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November 27, 2006
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 The H.R. Doctor Is In

Lessons from a Friend

You wouldn’t be reading this article if you weren’t already a person with many contacts, reasonably well off, in a position of some authority and possessed of the ability to influence others. Although you may have a huge network of people in your e-mail list or your phone contact list, how many of them are true, close friends who would sacrifice tremendously to help you - people with whom you would want to spend profoundly important times in your life? The answer for almost all of us is going to be very few. We have many friends, but few very close friends.

It was a week ago when one of these great friends called to give us terrible news that his wife and our wonderful friend, Kathy, had heard two of the most terrible words that any human being can ever hear from a doctor: pancreatic cancer.

This is a horrendous, monstrous disease that afflicts about 30,000 Americans a year with a terrible survival rate and no effective, affordable, widely available diagnostic test. Basically, you don’t know you have the disease until the treatment options are few and the outcome is grim. The phone call from our friends ended with "Écome earlier rather than later if you can."

"If you can?" Of course we can. It’s a mandate in a close friendship to know when to move aside trivial day-to-day aspects of life and be with true friends. In a few days, we were on an airplane flying across the country. HR spouse Charlotte and I went with the sense of how important it might be to Kathy for us to be there and to spend time quietly talking, hugging her, and making sure she and amazing, caring husband and kindred spirit, Bill, knew they were supported and loved by friends.

What really happened, however, was quite unexpected. Within a day of our arrival we realized it was we who were receiving gifts from our friends. While we went there assuming we were going to be giving the gifts of caring friendship, in fact, we received a very great gift indeed.

The gift we received was not feeling good about being with a wonderful friend at the most difficult time of her life, but rather finding a person at great peace. She indeed would not "go gently into that good night" as the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas wrote. She would fight. She would maintain every aspect of her physical and spiritual health despite the chemo, despite the waiting in doctors’ offices, despite the pain and the side effects, at night in particular.

She would have her organic food. She would go for walks and go shopping. She would laugh and continue to teach others by her example the meaning of bravery and of determination. She would be an inspiration to her husband and to her many friends.

One of life’s most compelling positive characteristics is an unabiding sense of optimism. The people who tend to live the longest, the people who are the most successful, the people who create the greatest legacies for others, are people who view their existence and the existence of others around them with optimism. These are the people who volunteer, who are in caring professions, often involving public service. These are the people who attract others to want to be with them and to spend time with them.

These are the characteristics my friend Kathy reminded us of just by being herself in the face of great adversity. Her optimism’s close relative is clearly a sense of humor. It’s hard to joke about pancreatic cancer or the thought of chemotherapy, but she could do it! She could gesture defiantly to the monster and push it away.

If each of us took lessons from Kathy and applied those lessons in the way we live our own lives and the way we relate to other people at work as well as in our communities, and especially in our families, many monsters would be pushed away. We would put off the day when terrible things happen and hasten the day and the times when we fill our lives with joy.

What to do when you yourself hear terrible words from a doctor, a police officer knocking at the door at 2 a.m. or from a colleague at work? Remember the power and the great gift of the lessons from a friend. Live each day to the fullest. Remember the importance of identifying the things that are truly meaningful in your life and emphasizing those in the way you live and the way you treat other people. Be healthy in the physical and in the spiritual sense. Be adventurous. Be at peace.

We flew across the country to give our hugs, our time and our caring to a good friend. We flew back having received far more than we gave.

The HR Doctor wishes you all the best,

Phil Rosenberg •


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