Father battles cancer, son battles career extinction

In Loving memory of my father, friend and a special human being.

Yes this is social media and I often focus on careers, business and learning so what does a blog dedicated to my recently deceased father have to do with this.

It’s not facebook where people dedicate messages to loved ones, but this has a slightly different purpose.

I learnt so much from him and the advice he gave me, even up to the last week before he passed, was so profound.

I wanted to share his influence on me, so that it might help as many people as possible (including the many cancer sufferers) and his legacy of helping others can have an even greater impact.

I see lots of similarities in the way he helped strangers to the way I am trying to help people through sharing my knowledge, experience and yes Excel models too.

The reality is my father was such an incredible man who fought and battled cancer for over 32 years and had over 48 chemo treatments.

The way he approached this death sentence when I was 11 yrs old and the way he threw me into challenges at early age shaped who I am today and I will be eternally grateful. It has shaped me as a father, husband and business owner.

Never Give Up! You determine failure, nobody else.

My father never got any formal education but amazingly managed to navigate a successful career solving problems relating to technology and building a family.

He brought barcode scanning technology to South Africa for the Edcon group (largest SA retailer) and was also a bonsai sensei and executive for the Eastern Bonsai Society and fortunate enough to visit Japan last year (the origin of Bonsai).

He also spent many days, alongside my mother, helping at Yad Aron for the poor and destitute. Not to mention helping the community security organisation manage and solve a range of logistic problems.

He visited fellow cancer patients and spoke openly about his views on the subject, having beaten it multiple times. Sometimes even whilst being treated in the same hospital or treatment centre.

I hope this blog post helps the many and ever increasing cancer sufferes in the world as well as those facing challenges in their careers, businesses and in life generally.

What his battle with cancer taught me.

My father had non-hodgkinson lymphoma, meaning his cancer was in his lymphatic system. It started in his neck 30 yrs ago and slowly progressed to other parts of his body slowly. It was treatible but not curable whilst it was a non agressive B cell.

My father always said, as long as medical research continued as it was doing, he can continue to fight the battle and win.

It remained as such for a long time despite spreading to his stomach and behind his eye. Whilst it appeared each time in a new place, he managed to beat it back into remission multiple times and adding years to his life between episodes. At times as much as 10 years.

When it had moved from the neck to the stomach it was classified as stage 4 over 20 yrs ago.

However, 18 months ago it tranformed to an aggressively growing B-cell in the kidney which was never completely iradicated. In the last month before passing it went to the spinal column and then the lung faster than anyone could believe.

Towards the end his time had ran out very quickly. Whilst many believed he would beat it again, this time I was really worried given its rapid spread into life critical organs.

When enough is enough

You need to know when enough is enough, its often not that easy to pick it, but fighting no matter what might not always be the best strategy.

In the last months where he was in hospital still fighting, and possibly could be elsewhere.

He was determined to fight all the way and the combination of heavy chemo, lumbar punctures and heavy cortezone ultimately killed a lot of his white cells resulting him unable to fight a simple chest infection.

This was his life and his battle to fight, but towards the end it wasn’t the cancer directly but the medication that killed him. Who knows how much longer he would have lived at home vs in a hospital those last few months. Giving up was never an option for him.

The price you pay for constantly battling and fighting can be costly. He never knew any other way.

But perhaps things could have ended differently. One never knows.

Positive mindset is very powerful

Face a threat with a positive attitude and an opportunity to appreciate what you have.

Most people see chemo and the associated nausea as a death sentence in itself. He saw it as his medicine and helping him get rid of the illness.

His cancer coming back time and time again was that anyoying friend you might have. You just deal with it the same way you did the last time and it will all work out fine. Only this last time his friend came back with a different persona and more than just annoying but deadly.

He was very thankful that he had 32yrs of living with the disease when many of his fellow patients and friends died from the disease much earlier. This was the amazing thing, always seeing the positive side.

Manage your stress and mental health very carefully

Manage your stress levels and try not get trapped. Education and knowledge is key.

He was first diagnosed with cancer at 38 following working under extreme stress, not having options in his job and career as a result of no formal qualification and having to support a young family (my two younger brothers were 8 and 2yrs old).

Being the major breadwinner without options for alternative employment was stifling. He was determined for none of his sons to ever be in that situation which is why we all got formal tertiary education in a field of our choice.

I asked him what he personally thought was the cause of his cancer.

