Tuesday, January 29, 2013


Hey there, Teddy Shuman -- yep, I'm talking to you tonight. When you read this, you'll be much older, but as I type from the comfort of the healing chair that Auntie Woof and her family gave me, you are a few weeks away from turning five years old (by the way, I can't wait to see if you still call her Auntie Woof!). I admit, I'm by no means an expert on four year olds, or five year olds for that matter. In fact, you're the first one that I've ever really gotten to know, so perhaps what I have to say about you is true for most other kids your age.

Nevertheless, I want to tell you that at this stage of your life you are a, well, how to put this lightly? ... you are a terrible loser! Calm down, silly -- I don't mean that you're a "loser," because in fact, you're incredible. But, when you lose a game of anything, you deserve to be put in a straightjacket because you go bat-shit-clear-out-the-room crazy. Hockey sticks fly, heads get butted against hard surfaces, tears and boogers fall, and your screams can be heard for miles. It's not pretty and I'm still trying to figure out if I can blame your Dad for it (kidding -- although I have seen him throw a golf club or two). Seriously though, I feel confident that by the time you read this, you'll have grown out of this loser-of-a-loser stage.

In the meantime, I'll watch you win your iPad NHL 2K11 hockey game by scores of 27-1 because you insist on playing at the easiest level against the worst teams. That's not exactly your Dad's approach, but you'll learn all about his coaching style soon enough. I'll also cherish some of your priceless comments, for instance, like the time last week when you told your Papa that he could stop playing knee hockey with you if he let you win the game. And most of all, I'll enjoy every moment I get to play games with you -- like last Sunday afternoon when we skated on the reservoir together. Daddy stayed home with Annabel while she napped so I could see you skate on the rez, as we call it. You were awesome. We skated for hours, and I could think of little more than how much I loved that time with you. Of course, your exit from the rez that day was far from lovely -- I had to chase you around the ice after my toes had gone numb (cold numb, not neuropathy numb!) -- but we were friends again by the time we got home. 

Teddy skating on the rez last weekend.
OK, Annabel -- your turn. You're too young for me to see too much of your attitude about winning and losing, but I can tell you this -- you seem to be all about the feeling of accomplishment. You want to do everything yourself and when you do, you declare triumphantly, I did it! You want to put on your own diaper, climb on the potty by yourself, get your own ice cubes, pick your own outfit, and buckle yourself into your carseat without any help. Your determination and persistance is beyond impressive. While I love this about you, I won't lie -- it requires a heck of a lot of patience to stand by and watch you try to put your own toothpaste on your toothbrush even though the Spiderman bottle is too hard for you to squeeze. Eventually, you command me -- Mama, you help me! and truthfully, I love to help you. 

Now, the rest is for both of you ... I sometimes wonder how me, your Dad, and all of your playful relatives can best teach you how to deal with victory and defeat. I really have no idea, but nevertheless, that's what I want to talk to you guys about tonight. 

There are two things coming up for me in the next week that I really want to win. The first, and by far the more important one, is my client's case that we will argue in court one week from today. I can't even let my mind go to anything but victory for her because defeat, I am convinced, could mean a very tragic fate. So I'll leave that one alone for now. The second one, however, is a writing contest that I entered and wrote about HERE (the winner is supposed to be announced on or around February 1st). Before tonight, I was too scared or embarrassed or something to admit how much this one means to me. But here I go, confessing that it means a lot. 

At about 8:00pm on December 7th, I showed your Dad the essay that I had written for the contest sponsored by the Ladies' Home Journal. The prescribed essay topic was The Day That Changed Your Life and all entries to the national contest were due at midnight. I had thought about the essay topic for months, every day since Liza had told me about it. But for some reason, I found my answer to the essay question only just before it was due. I didn't have much time by that point, and I didn't feel great, but I wholeheartedly believed in what I wrote, so it felt as good to write that essay as it felt to write my blogs. And that means really good.

Your Dad had lots of teacherly comments to my entry. Basically, he thought I should rewrite some parts and delete others. After I heard his thoughts about why, I totally agreed with him. So I went back to my desk with just a few hours remaining. And I wrote. I deleted paragraphs and wrote some more. Around 10:30, I emailed my essay to the magazine. I felt really sick from the chemo that night. But more than that, I felt proud, not only of what I had written, but more for the clarity that I found in writing it. 

