Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Time to Breathe

Today, December 17th, 2014 is the one-year anniversary of the end of the treatment I endured to kill the remains of this vicious cancer that took half of my tongue. As I reflect back on the whole experience, I’m not sure how to feel, really. Should I be happy that it’s been over with for a year? Sad that I had to go through treatment that almost resulted in the end of my life? You can read about my near-death experience here.  How do you feel about such an anniversary? As I look back, I think the only emotion that remains is the fullness that comes with feeling blessed.

As I write this, I am at 37,000-feet flying home from spending 5-days in Miami visiting with my daughter, Sara. She’s the one who appeared in the recent USA Today/King5 video. As we were having breakfast outdoors at the Front Porch Café on Miami Beach this morning and the sun was on my face, I felt such radiating warmth. Warmth I wouldn’t have felt if I wasn’t still alive.

Over the past year I have spoken to numerous people that have confirmed that I am a walking miracle. Many who face the aggressive type of cancer I had simply don’t make it. Add to that my near-death experience in January, and I’m even more “lucky” to be alive. I don’t look at it as luck though. I remain firm in my belief that I am indeed a blessed man and am blessed by my Lord as undeserving as I am. Why ME, though? Why should I be one of the ones to actually make it through and survive?

I spoke to Tamara recently, the nurse that found me moments before I would have died back in January. Ironically she is a hospice nurse now. She has told me of other patients with similar cancers to what I had and they have since left this life. One gentleman in my Pasco, Washington, seminar had a mother pass not too long ago from squamous cell carcinoma of the tongue. Same cancer, but now she is gone. So why me? Why should I be spared while so many others lose the battle with this vicious, hateful disease?

As I sat at breakfast with Sara and we talked about the past year, I remembered the man I had met years ago at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York City. He’s the man that I have written about that had throat cancer and I met him on rounds during my last day of training. When the nurse asked him how he was doing, he paused and took what seemed like an eternity to gather his ability to swallow. I have since felt that helpless sensation during the worst of my cancer treatment. It is scary. Seems like a simple thing, swallowing. But when the radiation has burned your body both inside and out and the tissues feel like razor blades are cutting you when swallowing, the act itself is a bit of an effort. When that man finally was able to eventually swallow and answer the question, the words he spoke changed my life. He simply answered…

“I am blessed.”

That is all he uttered. Just, “I am blessed.  He spoke the words with peace and a gentle smile on is face. At that moment he didn’t “have cancer.” Not in his actions anyways – nor in his words. The gentle-spirited man had the gift of peace with a “little bit of cancer on the side.”  That moment changed me and planted a seed that would germinate until it was my turn to deal with cancer. So today when I look back and ask, “Why me? Why was I spared?” I only have one response that could ever make sense in my heart:

I am blessed.

These past few months have been a whirlwind for me. After dealing with the financial devastation that came with the costs of cancer treatment combined with an inability to earn an income, I set into motion a work schedule for this fall that was, for a lack of a better term, “ambitious.” Besides the two 1-day business classes I presented in June and July, I scheduled ten 2-day Secrets of Deep Tissue seminars throughout the country. In just 13-weeks, I taught in Honolulu, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Chicago, Sequim, Pasco, Bellingham, Kent, Fort Worth and Portland.  Maybe “ambitious” isn’t the right word… “foolish”, perhaps? In an effort to make up for lost time, I ran my new immune system a bit ragged, but I survived. It’s amazing what you can do when you have both the motivation of needing to pay the bills combined with a lot of people praying for you. Thank you to those who have been praying for me. It means the world to me.

I would be remiss if I did not also thank my intrepid lead assistant, Charity Lisherness, for carrying the largest burden of helping me during most of my seminars. Thank you also to Jessica Purvis and Sharon Harris for assisting as well.

Amidst my crazy schedule, I was asked to be a model for the Gilda’s Club Surviving with Styles fundraising luncheon in Tacoma a few weeks ago. Gene Wilder started the non-profit group after his wife, Gilda Radner, died from cancer years ago. Gilda’s Club is an amazing support for families of those fighting cancer as well as the patient’s themselves.

The models for the event were all fellow cancer survivors and it was an amazing experience. The most touching were the children who were so strong and such an inspiration, several having had to face multiple battles with cancer. The directors of the event, contacted me a few weeks prior to the event and asked me to be the main speaker, giving the “keynote” address and ask those in attendance to make a contribution toward the cause. I asked who they had give
Robert B. Haase, speaking at the Tacoma Gilda's Club
Surviving with Style fundraising luncheon, November 2014
the speech in prior years and the speakers included politicians and even Cynthia Nixon, the redhead from Sex and the City. No pressure, right? Why me? Well, I had a unique story to tell.

It’s funny. In the news story on King5/USA Today, the reporter kept referring to me as a “motivational speaker.” It’s funny because I never once referred to myself as such, but over and over in the various news reports and articles, there it was. “Robert Haase, Motivational Speaker.” It was prophetic in hindsight. 

My career has really been all about teaching seminars to groups of up to 50 healthcare professionals, but when I stood and spoke before the group of hundreds in attendance, I was at complete peace. I felt in my element. Not talking about soft tissue injuries or business/marketing topics, but about my story. I have a feeling that I will be asked more and more to not “motivate”, per se, but to encourage people. The idea is exciting to me and I can’t wait. I don’t necessarily desire that possibility as my future “career”, but an opportunity to bless people and encourage those who are facing the unthinkable.

I’m now taking a bit of a “break” until I return to teaching in February. A break for me means I’m not teaching, but I will be producing and editing two video projects from home in the coming weeks.

As I enter this Christmas season, I continue to realize how blessed I am. I have healthy parents, Bob and Violet Haase, both in their 80’s, three amazing daughters, Ashley, Sara and Holly, two awesome sisters, Linda and Lisa and I have great friends. I have a voice that continues to improve allowing me to speak for a living and I remain cancer-free I truly am a blessed man. Truly.

Thank you all for your prayers and support as I move into the future.

Very Truly Yours,

A Blessed Man

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