Category Archives: Musing on Change

An Honest Look

This is the essay I’ve been struggling with. I’m still not ready to write it, but I desperately need to get it out of my head.

You might wonder why, if you’ve called me. I haven’t answered or called you back. I’d like to try and explain. See, if we talked, I’d have to choose a way to present myself or choose an acting back story. I think I’m a pretty good actor, but I’ve learned it takes a tremendous amount of energy.  Here are my choices as I currently see them.


Denial: Ignore the whole thing. Pretending that this isn’t happening is certainly tempting. Some days I wake up and feel like my old self. When I’m immersed in an engaging book – often a mystery—or a TV show with compelling characters or plot – let’s hear it for Netflix – it’s pretty easy. Unless, of course, there’s a mirror in the room. Seeing myself bald shatters any possibility of denial. Talking to someone while denying that anything’s wrong is beyond my ability to sustain for any length of time which is why visiting my mother is so difficult. The innocent question, “How are you?” is amazingly tricky.

Truth: The whole truth and nothing but the truth. Unfortunately, I don’t exactly know what the truth is and won’t until I’m re-scanned next month. What I do know is that the cancer (tumor in my breast and one lymph node) that they originally discovered on January 10th has proven to be far more extensive and more aggressive than originally thought. Surgery isn’t an option. I believe the chemotherapy I’m receiving is intended to be palliative rather than curative. (Palliative chemo is intended to extend life while maintaining quality of life rather than curative chemo which is intended to eradicate the cancer.) Originally my oncologist said he felt I had 3 to 5 years. The scan coming in April will give us new data to identify a more determinative prognosis.  This level of truth without significant certainty is something I discuss with myself, Dr. Onitilo, and two very close friends. (Frank and the kids get a somewhat edited version of this one.) This is the dark night of the soul identified by poets and philosophers.

If this was a magazine article the following paragraph would be in a boxed and shaded sidebar. Please don’t think I’ve given up. I will certainly partake of all the possible life lengthening opportunities for treatment while measuring the effects against QoL. (That’s Quality of Life for the uninitiated.) I also believe that miracles – big and small, expected and unexpected – occupy a place in life. Odds exist because someone gets to beat them!

The Positive Patient: A motivational speaker in action. Not to be confused with denial, this posture contains the “glass is half full” approach. You’re strong, if anyone can beat this – it’s you, and get well soon all need to be met with a nod and a smile of agreement. My mom. my aunt, I had the same thing and she’s/I’m fine 10 years later, also requires this response. All of these spoken-with-love, encouraging comments are meant to provide the encouragement everyone needs and I appreciate their intent. (Note: this is the paragraph that has kept me from writing this essay for so long. In no way do I want to denigrate the wonderful email messages, cards, and advice I’ve received from so many friends and colleagues.  I treasure each and every one. This is a walk in their shoes situation. I know, I’ll change my behavior with others in the future. See the book I recommended in my last post.) The positive, everything will be okay response requires my finest acting skills and tons of energy. I use this script for my grandchildren and friends I encounter in daily life. Friends who call and leave messages and, in my mind, want and need this response, create the most guilt when I ignore them.

Here’s what I’d like to be able to do. Matter of Fact: Telling the resolved truth. Once I know what the scan shows and what my actual prognosis is, and have processed it with my family, it will be easy to share the future. Promising or bleak, I’m really good at expressing this kind of reality. (If you’re a MBTI aficionado you know, it’s what ENTJs do best.)


So, here I am counting the days till the scan while the voice mails and conversation requests mount up. Thanks for reading and understanding. I promise, we will talk soon.

A New Journey Begins

I’m writing this as a story so I can pretend we’re sitting together over a good cup of coffee or a great glass of wine and laughing and crying together. It would have been my preference to share this news with you that way because I know the conversation would be filled with hugs and encouragement.
Early in my speaking career I heard the maxim, “We teach what we most need to learn.” I speak on Change.

On Tuesday, January 10th I went in for my annual mammogram thinking I’d be in the clinic for an hour or so, Four hours later, after a second mammogram, an ultrasound, a biopsy, and a consultation with a radiologist, I headed home driving in a snowstorm (In fiction that would be called foreshadowing.) In typical speaker style, my phone rang while I was checking into a hotel before a speech that Friday night. It was the Radiologist with the biopsy report. “It’s cancer, Chris,” she said as gently as possible. “We’ve got you scheduled with our top oncologist as well as my favorite surgeon next week.” I guess this is what they call off and running.