I don't expect to win a national writing contest any more than I expect to win the lottery when I play. But here's the crazy thing -- in the handful of times that I've played the lottery, I don't even waste time hoping that I win. If I'm going to have good luck in this world, I'd rather it be for something that matters -- like getting a curable type of cancer rather than an incurable kind -- and I don't want to waste that luck on the lottery. Of course, if I won, I have a whole list of things that I'd do. But none of them involve me changing much about my current life at all. Anyways, I've gotten off track (you both get that trait from me -- sorry!).

Now that I think about it, I have one other Teddy story while I'm on this lottery topic...One day a few months ago, one of the multi-state lottery jackpots was at or near an all-time high. Auntie Woof had come with me to pick you two up from school and once you were in the car, we stopped at Cassie's convenience store to buy our tickets. Teddy, we let you pick a number and once we started telling you about the lottery, you got really upset. What if we don't win? you cried, again proving lots of what I wrote about above. Brianne and I laughed and explained that We won't win, I can promise you that! Then we told you that the most important thing was that a really good person wins and spends the money in really good ways to help people. You liked that answer and eventually stopped crying. You were also OK the next morning when I had to break the shocking news to you that, in fact, we had lost the lottery the night before. (I'm still hoping that some awesome person was the winner that night.) 

OK, enough lottery tangents. My point with this is that while I don't waste my time hoping I win the lottery, I have woken up every morning the past few weeks hoping that I win this writing contest. Before cancer, I may have pretended that I didn't care about the outcome, and maybe then I wouldn't have. But now I do. Does that mean I'll almost certainly have to admit my loss to the blogosphere in a few days? Does that mean that you'll have to know that I, too, am a "loser?" Of course it does. But that's OK. Losing is OK. 

Losing is OK as long as you are playing a game you love. Because the game part -- the love part -- will be there no matter what. If it's just the winning part you love then you may be doomed. Which makes me think of this famous Vince Lombardi speech, What it Takes to be Number One. I used to love this speech. 

Winning is not a sometime thing; it's an all the time thing. You don't win once in a while; you don't do things right once in a while; you do them right all the time. Winning is a habit.

Unfortunately, so is losing.

There is no room for second place. There is only one place in my game, and that's first place. I have finished second twice in my time at Green Bay, and I don't ever want to finish second again. There is a second place bowl game, but it is a game for losers played by losers. It is and always has been an American zeal to be first in anything we do, and to win, and to win, and to win.

Every time a football player goes to play his trade he's got to play from the ground up - from the soles of his feet right up to his head. Every inch of him has to play. Some guys play with their heads. That's O.K. You've got to be smart to be number one in any business. But more importantly, you've got to play with your heart, with every fiber of your body. If you're lucky enough to find a guy with a lot of head and a lot of heart, he's never going to come off the field second.

Running a football team is no different than running any other kind of organization - an army, a political party or a business. The principles are the same. The object is to win - to beat the other guy. Maybe that sounds hard or cruel. I don't think it is.

It is a reality of life that men are competitive and the most competitive games draw the most competitive men. That's why they are there - to compete. To know the rules and objectives when they get in the game. The object is to win fairly, squarely, by the rules - but to win.

And in truth, I've never known a man worth his salt who in the long run, deep down in his heart, didn't appreciate the grind, the discipline. There is something in good men that really yearns for discipline and the harsh reality of head to head combat.

I don't say these things because I believe in the 'brute' nature of man or that men must be brutalized to be combative. I believe in God, and I believe in human decency. But I firmly believe that any man's finest hour - his greatest fulfillment to all he holds dear - is that moment when he has to work his heart out in a good cause and he's exhausted on the field of battle - victorious.

I would love the opportunity to sit down with Vince Lombardi and talk about this speech. I'd start with this question -- Mr. Lombardi, you once said, "If you're lucky enough to find a guy with a lot of head and a lot of heart, he's never going to come off the field second." Do you really think that's true? Aren't there lots of men and women, girls and boys, who have a lot of head and a lot of heart and they still come off the field second or third, or last? Maybe I'm just dumb and you've already realized the main point I'm missing. But truthfully, even though I still love parts of this speech, there are other parts that I'm not so keen on anymore. Here's why. 

