if not all, would described me as an optimist…a glass half-full guy. Dig a little deeper into what makes me tick and spend a little time reading through my DISC profile (high D & I) you would learn that being an encourager is another characteristics which makes up who I am. Optimism and encouragement come naturally to me and throughout my career they have been utilized to build teams and help grow businesses.

However in the scope of writing blog such as Leveraging Life, I have a genuine concern, what comes naturally (optimism and encouragement) could be taken out of context or be misconstrued leaving readers with a false impression that I never have doubts, that I live my life without fear, or that I somehow trust blindly when facing trials or adversity. 

“saying trust God period and living trust God period are two totally different mindsets…one is contingent on circumstance and situation warranting that trust, and the other is influenced by a relationship which is nurtured through circumstance and situation creating an environment of trust.”   

Paradigm Shift

iStockphoto credit © James Driscoll

If you think of your life as a story, there will always be a plot and sub-plots running concurrently at any given time.  I adopted this thought process in 2009 after reading Donald Miller‘s book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years -What I Learned While Editing My Life.   Miller offers a great lesson in how we all have the opportunity to edit our lives so they tell a better story.

Writing A Better Life Story

Since 2007, there has been no greater plot in my life than coming to understand that my purpose has very little to do with me and everything to do with Whom I serve. Up to that point, I pursued my own American dream: good income-check, nice house-check, company car-check, church-check, family-check, friends-check…my plan, my life, my destiny.

Matthew 6:21 “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Martin 1:1 For where Tom’s treasure is and where Tom’s time is spent, there his heart is.”

I had a head for God and was grateful for my life, but my heart was for me and for what I had determined my purpose to be.  All this worked amazingly well for many years, but when your world gets knocked off its axis, like it has for so many of of us these last few years, you can’t help but question a lot of things:

How did I get here?

Where am I going?

How’s It Going?

It’s a question that gets asked a million times a day, but have you ever been in a situation where you honestly have a hard time answering the question?

For me, it’s that moment in time where you’re experiencing the highest of highs and the lowest of lows precisely at the same time. How is that possible, some may ask, but I think most of us have experienced it at some point in our lives.

  • Picture a work life where everything is going up and to the right….quarter after quarter…yet the home life is disintegrating from the inside out.
  • Picture your house in order financially, emotionally, and spiritually….yet a family member is struggling and fighting all efforts which can provide help and healing.
  • Picture being in the best health of your life….yet that promise of a second interview call never comes.
  •  

Right now I’m in that exact place. In a recent post Out to Lunch, I mentioned a clear PET scan which was awesome news and started the year off in glorious fashion. Some unexplained pain in both legs began shortly thereafter, however, and subsequent tests suggest the possibility of some scary scenarios. Results are pending for other tests, and even more are on the horizon. In the midst of all this, I am experiencing love in a way I never thought possible. Having someone in my life who happens to be a cancer survivor is a gift from God to this cancer fighter, and that’s further compounded by her periodic reminder that it’s one thing to end each post with Trusting God Period, and it’s another thing to live it out.

We believe there is a big God, a God of healing, a God of love, a God of comfort, a God who walks with us every step of this journey, and a God who is in control!

So if you were to ask Shari or I, “How’s it Going”, our reply would be: “Good… so good, because we continue to leverage our Faith in a way that allows both of us to trust God period!

~Shari & Tom

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The Next 25

Can this really be true….next June I’ll have been out of college 25 years?

 

 

WOW,

just wow,

where has the time gone?                                              

 

 

 

Milestones for most folks revolve around birthdays and anniversaries, and for the most part they do for me as well; but this milestone has been a little tough to process.

I think at some point early on I created a mental timeline of what I hoped to accomplish by certain dates, some of which had to do with the expectations I had for myself and probably to some degree my interpretation of what others expected of me. College graduation by 1986, married by 19vv, head up sales for a dealership by 19ww, 2.5 kids by 19xx, run a dealership by 19yy, own a dealership by 19zz.

It’s funny how clarity is something that has a habit of finding you in the midst of you trying to find it; and this past Sunday it happened once again for me while at Buckhead Church listening to Pastor Andy Stanley’s Game Plan message about God’s will for our lives:

 “Your life is the sum total of the decisions you made and the influence of other decisions made about you.”

The timing of the message mixed with this looming milestone created some uneasy, yet healthy tension as I reflected over my last 25 years and using this statement as a filter. There have been so many twists, so many turns, accomplishments, disappointments; dreams that still exist and dreams that are long since gone, but the question that burns bright and one that excites me is; what will the next 25 look like?

I recently saw this tweet by Carey Nieuwhof:

“your windshield is bigger than your rear-view mirror for a reason”

I truly believe in the sentiment of the tweet and the importance of recognizing where you’ve been so you can focus on where you’re going; and something I plan on using to influence and shape my Next 25 years.

 

                                     FAMILY                                     FINANCES

                                                              FAITH

                                 FITNESS                                    FRIENDS

 

A few years ago a mentor shared with me something he called the 5F’s and how by focusing on these core areas they had established a foundation for how he was living his life. Essentially if you think of your life as something under construction, the foundation would have four footings with one center footing that interconnects the other four adding stability and support.

