How to Make the Best of the Worst

The other day I received an email from a friend of friend.  This person had recently been diagnosed with Thyroid cancer — something I lived through about 15 years ago.  She asked for some advice.  I gave her some of the same advice I give members of my career mentor site.

Stuff happens: good stuff, bad stuff, frustrating stuff, unexpected stuff.  Successful people respond to the stuff that happens in a positive way.  Humans are the only animals with free will.  That means we – you and me – get to decide how we react to every situation that comes up.  Choose to react positively to this setback in your life.

I also told her my story.  Here it is…

About 15 years ago, I found out that I had Thyroid cancer – not a particularly deadly form of cancer, but cancer nonetheless.  Trust me, you don’t want to hear the words “you” and “cancer” in the same sentence.  This experience qualified as some bad stuff.

My cancer diagnosis energized me.  I remember thinking, “I’ve got a lot to do.  I better get busy if I’m going to have surgery.”  I then got busy and rescheduled any client work that would conflict with the surgery.

I learned everything I could about Thyroid cancer.  I talked to friends in the medical field who referred me to docs they knew who specialized in the disease.  I went on line and read, and read, and read.  I interviewed a couple of surgeons and chose one to perform my surgery.

I visited a couple of on line Thyroid Cancer support sites.  I mostly didn’t like what I found there – lots of angry people lashing out at one another, the unfairness of life in general and Thyroid Cancer in particular.  I decided that if I were going to stay positive, it was best for me to stay away from the online cancer support groups.

In order to meet my client commitments, I had to spend the weekend before my surgery in New York.  I finished up one engagement on a Friday and had to do a talk to some pharmaceutical execs on Monday.  I had some down time over the weekend, so I decided to visit a few museums and do some shopping.  I bought a bright red striped tie that I wore to my talk on Monday.  I still call it my cancer tie.  I think it brings me luck.  I put it on when I wake up in a less than positive mood.

After I finished the talk on Monday, the person running the program announced that this was going to be my last talk for a while as I was having cancer surgery the following Friday.  People were incredulous.  They asked, “What are you doing here when you’re having cancer surgery in four days?”

I responded by saying that I had committed to doing this talk several months previous and that as long as I wasn’t actually in the hospital I was going to keep my commitment.  Beside that I said, “To the best of my knowledge Thyroid Cancer isn’t catchy.”  That got a few laughs from the crowd.

I never considered canceling or postponing that talk.  As long as I was able, I was going to honor my commitments.  I chose to deal with cancer the way I choose to deal with most things in my life; honor my commitments, do the best I can.

My cancer story has a happy ending.  I have been cancer free ever since the operation and seem to be healthier than ever.  The story, or at least the hospital stay portion of it, has a humorous ending.

My surgery was on a Friday.  I came out of the recovery room about 4:00 in the afternoon.  Sometime that evening, the nurse unhooked my IV.  This made it a lot easier to get to the bathroom; it’s funny how small things can make a big difference.  About 6:30 Saturday morning, the surgeon showed up.  He looked at the incision and checked my vitals.  Then he said, “You’re good to go.”

This sounded good to me.  I’m not one who likes to spend any more time in the hospital than I have to.  I got up, found my clothes and got dressed.  I called my wife and asked her to come and get me.  She showed up around 7:00.  We gathered up my stuff, got in the car and went home.

About 11:00 we got a frantic call from the hospital.  They had lost me.  In my haste to leave the hospital, I didn’t check out.  The doc said I was good to go, so I went.  I had things to do, people to see, places to go – I wasn’t going to hang around in the hospital any longer than I needed to.  The nurse scolded me with a smile in her voice, then she read me the post operative procedures I was to follow.  She told me that she had never known anyone leave the hospital the morning after cancer surgery without checking out.

That was how I reacted to cancer.  The escape from the hospital was probably not the brightest thing I could do given the circumstances, but it showed my determination to not let stuff like cancer interrupt my life and commitment to my success any more than it absolutely had to.

The one thing I was not going to do was wallow in anger and self pity like so many of the people I met in the Thyroid Cancer on line support groups.  I chose life.  I chose to be positive.  I chose to honor my commitments to my clients as best I could.  I spent a week at home recuperating.  I conducted a week long leadership seminar two weeks later.

The career mentor point here has little to do with my cancer experience and everything to do with free will and common sense.  As you go through life, stuff will happen, most of it out of your control.  The important thing is how you react to the stuff that happens to you – the nice things, the mild annoyances and the major catastrophes.  It’s your choice.  Successful people choose to respond to events proactively.  They do what they can to make the best out of any situation in which they find themselves.

I find a lot of wisdom in Native American spiritual traditions.  The Navajos live in the arid plains of the US southwest.  Drought is always a problem for them.  I once met a Navajo Medicine Man who summed up the difference between how white people and the Navajos deal with adverse situations.  He said “When there is no rain for a long time, the white man prays for rain.  The Navajo prays to find the ability to live in harmony with the draught.”   When I was diagnosed with cancer, I prayed for the ability to live in harmony with the disease.  My prayers were answered.  I believe this gave me the strength I needed during those days.

That’s the career advice that comes from my cancer story.  What do you think?  Please take a minute to share your thoughts with us in a comment.  If you’re a cancer survivor please tell your story.  As always, thanks for reading my daily thoughts on life and career success.  I value you and I appreciate you.

You career mentor,


PS: If you haven’t already done so, you can download free copies of two of my career success books, Success Tweets and Success Tweets Explained.  Go to to claim your free eBooks.  You’ll also start receiving my daily life and career success quotes.

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