Greatness begins with awareness.

Big life lessons

On June 3, 2010 my mother died at about 11 in the morning. She had not been well for many years, so it was a relief and blessing that she could finally leave her body. I thought after a few weeks of settling things for my parents including moving my Dad to an assisted living apartment, I would get back to my normal life.

That afternoon, my husband Alan called to tell me his doctor reported that the strange brown growth on his head was malignant skin cancer, melanoma. It was hard to take in the significance of this information, but I knew I would not be getting back to my “normal” life as planned.

Alan had three surgeries on his head that summer. I spent the summer running between the hospital with him and traveling to Cincinnati, moving my Dad and closing up my parent’s house, so we could sell it.

Over the last eighteen months, Alan has incurred two significant drug therapies, travelled to India for six weeks for an Ayurvedic healing cleanse and had his brain radiated with an amazing treatment called Gamma Knife. The first drug therapy was a nightmare and he was transformed from a robust 50-something guy to an exhausted, frail shell of himself. The second drug therapy was not as unkind to him, although as a side effect he developed colitis and had a short hospitalization to manage it. The oncologist believes the last drug treatment will be a cure. The word “cure” was music to our ears.

So what have we learned? First, we are so thankful that Alan is well and the future is bright. We appreciate every day of his good health. I believe we are better at letting the little stuff go. We have slowed down, partly because his treatments required it, yet I notice we are happy to have more quiet time together.

I have been so impressed with how Alan has met this challenge. Sure, he had some moments of “why me?” Then he would dig in and educate himself about his disease, including traditional medicine and alternative approaches. He changed his diet, started meditating regularly and got serious about limiting stressors in his life.

I felt such a profound love and respect for him when we sat in various doctors’ offices. He was always well-read, calm and objective about the options discussed, and the decisions we would make for the next steps of his treatment. I was always calmed by his quiet, knowledge and strength, no matter the presenting threat to his health. This deep feeling of love as I watched him manage his treatment was an amazing gift.

We became more of a team over these last eighteen months. I certainly had my own loud fears to deal with plus the challenging days of dealing with the kids when Alan really wasn’t feeling well. I faced what life would look like without him and prayed I may not have that experience until I am very old.

The biggest lesson learning during this process is what’s important in life. The saying, “Enjoy life, this is not a dress rehearsal” nails it. Make every day count, no matter what is on your schedule or how you feel. Show up, be present and be happy you are alive! Be thankful for all of it, even the hard stuff!


  1. Diane Scholten

    Beautiful post, Susan! Your depth, wisdom and kindness comes radiating through. I too have been very impressed by Alan’s calm center as he has gone through this wild ride.

    Ernest Hemingway defined courage as “grace under pressure.” – You two have it in spades.

    Thank you for sharing both yourself and your wonderful husband with us in this moving post.

  2. Tom T.

    Thanks for writing this – nicely said. VERY best to your family for a joyous December and a healthy new year. We’ll see you in January. T.

  3. Karen

    Thank you for sharing your personal story with us Susan. Great lessons for all of us in your post as we tackle what life deals us daily.


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