Happy Anniversary

petscanThis week marks my three-year anniversary in full remission from cancer.   I went in last week for a PET scan, and got my results back this week.   PET scans take a series of 3D images of your body as it absorbs an injected radioactive sugar.

As the sugar metabolizes, that process is reflected as a glowing image on the scan.   If cancer is present in lymph nodes, bone marrow or organs, you can literally see the cancer cells light up as  living, metabolizing entities.

For me this time around,  the only thing that glowed on that scan were my heart and my brain.   I saw  my internal organs and systems quietly going about their business, without a trace of cancer.

In the scan, my heart glowed the brightest (literally and figuratively).  I can’t find the right words to express what a true sense of relief and renewal I experienced in seeing that image.  I am grateful to the clinical researchers,  scientists and physicians responsible for the   0-year clinical trial of immunotherapy  drug Epratuzamab, created by Immunomedics,    This is one of the first known experiences recorded of follicular-cell lymphoma being eradicated at the bone marrow level.  Six more years until we see the study results, and hopefully soon after that,  see this cancer drug on the market.

If you ever have a chance to take advantage of, or support someone who is considering  entering a clinical trial,  please do.

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Do You Feel Lucky?

I sure do.   Here’s a quick story for you about why.

A few years ago we decided to get some farm animals.  At the time, we lived on 18 acres in Lyme, NH.   Building a barn, and getting farm animals seemed like the natural thing to do.   It was a fun, family experiment.

We started out with three sheep, a steer named Opie, and some chickens.   We figured it would be fun to have lambs in the spring, so one winter we signed up for a ‘rent-a-ram program’ and welcomed Rambo to the flock.  He delivered and in the Spring of 2009 we had three pregnant sheep.   

During this same time I was going through an experimental treatment for follicular cell lymphoma.   After finding a random lump on my cheek on Christmas morning 2008, I was diagnosed  with stage 4 cancer of the immune system.    With the help of Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center,  I was selected as one of 58 people in the world to join a 10 year study on the effects of a combined set of  immunotherapy drugs on follicular cell lymphoma.   This is a cancer that does not yet have a known cure, and had an average life expectancy of 7-10 years. 

Through 2009, I received 6 hour infusions of two immunotherapy drugs every other month for nine months.    Just one year later the bone marrow biopsies, pet scans and cat scans revealed that the cancer was eradicated at the bone marrow level.   This type of success had never been seen before with follicular cell lymphoma.  I am lucky.

 But what does this have to do with farm animals? 

Well, one spring morning in 2009 as we were heading to the hospital for a treatment sessions, one of our sheep had their first lamb.  It was little, fragile and darling.  We were so excited to have our first baby lamb on the farm.   Unfortunately when we got back that afternoon from the hospital, things were not looking so good.    The mother sheep was unsuccessful in birthing a second lamb, and as a result had rejected the new-born.   The little baby lamb was slowly starving to death.

In the midst of this discovery, my daughter needed to get to softball game, so my husband and I agreed that I should just try to do what I could on my own to help.   As I tried to get the baby sheep to drink from a bottle, my daughter stopped by the barn on the way to her game.     She said, “Mom, if he  lives, I will call him Lucky.  And if he dies, I will call him Spirit.”  

I’ll never forget that afternoon.   After a full day of cancer treatment, I am sitting in a mucky stall in the barn surrounded by a bunch of farm animals and flies.   That song by The Talking Heads was going through my head, “This is not my beautiful house, this is not my beautiful wife.”  It felt surreal.    I was overwhelmed with the prospect of trying to nurse this little lamb back to health.   I was overwhelmed with the prospect of being dead in 7 years.    

It was a sad experience trying to get this little creature to eat.  This little lamb had gone too long without food that day.  Within an hour he died in my arms.    We buried “Spirit” in the yard after the softball game.  

Flash forward to two years later.    Here I am.   100% cancer-free.  Our newest family experiment  is affectionately called the “life simplification plan”.      We are living in Cary, NC.    Thankfully, you can’t keep sheep on a golf course.   My daughter loves her new school,  my husband is happy and in the best shape of his life, and I love my work.   But the most important thing is crystal clear:  we are all healthy.

So here’s to living.  

If we live, we are lucky.  If we thrive in the life we create,  we are lucky as hell.

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All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy

Remember that line from the Shining?  Jack was one scary guy.  I’m glad he didn’t work in my office.   But his manifesto was right on the money.   All work and no play is dull as hell.  