There are children out there born with no legs, and they run. There is a father that pushes his disabled son through triathlons and marathons so that the son can feel wind on his face. There are girls who play football, and just last week I watched a female goalie defend Canton's opponent's net at a boy's ice hockey game (and I shamelessly cheered for her). There are -- I have to believe -- cyclists and baseball players who have never doped, whose blood in their veins is their own, despite that in rejecting a pervasive culture, they knew they were doomed to failure. I'm guessing that these people don't always win, win, win. I'm guessing that there is something more to their fight than "to beat the other guy." 

I'd also want to talk with Mr. Lombardi about the most poetic part of his speech -- the end. These words still instinctually sing to me, but now that I return to them years later, I'm eager to argue a different part of the story. First, for the parts with which I agree. I agree "that any man's finest hour - his greatest fulfillment to all he holds dear - is that moment when he has to work his heart out in a good cause and he's exhausted on the field of battle - victorious." But where my eye was once drawn to the "victorious" part, it's now drawn to two other words. It's drawn to "hour" and to "moment." 

I do think that there is a mighty fine hour and a pretty awesome moment to be cherished in victory. Indeed, if my client wins in court next week or if by some miracle I was to win a writing contest, I would feel elation like Mr. Lombardi has depicted. But that feeling will fade, of that I'm sure. What will then remain is something much deeper and much more important. What will remain is my client's opportunity to be safe from harm, to build a life she deserves. What could remain would be my opportunity to share with the world what I love to do -- to write to you, my kids, and others for whom this somehow helps. 

Mr. Lombardi's last sentence in the speech above talks about hours and moments. But I think that so much of what comes before and after those hours and those moments are what really matters. I think this about things like sports and contests, and I think this about things like cancer. 

Because here's the truth -- there's only so much I can do in the rest of my fight against cancer. I will exercise, and I even dragged by tired (and cold) butt out of bed at 5am this morning to do so. I will eat well (not counting the bowls -- yes, plural -- of chocolate ice cream that I couldn't resist tonight). But no matter how much I have in my brain or my heart, I know the reality that my cancer could recur. I don't think that Vince Lombardi was talking about cancer in his speech so I'm not insulting his rhetoric in this part of my post. I'm just using it as a springboard. 

I thought that by this time -- 2013 -- I'd be lying victorious on my field of battle -- cancer-free. I absolutely believe that I am now cancer-free and there have been hours and moments when that victory has been indescribably sweet. But those hours and minutes are not what remains with me. What remains with me are the many days that have brought me to those moments; many days after cancer and many days before. I haven't won in all of those days, so winning never got to be a habit. I lost sometimes, but that didn't become a habit either. 

What has become a habit, however, is figuring out a way to win sometimes, lose others, and still keep moving forward. My habit is the belief -- the hope -- that I will move forward, and the faith that I'll find the courage to do so. 

From the day I chose the name of this blog -- Tara Beats Cancer -- I've worried about it (Teddy, you get that worrying thing from me too -- sorry! Annabel, so far you seem pretty darn carefree). It happens a lot less lately, but every now and then I still wonder, What if cancer beats me? In Vince Lombardi terms, I wonder, What if I come in second despite that I've played with my heart and every fiber of my body? 

Tonight something magical happened as it always seems to when I sit down here. I had absolutely no idea what I would write about; I just thought of a fit that Teddy threw at our neighbor's house last weekend when he lost a hockey game on their homemade outdoor rink. On a completely unrelated note, I thought about how much I want to win that writing contest. And I started to write. 

Then, somehow, I got myself to the lottery and to Vince Lombardi, and to the idea of What it Takes to be Number One; a roundabout route, I know. But where I've landed is perhaps one of the most incredible places of all. It's this. Maybe I never win a writing contest. Maybe my cancer comes back (Brian will make me knock on wood). But this I know -- "I win" isn't in the title of this blog because of an hour or a moment of victory. It's there because of a lifetime of fulfillment, no matter how long that lifetime may be. It's there because of all the people that stood with me on the field of battle and helped me fight. This blog is about you. You're my victory. 

1 comment:

  1. Tara, what an amazing heartfelt post. I loved reading this - you have no idea what an inspiration you are. In awe of your courage -