There is cancer in the family so hereditary gene cannot be ignored.

He feels being in the stressful position with no way out was a heavy contributor. He was not overweight, exercised and ate well in general.

He hardly drank alcohol enjoying only the occasional stout beer or Guinness with me when watching rugby together.

Keep your options open, never get boxed in

Always have options, don’t allow yourself to be trapped.

It might be doing you more damage than good, it’s just a job, not a death sentence. But if you not careful it could be.

He allowed me to learn how to play and embrace technology from an early age. No apps here….DOS and other games with no graphics cards as well as the early stages of Windows…Windows 95 change being my most memorable.

As a result of my Dad working within technology I was fortunate enough to get exposed to many great opportunities to learn to work with it rather than avoid it or be afraid of it (especially as an accountant).

  1. He assigned me the job of fixing our dial up internet modem and making calls to tech support and updating TCP/IP codes and rebooting the connection. I soon was able to solve some of them without calling the helpdesk. Those days are long gone, we all have cable or ADSL today…thanks heavens.

  2. He would never give me the answer to my issues or problems but point me in the direction to find the answer. He wanted me to learn the art of problem solving. Something few education courses gave me in formal education.

  3. Assigned me to be in charge of all the handheld symbol laser scanners, containing stock barcode SKU data, for uploading at his first test site for the new technology. I managed to find out how to avoid the data loss issue where others didnt and had to do recounts.The data was wiped from the devices once they failed to load.

  4. He made me load. exe files and clean up disk space and move files to backups in floppy and stiffy disk drives. Way before CD and DVD burners were even invented. These storage methods are now largely obsolete with 128gig USB sticks. Back when disk space was around 20mb for the hard drive.

Whilst he never taught or introduced me to coding or Excel or anything else, the biggest thing he taught me was problem solving.

Helping me to constantly realise there is no box.

A skill I use every day of my life.

My key takeaways from his life

1) You simply cannot succeed without hard work, but too much hard work could kill you and your relationships. Having a qualification helps, but not applying it is a recipe for failure. He often brought work home and would work late at night, whilst still making an effort to attend our sporting events.

2) Never stop learning. If you don’t know the answers find someone who does. He knew the intricacies of his disease and the type of cells and medication. He was constantly on the hunt for new knowledge in any way that helped him solve problems. Perhaps compensating for the lack of formal education. His knowledge was very broad.

3) Don’t knock it till you try it. He had a more experimental mindset when it came to challenges and opportunities in life. He never studied computers or coding yet I had the opportunity to load games in DOS on portable computers the size of a large suitcase when he got home.

4) He exposed me to his world. He would take me to his work regularly. Especially when I needed a place to study for uni exams. I would have entire meeting rooms at Edgardale head office whilst studying for my degree and later CA exams. He even arranged weekend access for me once I could drive. He would take me to his bonsai events and on trips to dig out would be bonsai tree out of nature. He showed me this green screen with the alphabet along the top and numbers down the left. Little did I know that was Lotus pre Windows and Excel.

5) Never give up! His will to live life despite the dreaded disease that kills many people was unbelievable. He really epitomised the saying when the going gets tough, the tough get going.

6) Don’t live life with too high expectations of others, that way you won’t get disappointed when they don’t do what you expect.

This really blew me away. He gave time not expecting anything in return, despite this he would continue to help, whilst I would have been pissed off multiple times over. I still find this very difficult to live by.

7) Do not live your life with regret. Try your best to treat every day as if it were your last. Do the right thing by others and live with a clear conscience so that you know you did everything you could do to help.

No doubt he was able to pass in peace knowing he absolutely achieved this, from my perspective anyway. Too many people live life with regret. I wish I had spent more time with family. Something I am committing to fixing this year.

8) Take control of your own shit, it’s the only shit you can control. You have a choice how you face adversity, nobody else. You can’t also blame others when things don’t go the way you want, thats just life. deal with it and move onto the next challenge.

Conclusion

My father wasn’t one for big talk, just action. Talk is cheap, action is priceless.

He would often say, stop talking about it and just get it done. Get started.

He didn’t have the energy to share his story about fighting cancer, I know he wanted to.

I even asked him to write a book but he was too busy fighting the disease and helping and supporting others he never got around to it.

In one of our last conversations he said he had written his story down and I should do whatever I feel is necessary with it.

Rest in Peace Dad, your light will shine on us for many years to come.