Row, Row, Row Your Boat: One Man’s Battle Against Cancer

I looked up from a busy and animated conversation at the favorite coffee shop and saw the smiling face of a man I admire greatly.

“I am clean,” stated the beaming warrior. “The cancer is gone.”

Leaping from my chair to give this man a well-deserved hug was the highlight of my day. Nelson Boyd had accepted, endured and then defeated a nasty and rare form of what is medically called CUPS, for “cancer undetermined primary site.” Doctors, upon initial diagnosis, gave no hope for a complete recovery without removing several vital organs.

The long-time Denver native believed there had to be other options than as he says, “being gutted like a fish.” He found one in Nashville, TN. Where he and his long-time wife moved temporarily to begin an intensive treatment program to shrink, and eventually destroy, the tumor buried deep within his midsection.

The way this Texas native attacked this challenge was amazing to watch.

“From day one we looked at cancer as an unwelcome guest in our lives,” Boyd says. “We didn’t like it, wanted to get rid of it, but made it quite clear that we were not going to allow cancer to dominate our lives.”

As far as I could tell, and from what others who know him well say, the 57-year-old held true to that vow. I can remember watching him workout at the gym we share just around the corner from the favorite coffee shop we also share. I would watch in amazement as he pushed his body through the usual rigorous workout. “That guy has cancer?” I would often ask myself. Sure wasn’t stopping Nelson from his appointed rounds.

I would often see him at the coffee shop. Alone over in the corner, lost in his own thoughts. I would wonder, what’s he thinking about? We usually would chat a bit each time we ran into each other, either at the gym or while getting our caffeine fix. His attitude was amazing. There were certainly times during the treatments where you could see it was taking its toll; but those times were rare; Nelson just kept being Nelson: the rowing warrior of Kinetics Fitness Studio, the best damn gym in America; for its spirit, not spa.

“I’m not going to change my life because of this challenge,” he would often say. “I treat the treatments like they’re my job. And it is my job, to win this battle.”

This man was a perfect example of the powerful effects on focusing on the aspects of life we can control: our thoughts, actions and emotions toward the challenges we face.

In presenting “Run to Daylight: Transforming Potential into Prosperity” toward the end of the message audience members are encouraged, heck it might be more honest to say they’re implored, to commit to being limited only by their imagination, and not fear, in creating productive choices to the challenges they face.”

The retired hospital manager – looks too damn young to not have to work – was a walking, talking and breathing example of that declaration in action. There were certainly no guarantees of success as he progressed through the experimental treatments at the Sara Cannon – the late Grande Ole Opry star Minnie Pearl’s real name – Cancer Center in Tennessee’s capitol city. Who knew if they would eradicate the un-welcomed invader?

But one thing was certain from the start. The wiry muscle-laden rowing animal was going to focus on what he could control, his attitude!

Sure, there were times when he was afraid, uncertain of the future. But Boyd never allowed fears and self-doubt hijack his dreams and goals of winning this potentially life versus death tussle.

I’m fighting back the urge to write, “the power of positive thinking.” But that just doesn’t seem to be the right description. Nelson was more pragmatic and purposeful than positive. It was almost like a scientist or engineer that understood the problem and truly believed there was a solution.

Now the question for us to ponder is this. How much of the successful solution to the problem the bright-smiled Boyd faced has roots in his mind, and how much can we attribute to the wonders of modern medicine?

Is it 50/50? Perhaps 80/20 with medicine the majority? Could it be the same percentage, but with the mind leading?

Who knows?

What is undisputable is Nelson Boyd decided to focus on what he could control, the input.

It’s a lesson we can apply in all areas of our lives, not just fighting cancer.

Too often in life, whether it’s in our personal relationships; our professional success; our community involvement, our emotional attachment is centered on the outcome. Something we most often have little control over because all of the above examples require us to interact with other human beings and when we venture there, things can be unpredictable, right?

Try and simplify your life. Focus on the input. Step forward in healthy and productive ways in facing the challenges of your personal and professional journey. They are not going to disappear. They will show up often, whether you invite them or not.

“It’s funny,” Boyd mentioned after our warm embrace at the favorite coffee shop. “The next morning, after hearing the good news, I was walking before sunrise and saw a shooting star. It’s the first one I’ve ever seen. I believe it was a sign.”

That dark morning when nature provided the lightning show, was the beginning of a very special day in this man’s life. His birthday.

The often fedora-bedecked gentleman says it’s like “being born again.”

What about you? What challenges are you facing right now that perhaps, with an adjustment in the mental, physical and spiritual input, might tip the balance in your favor for a favorable outcome?

That’s perhaps an unfair question. Maybe it’s impossible to answer.

But where do you want to dwell? In that space of fear and despair? Or in the space of courage and optimism?

What area of life might this apply? Maybe it’s something personal at home in a cherished relationship; maybe it’s at work; perhaps at school; maybe in the neighborhood? Most likely, you are facing this somewhere, right?

Push, pull or drag your personal coxswain on a similar path to Boyd, the powerful rower with an even stronger mind.

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