For me the adoption and implementation of 5F focusing in my life the last two years has led to a radical shift in my priorities. This shift in focus forced me to live more intentionally in all five areas, something I can honestly say I did not do very well in my first 25. For me, focusing on Faith first was essential because it functions like rebar supporting, connecting, and at times reinforcing the other four. And once the other four were connected through Faith in a real and personal way, I had a foundation (life) structured to withstand the twists and turns that life throws at you, including cancer. 

Over the next few posts I’m going to highlight each of the 5F’s. I’ll give you a snapshot of what what I have in that rear-view mirror from my first 25 and what is on the horizon through that big windshield as I apply the 5F’s to my next 25.

Some questions to ponder and I’d love to hear your thoughts as you look back and look forward!

-Have you experienced seasons where the past hindered your future?

-Is there something you see in the windshield that needs to finally move into your rear-view mirror?

~Tom

trusting God period

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Life Lessons Part 4-Fast Forward

As promised Fast Forward does just that, brings my merkel cell cancer journey to the present tense and picks up where Off Season left off.

New Season

A routine follow up on the skin graft of my hand afforded me the opportunity to ask my surgeon to look at the scar under my arm where they removed three lymph nodes in December. This for all practical purposes should have been a visual check and was initially, but in his words: “something told me to not only look at the scar but to also feel under the arm as well.” He said he felt a lump, but the look on his face told the story a biopsy later confirmed, that cancer was back in my life. A key thing not to miss and what I consider to be a blessing, had the surgeon only looked and not felt, most likely the cancer would have continued to spread unchecked for at least another six months when my next follow-up appointment was scheduled.

When cancer re-enters the picture you really can’t have another “Pin Drop” moment, but a fist through the wall moment is certainly justified. Unfortunately or fortunately there really isn’t too much time for that because your life becomes very scripted at that point and you follow the sequence laid before you. Biopsy’s bridge to scans, CT & PET; tests are followed by more tests confirming what your heart already knows. A script and a sequence are what you need to navigate those days because an idle mind is the breeding ground for doubt and fear….not only in the skills of your medical team but also in where God is in all this. The purpose of the scans was to see if cancer was present anywhere else including my organs and thankfully it was not. For me both scans lit up for cancer under my arm but in no other area of the arm. I took that as great news because that would have opened the door to a conversation that could have included the word amputation.

Stick it 2 cancer-Friday Favorite

Most Fridays I feature a website or a blog that for me has become a favorite. It maybe a favorite resource, a source of inspiration, or just some distraction I frequent. Give the Friday Favorite a look, read, or listen, and please feel free to comment about mine and share a favorite or two of your own in the comment section. Who knows maybe we will feature one of yours as a future Friday Favorite. 

 

Friday October 15, 2010

The Facts:

  • -Every 4 minutes one person is diagnosed with a blood cancer.
  • -Every ten minutes, someone  dies from a blood cancer.
  • -Leukemia causes more deaths than any other cancer among children & young adults under the age of 20.

I met John & Torri Westmoreland last week while attending a Twitter networking event at Village Tavern, and after a few minutes John and I realized we traveled in the similar automotive circles, but we also realized we also spoke a similar language one which includes PET scans, remission, chemo, radiation, because we both have cancer. 

John and Torri’s story is an incredible one in that, years prior to John’s diagnosis of hodgkin’s lymphoma they, through their company In Depth Signs & Designs started providing automotive wraps for the leukemia society. In a matter of months they, family & friends, and the social media community they built raised over $25,000 as part of the leukemia & lymphoma Light the Night Walk. Here is where they were featured by 11 Alive’s Donna Lowry Light the Night-Westmorelands .

Obviously the cancer subject is something I’m passionate but maybe not for the reason you think. Yes I have merkel cell cancer, yes I’ve had 3 surgeries in the last ten months, and yes today marks my 55th radiation treatment in two rounds of radiation. But the reason I’m passionate about Stick it 2 cancer is my cousin Matthew P. Stahl.

Through the early years the Stahl and the Martin family were mirror images of each other. John Stahl is 15 days older than I am and Matt was 15 months older than my brother Mike. Matt was a great athlete, good student, full of life till leukemia stole that life on August 27, 1979.

While a lot of progress has been made in 31 years of research, the fact that a child, any child, your child may have their lives stolen is the reason why I feel the work John and Torri are doing is so important. And when you factor that it covers both lymphoma and leukemia along with the research benefiting any cancer, maybe even merkel cell, as it moves through the blood stream makes Stick it 2 cancer is not just a Friday Favorite, but an Every Day Favorite.

So I hope everyone here at Leveraging Life will join them. First in spirit by using the links provided to learn more about Stick it 2 cancer and spread the word by sharing this post. Use the links on the side or at the bottom to share with your community of friends and associates. Join their Facebook page, maybe buy a shirt or three on the website (only 64 shopping days to Christmas), and consider making a donation if you feel moved to do so.

