01 Aug Bruised, broken, and patched together – and still craving more.
A life through curiosity, discovery, and very bad cancer.
My life has been wild.
It’s been a ride on the arrow of ancient time, and all space on the planet, and deep into the passions of mind and heart, all wrapped in bows of raptures and disasters. And here I am, bruised, broken, and patched together, still craving more.
It was just when I thought the chaos in my life would finally give way to sanity when it happened. My younger son had just graduated from Berkeley physics, and I was driving home on the 5 Fwy when I got the call. I had cancer – really bad cancer. It was stage 4 aggressive, with awfully bad statistics. It recurred two years later and now, after all the chemo, my hair has grown back, but so much of me has changed.
I resisted making cancer the center of my life, but there is no helping it anymore. I was not supposed to have survived – even this little much. And I may not. It changed everything. And it’s time to share the lessons. I’ll start you at the top.
Idyllic, quiet. Boring.
Life began in a picturesque, rather sleepy town in Greece, on the edge of an island in the Mediterranean – sunny, lazy beaches, the smell of pine trees leaning over blue waters, the salty Aegean wind in my face on ferryboats to the islands. But my dominant feeling growing up was… well… being bored. Everything important seemed to have happened 3,000 years before. The air was thick with civilization, and it felt heavy on my shoulders.
That dullness ended with a bang in high school, when my father suddenly died. Truth is, I was not really fond of the man, a physician very severe with me, so this felt more like a sudden hairpin turn in my life than like a plunge down a cliff.
Nothing has been dull ever since. We moved to Athens. I got into engineering school, then on to graduate school in the US. My time had finally come to go. Wanderlust to be indulged. I left my entire family behind.
Finally! Curiosity satisfied. Discovery.
It’s been a whirlwind. I had numerous careers: An aerospace engineer, a founder and CEO of a software company, a professor of global strategy, and a management consultant. I’ve been through an MBA, marriage, children, divorce, even my 15 minutes of professional fame. There’s been too much emotional agony, betrayal, depression, a loads of therapy to help me through. I raised two deeply decent young men, as a single mother, in a breathless feat of love and endurance.
Through it all, I spent every remaining ounce of strength pulling in one thing: Knowledge. Understanding – in the Greek belief that our human mind can come to know truth. For this, I bounced all over the world observing people and cultures, and I tore into volumes of science, history, philosophy.
To give you a taste of it, I have been in factories in Nanjing and Beijing; boardrooms in Germany and Japan; offices in the backstreets of Sao Paolo; village temples in India, cathedrals in France, and mosques in Singapore. I have spoken at conferences in London, and in Yangon, and places in between. I’ve traveled in bullet trains in Asia and Europe, and rickety trains and camels in India – sometimes exhilarated, sometimes exhausted. I have negotiated with, managed, taught, and loved people from all the world.
Inside my head – another world: contemplating quantum mysteries, or the magic of protein folding, the philosophies of creation, truth, and morality, or the bickering of human tribes that think they matter to the cosmos, makes me jump up and dance in joy. I am crazy. And I thought I could go on in this creative chaos. But now, everything’s changed.
I lost so much and gained so much these past few years.
I lost all sense of certainty. I lost my ability to plan for the future beyond a few months. And I lost my previously bottomless commitment to debating stubborn, inflexible minds, in the hopes of generating ‘aha’ moments to ease their pain. I will run out of time and must now choose wisely.
What I gained?
I gained an appreciation for the absurdity of the human condition. Life feels like a joke now, sometimes funny, sometimes cruel, and I finally get the joke. We pop into this universe, then we pop out, and in-between lies our drama. I laugh a whole lot more. I just look at things and burst out laughing.
I gained a weird sense of joy at being alive that is entirely illogical in my situation. I should really be depressed, yet I am not. Somehow, in this ultimate betrayal of my own body, I finally found my way to trust.
I gained a shocking number of amazing, warm, supportive friends who showed up at the hospital for all-day chemo, and flooded me with love, hugs, food, and shoulders to cry out on – which I did.
And I gained a renewed hunger for more adventure. I want more: More people, more cultures, more experiences. I want to spread what I know and absorb wiser people’s teachings.
I am not ready to give up. I don’t get some people’s dread of perishing or the hunger for the heavenly escape. To me, life is still this unlikely gift from the universe, to be cherished, explored, discovered – warts and all.
It is a wild adventure that I love.