The other night Charly was talking about adding a cartwheel to her beam routine. For those of you without 10 year old little girls in gymnastics, this is a pretty serious undertaking. She doesn’t have to add it, it’s not a required element, but she’s just on the cusp of nailing it every time, and wants to add it anyway. It’s a risk. An unnecessary risk. She asked what we thought, and without hesitation, Ted and I both said, take it! We said it for the same reason. It’s better to try and fail than to never have tried at all. We made sure that we were pushing her sense of spirit rather than her desire to score higher at a meet, and she got it. Completely.
Ted and I met at a drop zone in Northampton packing parachutes. This was before I dropped out of civilized life to drift around the country in a ¾ ton Chevy conversion camper van for close to a year. I was never much for convention, so when my children, who live in a world far removed from my vagabond ways, take steps into parts of the world that are not a slam dunk guarantee, I smile from ear to ear. Even though I eventually grew up and committed myself wholeheartedly to science, I’m still a risk taker. And for that, I am grateful beyond measure, and will do my best to guide my children toward any path less traveled.
The past six years have been filled with uncertainly. And at the crux of each major decision was an element of risk. Had I taken the safest route at any juncture, I would likely still be toiling away as an 11th year grad student. When I reflect back on the many MANY people who have influenced me since I’ve been on this side of the great cancer divide, there is one person who provided me with such an impactful perspective change by uttering two words, that I think I have him to thank for jumping every time.
Allan Jacobson, my graduate thesis chair, is a force of nature. Anyone who has met him has likely snorted with laughter and expanded their minds at the same time. Allan was one of the first people that I went to full of pride after our first year at cycle for survival. I went to him because we did it. We did what we never thought we could. We raised the equivalent to an R01 when we set out to raise a 50K grant. There was going to be legitimate research squarely focused on Angiosarcoma, and in a world where there was once nothing, no hope, no recourse.
Allan looked at me and said, “Now What”. I was too busy reveling to take a step back and ask that of myself. Now What? Allan said that as great as our accomplishments were, that we needed to focus more than ever on what was next. What a humbling experience to know that there would never be reason to be full of anything except the drive to do more.
I wasn’t going to accomplish “Now What” from my graduate bench. But man was it scary to defend my thesis. I left behind the shelter of an incredible graduate mentor, who provided a safe pace for my mind and my heart. I left behind kick ass insurance. I left behind the type of science that fueled me. It was a risk. A very necessary risk. And when I talked to Ted, it was clear to both of us that I had to take it.
I know, in the deepest recesses of who I am, that I will never attain my ultimate goal, even though I traded in my plastic spoon for a chisel. But I will take every chance that comes my way in order to come one step closer to, “That’s what”.