More tests, lessons in nuclear medicine, forms and insurance approval led to the following Monday’s diagnosis of Stage 4 Triple Negative Breast Cancer with lymph node involvement throughout my body. Good news is my brain, lungs, and liver are clear. We have an aggressive plan of Chemotherapy that started this Tuesday.

As you can imagine Frank and I and the kids are working to figure this new chapter in our lives together. It’s pretty raw and comes with a steep learning curve. (Gary Rifkin would explain that my input strength is working in overdrive!)

At this point I’m adjusting to my body’s reaction to the chemo and figuring out what my new normal is going to be so I’m not really up for phone calls. I would be eternally grateful for notes (P.O. Box 37, Wausau, WI 54402-0037) and emails ( Since I don’t have a clear picture of how the treatments are going to play out, flexibility is our current action plan.
That speech on Change Friday night after I got the news—well, I nailed it. The audience and I laughed and learned together and my client was thrilled. When I got up to my room, I filled the oversized bathtub with a hot bubble bath, got in and cried because of a change I didn’t choose or want. Then I dried off and reviewed the slides I had just used and the messages I had shared with my audience and applied them to myself.

I close all of my programs with my favorite Seneca quote. “It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.” This one is difficult and with your help, I’m going to dare.

Chris who feels blessed with your friendship

Dryer Lint, Math, Passion, and Change

Not often that taking the lint out of the dryer filter stops you in your tracks and starts a thought process that ends up connecting successful change to a passion for something–but last laundry day it did.

It started when I realized that I had paused and was intently examining the lint I had just removed for the purity and consistency of its color. (A nice rosy red if you must know.) It took me a minute to realize what I was doing, ask myself why I was doing it, and remember an unusual story on CBS Sunday Morning several LINTmonths ago about a woman who created works of art using dryer lint as her medium. At the time I saw the segment, I was amused at her passion for creating and blending lint in order to get the perfect effect for her pictures. (Would they be called Lintings?) Yet, here I was, stopping in the middle of a busy day, grading the quality of my lint. Trust me, I had no intention of joining her in this offbeat endeavor, the lint ended in the garbage, and as I walked back to my desk, I thought of how her passion for her brand of art had captured a small part of my mind. Reminded me of Mr. Turban

Questions and Answers about Resistance to Change

In mid-March, I had the opportunity to present a session on Managing Resistance to Change at the ASAE Great Idea! Conference at the Broadmoor in Colorado Spring, COGIC header_logo. During the program, participants had more excellent questions than time allowed for answers during the actual break-out. We gathered the questions via text messaging and I promised to post answers on my blog. So, to all the Great Idea! participants as well as any other readers, I hope you

Automatic Response

Note: Last time I was at Greenheck the sign was gone. I'm glad I took the picture when I did. No one would have believed me. The original posted referenced my Treo – hot technology for 2006. You'll be glad to know that now I have an iPhone.

Old Habits Die Hard

Originally Posted Sunday, July 09, 2006

Change is often hard…especially when the change is about
something you've been doing for a long time. If you don't have anything nice
to say, don't say anything at all
. Clean your plate. Flush the
. Sense a pattern?

We all have behaviors planted firmly in our hearts and minds, reinforced over
and over by years of doing. We do these things without one moments thought –
they are habits. Whole systems are built around them. Public restrooms for
example. For years, architects and builders counted on the fact that you would
hear your mother's voice before you exited the stall, reminding you to flush! Worked
well, mostly.

Then along came change. Automatically flushed toilets. A novelty at first.
(Honestly, they scared the you-know-what out of people the first time they
encountered one. My favorite is when they flush before you're done.) But of
course, they weren't everywhere so we continued responsible flushing. But as
Malcolm Gladwell taught us, there is a tipping point.

Finally there were more automatic flush toilets in public places than the
old-fashioned do-it-yourself variety and our habits started to change. Mom's
voice was silenced. We expected the flushing to occ
ur without our active


Hence the sign I discovered on the stall door in
the public restrooms in the Greenheck Field House in Weston, WI. After trying
to figure out why it was there, it dawned on me. The Greenheck Field House,
although fairly new, was built before automatic toilets became the norm and is
now frequented by people who no longer believe they have an obligation to
flush. Problem! Some clever person must have decided that this sign would fill
the place vacated by a mother's voice saying, "Don't forget to flush,
dear." At least the day I was there the sign seemed to be working.

What I'm working on now is the equivalent for changing that clean your plate

On another note, this blog would not have been possible without another big
change – phones you carry with you and have cameras built in. If you write a
blog that is tied to pictures, more important than American Express, you never
want to leave home without your Treo!