3 Lessons Cancer Taught Me About Leadership and Life

Today is the 79th anniversary of D-Day. It also marks the 7th anniversary of my final radiation treatment in my “battle” with stage 4 cancer.

Since that day, and my second chance at life, my life has been catapulted to a whole new level. I got to walk my daughter down the aisle. I have become a grandfather…twice!. I have seen both my sons buy homes, get engaged and blossom in their careers. In fact, I am even doing the nuptials for my oldest son this September. I wrote a book that went on to win national and international awards and I married the woman of my dreams who is my best friend and my unicorn!

Life is good. I am so very thankful to still be here.

The Beginning

During Thanksgiving of 2015 my daughter saw a marble sized lump in my neck that I had been watching for a few weeks, hoping it would go away. She is a massage therapist, reiki practitioner and an energy healer. As soon as she saw it, she intuitively knew, as she told me later, that I had cancer, and it was stage 4.

“What’s that lump, dad?” was the sentence that started a year long journey that forever changed my life.

I waited until after the holidays to put the ball in motion and by February I had gone through the biopsy and the PET scan which revealed the diagnosis of stage 4 squamous cell carcinoma. Nice call Allison!

From that moment I knew I was going to have to learn and demonstrate a new level of self-control and leadership that was very different than the type required of me as a father, a business owner and executive over the previous 40 years. I was about to experience life at a whole new level.

Thankfully, much of what I had learned about leadership through my career gave me a solid foundation to work from. I have countless lessons in leadership and life that cancer taught me. Below are three of the biggest ones.

My top 3 Lessons Cancer Taught Me

1. Develop a plan. Be Creative. And choose your partners wisely

Between February and my first day of treatments, April 18th  of 2016, which fittingly, happened to be the same day as the Boston Marathon, I spent my time researching and developing a strategy for my treatment. I chose an innovative approach that involved both traditional and holistic protocols. And I assembled a team of healing partners which included traditional oncology professionals, holistic practitioners, and Dr Jody Noe, - a world class integrative oncologist and healer who was also a Cherokee medicine woman.

2. Life doesn’t happen to me, it happens for me. Every experience is a gift:

After a long series of internal conversations and consciousness work, I came to understand that the primary force of the universe is creation or, what could be called, divine love. Besides, if the primary force was destruction and hate the universe would never have been created in the first place and babies wouldn’t be born pure.

Therefore, the source of anything that happens to me is a gift of love and not a punishment. With that realization, it then became my job to find the gifts in the experience I was about to have. Seeking them would give me purpose. Finding purpose would give me courage. And embracing both would prevent me from falling into the depths of fear, which would have proven deadly.

3. Every experience is a class:

Joy was an incredibly wise “earth angel” whom I met on my journey. When I met her, Joy had already lost her husband to cancer and her daughter was being treated for the disease. As a result, she had immersed herself in the study of spiritual holistic and natural path treatments. Joy’s sage advice was that I had to learn to love the cancer. Her reasoning was that anything other than love in my system was another form of cancer. And I already had enough of that in my body. 

It seemed like an impossible challenge, but I trusted her wisdom. Over the next few days, I struggled trying to find a way to “love the cancer.” Then I found it.

With my new understanding that everything is a gift of love the question for me to answer was: If cancer was a gift from love about love how would it show up to me?

The answer that came to me was that it would appear as a teacher about the value of life and the importance of love itself. From that moment on, I committed to learn as much as possible from this powerful teacher from the universe.

Once I embraced that truth, every challenge, pain, frustration, and fear became a class on love designed to help me to grow in gratitude, appreciation and determination. The classes were often very difficult but the payoffs far exceeded the tuition they extracted.


To this day, every time I am challenged, frustrated or fearful I ask myself: “What class am I in.” The moment I pose that question my stress begins to lessen and a sense of curiosity, purpose, clarity, and empowerment replaces it. I am then in a much better position to make the most effective decisions with a clear mind and an open heart. And that is the best any of us can hope to achieve when the stakes are incredibly high.

I have also learned countless, irreplaceable lessons about compassion, empathy and gratitude that I would never had learned without the gift of the perspective I received through my cancer experience.

I found the love in the cancer experience. And it has changed me for the better forever.

To learn more about some of the life changing lessons the cancer experience gifted me that may be a gift to you watch this interview.