by Jim Higley
As word of my diagnosis spread through the various circles in my life, I had countless conversations with friends, relatives, and coworkers. These were caring conversations. Reassuring conversations. Conversations focused on this general belief that everything would be OK. It seemed, somehow, that everyone had magical powers with which to see into the future. And what they saw was always good.
“I know you’ll be fine,” they repeated constantly.
While I appreciated the sentiment and optimism, I found that comment funny. In many ways, I felt as if people were trying to gain my reassurance, which I found hard to give convincingly.
Karen’s talk was the most motivating, uplifting conversation ever. Not just during that period in my life. I mean ever.
I’m candid. I’m blunt. And while I certainly wanted to have a positive attitude, I was also realistic. I knew this story could play out in many ways. After all, our family batting average was terrible.
Two of the conversations during those early days, however, were truly stop-you-dead-in-your-tracks-and-shake-you-by-your-shirt-collar moments.
The first, and most powerful one, was with a casual friend named Karen. I had known her tangentially for several years because she was a friend of some of my good friends. But our paths rarely crossed. She was about my age. Petite. A glowing, energetic person. I knew she had had her own issues with cancer a few years earlier, but that was the extent of what I knew. She was simply Karen – my friend’s fun, spirited friend who had had breast cancer. Little did I know she would become one of the most influential people in the story of my life.
Her first contact with me arrived as a voice mail. “Jim, it’s Karen, Sarah’s friend. I’m so sorry to hear what you’re going through. Listen, I know you’re buried, but I really want to talk to you. I have something to tell you. It’s important. Could you call me when you have a few minutes? Thanks!” Click.
“If your mind and heart are open, I promise you will come out of this with a gift that will change your life.”
I was intrigued. I was curious. And I wanted to meet Karen immediately. So we did. The very next day.
Karen’s talk was the most motivating, uplifting conversation ever. Not just during that period in my life. I mean ever. We didn’t talk about her own experiences through surgeries and recovery. We didn’t talk about the beating her body had to endure through her treatment. We didn’t talk about being afraid. Karen had only one thing to teach me.
“Jim, you are going to receive the most amazing gift as you go through this,” she promised.
I took mental notes as she shared with me the extraordinary gift she ultimately received as the result of her journey. It was like a moment from the kung fu television series I used to watch as a child. There was always a scene when the little boy would sit in front of old Master Po, who would say, “When you can take the pebble from my hand, it will be time for you to leave.”
I wanted the pebble Karen was holding.
“You may not even realize it at the time, Jim,” she said, “but if your mind and heart are open, I promise you will come out of this with a gift that will change your life. Your gift will be yours and yours alone. And you will never be the same. Regardless of what happens with your cancer.”
She also gave me a notebook.
“Write, Jim,” she said. “Take time to write.”
For the first time in days, I was excited. Karen framed my life in a way no one else could. Not only was I filled with her energy, but I was also beginning to experience a new taste of my own.
Karen came to teach me a lesson. And I listened.
There was a gift out there with my name on it.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Jim Higley is a prostate cancer survivor and father of three. He writes for The Huffington Post and is executive director of Single Jingles Testicular Cancer Foundation. Learn more at BobbleheadDad.com.
Excerpted with permission from Bobblehead Dad: 25 Life Lessons I Forgot I Knew, by Jim Higley, copyright © 2011 by James R. Higley. All rights reserved. BobbleheadDad.com
This article was originally published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, September/October 2012.