Living the life of a litigator doesn’t come easy. The hours are long and the stress is high. But the payoff is immeasurable.
Just ask my husband, Carlos.
Carlos knew he wanted to be a lawyer since the age of 5. For him, his path was clear. After graduating from law school at 24 years old, Carlos’s rise in the legal field came quickly. By the age of 37, he was promoted to managing shareholder at a national labor and employment boutique law firm, a promotion almost unheard of for someone that young.
But achieving — and maintaining — that kind of success came at a cost. He worked long hours, was always on the road, and barely had a second to sleep, let alone exercise or grab a nutritious meal.
After 25 years of this intense grind, it all eventually caught up with him. Just 13 days before his 49th birthday, after a routine colonoscopy, the doctor came bearing words we did not expect, nor ever thought we would hear: “Carlos, I’m very sorry to tell you, but you have cancer … Stage 3 colon cancer.”
These words would forever change Carlos’s destiny.
Coming face to face with your mortality changes you. I’m not sure I could ever find the words to describe how Carlos changed, but he did. His life literally flashed before his eyes. If he wanted to live a long life like he had planned, he had to make a choice in how he spent it.
He could 1) continue working at his firm, keeping himself busy and distracted while he let the doctors and drugs do what they do best; or 2) leave his job, join me in my solo practice, and have more time to spend with the people he loved.
The first option seemed like the safe and logical choice, especially since his firm and partners made it very clear they would support him and help him weather this storm for as long as it took. By no means was his position at risk. If anything, it was more secure than ever.
But for Carlos, the decision was a no-brainer. He thanked his partners for all their support, packed up his desk, and joined me in Entrepreneur Land. And though his new position couldn’t guarantee the same high pay and cush benefits he was used to, it gave him something more important: control over his time.
For the first time in his adult life, heck, maybe even for the first time in his entire life, Carlos was able to slow down and feel what was happening to him.
He had been so busy being busy that he hadn’t noticed his body was under extreme stress. And it was literally killing him.
He decided to take two approaches to his cancer treatment: the traditional route and what some would call the “alternative” route. The traditional route involved surgery and then six months of FOLFOX chemotherapy, an extremely powerful and painful treatment that not only killed the cancer in his body, it also attacked his healthy cells.
Despite the powerful treatment, the doctors told Carlos there was a chance that, even after the surgery and chemotherapy, his cancer could return within the next five years. If he was able to make it past that five-year mark, his odds of beating it for good increased dramatically.
Carlos didn’t want to die. He knew that in order to prevent the cancer’s return, he had to change his ways and forge a new path in controlling this disease and his life rather than letting the disease control him.
It was easier said than done, but it could be done, and he did it. His new foundation of health started with these resolutions:
- Get more sleep at night. Before his diagnosis, Carlos was an early bird. He would work 16- to 18-hour days and, no matter what time he went to bed, he would get up at 4:30 am to start all over again. He would get maybe five hours of sleep on a good night. Forcing himself to get enough sleep was a tall order for Carlos, and not something he realized he needed, but the results were immediate and exactly what his body yearned.
- Make more conscious food choices. Just before Carlos went in for that fateful colonoscopy, we watched the film Forks Over Knives, a documentary about how a plant-based, whole-food diet has been shown to help prevent and, in some cases, even reverse cancer and other diseases. We went from being omnivores to vegans overnight. While I appreciate this is not the path for everyone, I will say that at a minimum, adding more unprocessed, organic, nutrient-dense food to most meals is a good start to regaining control of your health.
- Get outside and move more. Carlos always had a weight-lifting routine, but he wasn’t doing any cardio training to strengthen his heart. He started making a point to move more, and not just on a treadmill, but in nature. He started going for walks and bike rides, and incorporating some type of movement into each day to get his blood pumping and his heart healthy.
- Process his emotions. Every day we experience some sort of emotion, whether it’s the frustration of dealing with an aggressive opposing lawyer or the joy of seeing your child master a difficult situation. When we suppress our negative experiences, or worse, deny their existence, they slowly start coming out sideways, manifesting themselves as mysterious aches and pains, illnesses, and diseases. Carlos took the time to uncover and address the experiences in his life that had caused him pain. Now he has the knowledge to recognize when he’s holding on to a negative emotion, and more important, he has the tools to release it. Don’t wait until you’re diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer to find your release. Go ahead and let the tears flow, scream out your anger, or dance your happy dance!
- Connect with his higher power. After his diagnosis, Carlos wanted to find more ways to connect with his higher power than just attending church once a week. He started meditating. He became more mindful, realizing the joy of spending time outside on a sunny day. He found prayers that helped him connect with and express his gratitude. Everyone’s definition of spirituality is different, but by learning what it means to you, you can start finding ways to feel more connected and emotionally recharged.
Just a few months ago, Carlos went in for bloodwork and tests. He had reached his five-year milestone. The doctors told him the odds of the cancer returning had decreased dramatically.
While we had an amazing gastroenterologist, surgeon, and oncologist on his team, we’re also confident that many of the life changes he made helped support their work.
Not only is Carlos healthier than he’s ever been in his life, he’s also happier.
Don’t wait until you’re given an extreme diagnosis to start taking care of yourself. By making little changes in your lifestyle now, you give yourself a better chance to deal with any challenges that come your way. Whether it’s a cancer diagnosis or a traffic jam.