The week between Christmas and New Year’s is always one I truly enjoy. Between the celebrations of Christmas and New Year’s, time seems to slow down a little, and more time is spent with our family together than at any other time throughout the year. Closing out one year and starting another also brings many into an exercise of creating goals and resolutions for the coming year. I use this week to reflect on the last 12 months, personally and professionally. In order to get to where you want to go, you have to understand where you started, and comprehend where you are now. Once reflections are completed, I will then will move into the goal-setting stage for 2023.
Personally, regarding my health, 2022 has been a year of more good days than bad. We have been in remission since October 2021. The side effects of the radiation from the summer of 2021 were still evident, with hand tremors, wound dehiscence, and headaches, but it was nothing we could not handle. We would continue to have MRI scans every three months to make sure there were no complications in my head.
On January 4, 2022, Christy and I were in Charleston, SC, for a 7-hour surgery to still try to heal the wounds in my head. While being hopeful that this would work and be our last surgery until Q4, when they would try and reshape my head, the January surgery was not a success. Three more head wound surgeries would follow in February and March, along with a Gall Bladder removal in March (you really cannot make this stuff up), and we still had one wound open on the front of my head with the Titanium Plate exposed and visible. We were presented with two options by our surgical team in Charleston. The first option was to leave the wound open and cover it daily with a wound gel and 4×4 bandage. They told us many people lived like this. The second option was to start over, with them removing my right lat muscle to cover my head (remember, my left lat muscle was removed in April 2021, and we are still rehabbing this). Needless to say, option #2 was ruled out very quickly, so we tried option #1 for six months.
I returned to work in March and fell back in love with the company I work for and the impact I could have on others. Being back around people, versus being in a state of quarantine from both COVID-19 and Cancer recovery was re-invigorating. I took on a new role with Align, and it is one of the most rewarding positions I have ever had. Through September, I was feeling good, back to my old self at work and home, and on a consistent routine.
With the MRI scans every three months, a spot was revealed on my brain in September, which was a slight concern for our surgical team. They were confident it was not cancer, but they needed to rule out this consideration and determine what this spot was (we later found out it is radiation necrosis). Also, we cultured the wound on the front of my head and learned that the plate was now infected, and the infection was spreading throughout my head. My forehead was red, and I was constantly itching it. Headaches came back daily, and sleep was tough to come by. Christy and I kept these challenges internally between the two of us, and I did my best not to show these pains and discomfort at work or to friends (thank goodness for the medical cabinets we have at work with Tylenol). We met with some doctors at UNC-Chapel Hill who presented us with a new option…remove the entire titanium plate, shift the existing flap on my head, and close the rest of my head by shifting up my neck, which will lead to multiple new scars. They would also conduct several biopsies in my brain during surgery to determine where the infections were and ensure the cancer was not back. The main risk was would the sutures and staples keep the wounds closed, and for the future, I would not have the titanium plate in my head to protect my missing skull. We decided to take this risk of surgery, with the confidence of the surgical team impacting our decision.
We knew the surgery would be in November, and we asked for it to be the week before Thanksgiving. Connor would be home from college, and we were all looking forward to spending the holiday together. Surgery was posted for 11:00 AM on November 14. The multi-disciplinary procedure between Neurosurgery, ENT, and Plastics would take about 5-7 hours, and discharge would be 4-5 days after surgery was completed. Anesthesia was given to me at 10:30 AM, I was on the surgical table by 11:00 AM, placed in the prone position, and ready to go with the Foo Fighters music playing in the background. We had forgotten that nothing is simple with our case. I woke up at 11:45 PM Monday night. The surgery was more complex than anticipated, with several challenges presenting themselves to the surgical team.
Results from the surgical biopsies showed that I had four different infections in my head, which would require a heavy dose of antibiotics for six weeks, with one antibiotic being a constant 24-hour-a-day delivery into my body. They outfitted me with a machine and shoulder bag, put a PICC line into my left bicep, and I was connected to this machine for 23 -24 hours a day until December 27. The three other antibiotics were taken orally. My neck was tight from the shifting, and we had many staples and prolene sutures placed in my head and down my right shoulder to keep everything tight. We are still in a nursing shortage in the U.S., and I was in Intensive Care for the three days after surgery and finally moved to the neurosurgical floor on Thursday, November 17. We should have been discharged on Tuesday, November 22, but we had to have a home health nurse at our home to admit us. There was no home health company to do this for us, so we wound up spending Thanksgiving in the hospital, with a great dinner provided by my peers, and gave thanks to the amazing nurses who worked on floor seven and got us through these two weeks. We were discharged on Friday, November 25. It was a Thanksgiving we will always remember.
With each health situation we have been through over the last 18 months, I tried to take something away to help me lead others. My biggest takeaway from this November 2022 surgery was to focus on the customer’s experience as the number one priority. If we are making decisions that do not improve the experience of the end user (internal customer or external customer), then we need to re-evaluate this choice. I spent much of my hospital time following up on social media with leadership and business blogs, posts, and podcasts (also, the World Cup saved me from a sanity perspective in the hospital). One of the recurrent themes I noticed in recent articles and posts from industry thought leaders was that creating a positive work culture and understanding the psychology of influencing people was constant. Being more strategic and focusing on results is still an important part of any business, but leading people and creating value with your organization’s culture and employees is the number one theme for many heading into 2023.
We are hoping this November surgery is our last one for a while (12 surgeries in the last 18 months could be considered a lot), but this is nothing that we cannot handle. My wife, children, friends, and co-workers all support us, and we will win this battle with the right mindset. We are blessed beyond measure heading into 2023, and we know this will be a great year. I leave you with some takeaways going into 2023.
- Every day is a gift. Don’t take life or health for granted.
- Create a “Board of Directors” for your personal development. A group of 3-5 mentors with varying backgrounds who challenge you to consistently be better every day. Don’t just choose people who think and act as you do. Listen to their advice and implement suggestions.
- Find people you trust to take the wheel for you when needed.
- It’s amazing how many people are focused on the past when they complain about the present and worry about the future. Leadership and Development should always be forward-facing. You cannot effectively lead when you focus on the past.
- “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and Courage are not always comfortable, but they are never considered a weakness” – Brene Brown
In memory of Colin Hadley, who recently passed away after a heroic battle with ALS over the years. Collin – Your strength in battling ALS inspired me to be better. You were the best strategic marketer I have ever worked with. You were genuine, authentic, always positive, and put your family first. You were an amazing man who I was fortunate to know. Our prayers are with your family.
Well Done > Well Said