"Our control on the outer world is limited, temporary and often illusory."
My friends invited me to join them this past weekend for a game in Autzen Stadium in Eugene, OR. They have a grandson who plays football for the University of Oregon Ducks. A tight end. Six feet, 5 inches tall. Two-hundred thirty pounds. A little, scrawny guy.
If you’ve never attended a college football game in person, you need to know that sitting in front of your high-tech, big-screen equipment at home—no matter how many instant replays, or how many commercials you can skip—is not the same as being in the stadium.
There is a roaring, thunderous air in an arena, and it reaches deafening levels when the team shows up on the field.
My husband, Gary, and I recruited a cancer team after he was diagnosed. All players were managed well, and complemented each other; and Gary lived several years longer than the original prognosis.
I give a good deal of credit for that to our team: The medical experts, better nutrition, increased physical activity, stress management, getting plugged into community, attitude adjustment, and giving back. With our faith undergirding it all.
Gary and I were empowered by our cancer team at a time when he could have sat back, feet propped on coffee table, hoping cancer treatment alone would give him good quality of life.
The concept of team—belonging to something larger than the individual—this is empowering, heady stuff.
In no particular order, here are 7 thoughts about the concept of team:
1. Someone needs to lead the charge.
There needs to be a coach, a conductor, an instructor who knows where the team should go and how to get it there. There needs to be a leader who can see the big picture, who notes the players’, musicians’, students’ strengths, and utilizes those strengths to the advantage of the whole.
Gary was the coach of our cancer team, and I was second-in-command. We were the ones with the most skin invested in the game. And when the patient was no longer able to fully lead, the second-in-command stepped in, because she already knew the plays.
2. Team players are part of something larger than themselves.
Track is one of those sporting events that is both an individual and team activity. Each athlete competes against the opposing teams, as well as against him/herself – trying to better a time, a throw, a jump or vault. And as each athlete places well, the overall team score increases.
I’m pretty sure when the pole-vaulter is finished with his event, he’s cheering for the 1500-meter relay team. And I’m pretty sure the full team celebrates the success of each individual athlete afterward. Because without the individual achievements, the team wouldn’t be standing on the medal platform.
Our teammates, family members, and friends were in the crucible with us, especially after we learned how to humbly let people help.
3. All participants need to show up whole-heartedly.
Everyone on the team – from the coaches to the Gatorade personnel – need to show up well-prepared for their role in the pursuit of victory. Psyched up. Having studied the opponent. Head in the game. Alert.
I helped Gary manage our individual team members. Which means if, for example, nutrition and physical activity showed up whole-heartedly, it was because we embraced them and utilized them to their full potential.
4. All players share the same uniform, bench, sidelines, colors.
‘Team’ means you cheer your heart out while wearing your uniform or team colors, even when you’re not in the game. When you cheer for your teammates’ success, you’re really cheering for your own because you’re part of the whole. Even on the sidelines.
And at the end of each game, everyone shares in the victory celebration, no matter how much or little they were able to participate.
One of our team members, nutrition, was sidelined about the time chemo was introduced as palliative care. It’s nothing personal, nutrition. You did a superb job for us.
At that point, Gary was losing weight and muscle mass. Based on input from the oncology registered dietician, calories were important. Which meant anything that tasted good to the patient, the patient got. I remember a time when our freezer sported five flavors of ice cream. Because creamy and smooth was what tasted good to the patient’s chemo-laced taste buds.
5. Players need to follow the game plan.
Someone with the big-picture view devises a plan, and that plan is for the highest good of the team.
Within our full cancer team was a team of medical personnel that included nurses. Nurses were the human touch for us. They were the translators for the physicians. They softened the hospital stays, the bad news, the worse news. And they knew their roles. They weren’t the superstars, but they followed the game plan and were critical to the overall success.
6. Someone has your back, your blind side.
The 2009 movie, The Blind Side, was based on the true story of a family who took in a teen, Michael Oher, who had been drifting in and out of the school system.
There is a scene where Michael—having finally gotten his grades to the appropriate level—was at his first high school football practice with no clue that he was supposed to protect the quarterback. His ‘adopted’ mom, played by Sandra Bullock, stopped the action on the field to have a talk with Michael:
“This team is your family, Michael. When you look at [the quarterback], you think of me, how you have my back. Are you going to protect the family?”
There was no stopping Michael after that. His life was transformed as a young student and athlete by the love and discipline of his tutor and newly-adopted family, and Michael eventually played professional ball at left tackle – a position reserved for someone very large and very fast, the position that covers a right-handed quarterback’s blind side.
Team means someone has your blind side.
7. Everyone benefits – individuals as well as the whole.
Scottie Pippen was a superstar during the 1990s when the Chicago Bulls kept winning championships – six in eight years. Pippen will always be known as one of the greatest team players, perhaps because his superstarness was eclipsed by a teammate who was arguably the greatest basketball player ever to fly on the planet. Michael Jordan.
Pippen and Jordan played well together because they understood each other’s roles on the team.
This thought from Phil Jackson, their coach: “The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.”
* * *
The team can’t be successful without it’s members – athletes, musicians, nurses, sub-contractors, fellow researchers.
And these individuals can’t be successful. alone. without each other bonded together in teamwork, working toward a common goal.
The concept of team functions well when we’re facing overwhelming, crushing encounters: A cancer diagnosis, loss of a job or a way of life, financial setbacks, divorce, loss of a loved one.
As a widow, I’ve recruited the same team Hubby and I utilized in facing down cancer: Strong faith, good self-care, deep gratitude, staying connected to community, and giving back. And I am thriving and living forward, which I attribute to my team.
Which begs the question: Who’s on your team?
In 2004, Marlys’ husband, Gary, was diagnosed with late stage prostate cancer and given two years to live. The couple established a non-profit — Cancer Adventures — and presented at a variety of venues across the country including the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, MD, sharing what they were doing to live well with terminal cancer. During that time, Marlys also wrote a book, Cancer Adventures: Turning Loss into Triumph, featuring 28 cancer heroes who had established purpose and meaning, and found a way to give back.
Gary lived 10 good quality years with terminal cancer, much longer than the experts predicted. After he died in November 2014, Marlys took an early retirement from the St. Charles Cancer Center in Bend, Oregon, where she served as Survivorship Coordinator.
She is in the process of procuring a literary agent for her newest book, a memoir highlighting the lessons cancer taught them about living and dying well. While her story is one of setbacks, Marlys knows she has a greater purpose in life — a passion for showing people how to navigate life’s challenges, tenaciously and with heart wide open.
Follow Marlys on her website Cancer Adventures.
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