Courage Under Fire

The finest person I ever knew once told me that it’s not what we accomplish in life, but what we overcome that counts. I’ve thought of these words quite often over the years, but never more so than when, in 1991, my best friend was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I was with him when his surgeon told him he had about six months to live and I pray that if I am ever the recipient of similar news, I will have the good grace to take it like Max.

Max and I had been friends ever since either one of us could remember. Or as Max put it, “I’ve known you since dirt was new”. We met in college and like most college buddies, we shared many “adventures” and had many “stories”….some we told our wives, but most we didn’t. We had no secrets and shared many thoughts and ideas, but none more important or personal before that April morning.

After he was diagnosed, Max did quite a bit of reading about his condition and asked a lot of questions. What he learned was not good. When I visited him in the hospital and we discussed his treatment options and their side effects, he said, “This thing is not going to get me without a fight. I’m going to do whatever it takes. I’m mean, gee, what’s the value-add to being miserable?”

He started treatment the next week and even made sure the folks at the cancer center put his ‘medi-port’ in a place on his shoulder where it wouldn’t interfere with his golf swing. He had a thriving real estate business in Dallas. So, in keeping with his ‘if I don’t work, I don’t eat’ philosophy, he was back at his desk three weeks after his surgery.

He became an insurance agent so he could sell homeowners policies in his spare time. He ended up selling a lot of life and car insurance as well. He sold so much insurance, he became the #1 producer in his office.

He heard about a nutritionist in Denver who was having some success with cancer patients and spent six weeks there working with her.

In March of 1995, Max underwent yet another major operation when one of his quarterly CAT scans discovered lesions on his liver. They got most of the growth and he was, again, back at work a few weeks later.

In April 1996, Max was rushed to the hospital with massive internal bleeding caused when an intestinal bypass, that was done during his first surgery, separated from where it was supposed to be. “I guess it was only supposed to last a year”, he said.

The week after Thanksgiving his father-in-law, who was like a surrogate father to him, died of the same type of cancer. Max gave the eulogy. He insisted.

He spent quality time with his family, renewed old friendships and made many new ones, attended numerous self-improvement seminars and workshops, was active on church committees and still had time to beat me on the golf course. There’s an old Texas saying….”it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” Max proved it every day from that morning in April 1991 until the morning of May 8, 1997.

I miss my friend. I miss his caring and gentle nature, his honesty, his work ethic, his extraordinary sense of humor and his genuine interest in other people. Max never quit.

The lessons we learn in our personal lives can also benefit our professional lives. We live in unusual times, and as I work with companies and individuals in crisis, I am reminded that although the loss of a job is a personal loss, it is a loss where the individual has control of his/her destiny. The prognosis is temporary, not terminal. And, that pain and suffering are inevitable, but misery is an option. And, like Max, it takes courage under fire to understand the difference.

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