For me it will be $77.00, $12 for the 12 years we were blessed to have Matt in our lives and $55.00 for each one of those dates I had with “Puff the merkel cell Dragon“, oh and to also celebrate tomorrow being my last day of radiation!!!

~Tom

trusting God period

For those of you who partnered with me on my Lemons to Lemonade Charity Water campaign please don’t feel compelled to pitch in here, your generosity was key into what we did there. So as they say in church let this bucket pass you by…..but check out the shirts they rock!

Life Lessons part 3….Off Season

 Off- Season refers to the time between when my first round of radiation ended and the reemergence of cancer in my life this past June. 

Truth be told I never anticipated a second chapter to this story….and if I can be so arrogantly bold I thought my merkel cell story was Won & Done in April.

You would think with an attitude like that I’d been ready to climb the next mountain, tackle the next big project, restructure my life plan, but for me the off-season was a season of complacency. I withdrew, I went through the motions, and had I been honest should have acknowledged I was probably depressed. I expected everything to look different on this side of treatment, but the problem was I never changed the lens I viewed my life through.

Heal

I think it is important when you experience something similar to this, you allow time to regroup before immersing yourself back into routines. There can be an overwhelming urge for your life to return to normal, the only problem is what was normal before may not be normal now. Trauma is trauma (could be grief for a lost loved one, could be separation or divorce, could be job loss) and the mental rehabilitation may be more important than the physical rehabilitation with the results far less visible.

For me, not taking time to come to terms with how all this affected me minimized the effect it had on me which kept me from appreciating the potential for what God could do through me.

Wearing a yellow bracelet might signify I was a survivor……only problem was I didn’t feel like much of a survivor, only an existor. OK, existor is not a word, but it is the only term that describes the place I was in. Everything on my horizon lacked significance in my eyes. Sure I had family, friends, a job….more than what a lot of people could say, but I was also turning 46 and there were a lot of things left unchecked on my “to accomplish” list.

Focus

As I struggled, a key realization was brought to light when, in the span of 48 hours, I was reminded 3 times the opening line of Rick Warren’s book, Purpose Driven Life-“It’s Not About You”. My lack of purpose and significance stemmed from the fact I was trying to leverage my cancer experience for my benefit, rather than consider that God’s plan all along may have been to leverage my experience for His benefit. Each time “It’s not about you” was quoted it gave me a glimpse of what effect life with cancer could have on me and what God could do through me if my focus shifted from me and was leveraged where there was significance and purpose. 

This blog is not the significance I speak of, but it’s a component; doing my job better has purpose because that income facilitates what and where my focus can be leveraged. What the effect now looks like for me is being more intentional in all things and modeling what I believe. Survivor bracelets are great….they raise money, and they show support for the cancer community, but wearing something and being something are two different things.

Act

So before I place a bracelet on my wrist I need to do a little recasting of my DNA, that way the makeup of who I am and Who I serve will be the place I find purpose and I hope that will be the place God begins to leverage this experience. 

 

If what you’re committed to isn’t Who you’re surrendered you will have a tough time finding purpose in your life and an even tougher time finding peace-my life lesson.    

Is there something standing between you and the purpose your heart craves?

What is keeping you from removing those obstacles?

Let me know how or if I can help you!

~Tom

trusting God period

————————-

Off Season  is part three in a series of posts called Life Lessons, all centered around life with cancer. Check back for Fast Forward which will bring this journey into the present tense.

False Alarm….It’s All Good!

Based on the comments, emails, and private messages I received all day it would appear that my poor choice of words led more than a few folks to worry unnecessarily about the place I was in this morning after reading my Facebook update about a new post to this blog. 

When facing adversity you always have a choice, succumb to it or rise above it…..I’m trying to rise above it and I could use your help today!

The better choice of words would have been…..this is my way of rising above it…..and then went on to describe how I felt my fundraising project for Charity Water was an example of that.

If you didn’t get the chance to read the post, please take a minute to do so and consider partnering with me to help build a well which will bring clean drinking water to a place where this is none.

While my choice of words might have led to some to possibly doubt my mental health;  for me there is NO DOUBTING how much support and prayers I have coming my way on a daily basis, something which humbles me to the point of not really having the words other than to say: 

Thank You, Thank You, Thank You, one and all!

Which brings me to something I want and need to ask YOU…..

How can I be praying for you?

One thing I’m learning in all this is, for me to be able to leverage my faith in the midst of cancer, my focus has to be redirected from within and shifted UP and OUT.

By UP, I mean my focus has to be on God and the lessons He wants me to learn.

By OUT, my focus has to include the community around me, especially the relationships both old and new from which I draw so much strength.

So would you please allow me the opportunity to leverage my faith by letting me know how or what I can be praying for you?

  • One way would be to leave a comment at the bottom of this post which would allow the entire Leveraging Life community the opportunity to pray for you….something I think would be incredible especially when those who do prayed acknowledge it with a comment like so many of you did for me today on Facebook.
  • If you would like to keep the prayer request private click here or on the contact tab at the top and it will stay between you and me.

Thanks again traveling this journey with me!

trust God period!

~Tom

trusting God period