July 26, 2014
[NOTE TO PARENTS OF CURRENT CAMPERS - I only post articles occasionally on this blog. During camp, we put up at least 3 articles each day in the password-controlled section of our site (called CampIntouch). Just go to where you see the photos and you will also see a link for “News”. That is where we put the daily blogs during camp.]
I would like to share a slightly personal blog today.
Earlier this year, I learned that my younger brother JJ was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of lung cancer that had metastasized to his brain. This particular form of lung cancer is extremely rare and affects non-smokers.
His approach to his treatment has become a source of inspiration to me and many other people. He declared himself in an all-out battle and formed “JJ’s Fight Club” (http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/jjbaskinsfightclub). The “Fight Club” has members in every state and dozens of countries.
As you might imagine, this has been a deeply demanding experience for him, his wonderful wife and their two boys (ages 12 and 9) as well as all of us who love him.
JJ made a choice to see this as an opportunity to continue his desire to help people. When he had a birthday party last month, he walked around and introduced people to other talented individuals. He extolled people to complete tasks that they have taken on.
Rather than focus on his own situation, he saw his illness as a chance to increase his impact.
This led him to call me a few weeks before our counselor orientation, “I would like to talk with your counselors. I do not want to make this about me, but I think I might be able to share something that could make this summer better.”
Knowing him to be a talented and effective speaker, I agreed.
I was not quite ready for what he brought to us. He is the essence or what he shared.
“I learned I am quite sick. Some diagnoses suggest that I will not be here next year. Personally, I choose not to focus on them. I plan to be here for many years.
I plan to watch my sons graduate. I look forward to many summers and holidays with them.
Being sick makes you see things differently. You realize what is insignificant and what is precious. Nothing is more precious to me than my family – than my wife and boys.
I savor my time with them and want to maximize my time with them.
Yet I will send them to camp for two weeks to be with you. Why in the world would I do that? I do that because you can give my wonderful boys some gifts that I cannot give them, including confidence that they can thrive away from our shadow. They also develop interpersonal skills, resilience and optimism.
They love me, but they will often listen better to a cool 20 year-old than a parent. I need them to shine. I want them to have glorious lives.
For these reasons, I share them with you when I want to spend more time with them. So I need you to be the best possible counselors you can be. I need you to be extraordinary.
This is not a summer job. Hundreds of parents are making decisions just like ours–they are placing trust in you to give our kids a mentor, to foster a community for 2-3 weeks that will never happen again. It is a calling, not a job.
Even if I thought I only had 6 or 7 months to live, they would be here with you this summer so that they can get your gifts. Please make them the best gifts you can.”
As you might imagine, this was staggeringly powerful for all of us. We left that short talk re-focused on our mission. We left with even more passion and commitment.
I know that this talk has helped make this our best summer ever.
I am delighted to report that the news since then has been wonderful. He learned that he is a genetic match for a form of oral chemotherapy that is highly effective against his rare form of cancer. He also received a series of radiation treatments to combat the cancer in his brain. Two weeks ago, we learned that this treatment had worked incredibly well. While the final verdict is not yet in, the doctors said that his MRI was a “very clean scan” and that the vast majority of the cancer in his brain was gone and the rest seemed to be retreating. They think he has a good chance at having a clean brain scan in September. Meanwhile, the oral chemotherapy treatment is attacking the cancer in his lungs.
He is not out of the woods, but we are so happy with this news. My mind, however, goes back to that day before he had much good news when he inspired our counselors. I have rarely been prouder of a person than I was of him that day.
Nor have I felt quite as strong a commitment to doing my best job possible.
Keep fighting JJ!