We learn best when we are trying new things with an open mindset.  We build stronger work relationships when we are in a positive state of mind.   So how do we create this kind of environment at work?  Add more play to work.

Toys.  Pass around a jar of playdoh at your next meeting and take a whiff.     Ah, the smell of childhood.  Now go ahead and give it a good squish.  Do you feel those creative juices starting to flow?   

Group Activity.  Take your team out to do a community service activity.  This week we took a group of 30 new hires out to a park renovation site in Raleigh and spent two hours painting fences.  It was 85 degrees under a bright blue sky.   We accomplished good work for the local park, but the sense of group pride and camaraderie generated was priceless.  

Shows.   Last month we had a large meeting in Chicago with our senior leaders and high potentials from across the Americas.   For fun, we watched the Blue Man Group perform.  The show was innovating, fresh and engaging.   Alot like the type of company that we are trying to be.   After the show the producer, music director and one of the blue men talked with our group.   They described that a great show is when they feel fully engaged with the audience when everyone is having fun.  Work is the same way.  Great work happened when we are fully engaged.   

Exercise.   At this same meeting, we closed out the two-day session with a 45 minute Tai Chi lesson.   Picture 90 people in bright green shirts posing like the karate kid.   We took a risk adding this to the itinerary, but the feedback was incredibly positive.   Why? because it was a fun.

Go ahead.  Add more play to work.

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Connecting the Dots

Have you ever wondered about why you’ve made the decisions that you’ve made?  What was driving you to make that decision?   Money?  Pride? Fear?  Love?  Family?

The best decisions in life are those that are driven by our values.   But this is easier said than done.

A friend of mine has a saying; “I vote with my calendar”.    In other words, if he cares about a topic – he’ll show up for your meeting.  (Wouldn’t it be nice to have that kind of autonomy in your job?)   But this mindset can also be applied to our everyday life.  If something matters to us-  we should make time for it.   If a decision is in line with our values-  we should do it.

There is a huge assumption in this statement.  The assumption is that we know what are values are- and in what order.  

So here is my question for  you.   Do you have a clear understanding of the priority order of your values – and are the decisions that you are making in line with these?   If you answered yes to this question, I would love to hear your story.  If nothing other than to learn from your story- and admire you for it.

Steve Jobs has a story that I particularly admire.   In his 2005 Commencement speak at Stanford he shares three stories that carry a simple, powerful lesson.   If you have not had a chance to hear it,  it is worth the 14.34 minutes to sit back and listen.

Jobs tells a story about connecting the dots.    He describes his decision to drop out of college.    For Jobs, becoming a college dropout opened up the opportunity to drop in on classes that actually interested him.   He was voting with his calendar.   One of these courses was about calligraphy.   At the time this decision to take this class seemed pretty random.  But ten years later, when developing the first Macintosh computer, he recalled the beautiful Sanskrit writing from that calligraphy course, and the concept of integrating creative font typography on the Apple was born.    It could be said that Job’s decision to  drop out of college and follow his passion to learn about things that interested him changed the face of personal computing- forever.     The dots connected.

The picture of your life will emerge based on the decisions that you make.   The decisions that you make in life matter.   The best decisions are those made that are in line with your own personal values as the top priority.   “Best” does not mean “easiest”,   but God forbid we wake up one morning and realize that we are living someone else’s definition of happiness.

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Are you ‘Deliberate, Cerebral and Calm’?

If you answered yes to this question,  then lucky you.  Congratulations. 

If not, then you might just be one of those people whose emotions run closer to the surface. 

I used to believe that we were stuck with our demeanor.  This is just the way I am wired.  It typically goes something like this:

Shit happens = I freak out

Turns out there are actually some useful tools that we can use to manage our choice on how to respond.   Interest thing, the word respond.   I chose this word on purpose.  Responding is different than reacting.  These are two different things.

When we listen to others, something fascinating happens inside of our brains.   We are using multiple senses.  It is not just what is being said, it is how it is being said.   Eye contact, voice tone, body language.  Your brain is using everything at its disposal to discern meaning.   At this point,  it is easy to fall into the trap of making a judgement about the other person’s intention.  

But guess what.  Our assumptions are largely based on the story going through our head while the other person is talking.   We can process more words per second than what is being communiated.  We fill that space in our head with the wrong thing.  We hear our assumptions.  They tell us that we understand their intention. 

A better model is to fill that space with interpretation and evaluation before you respond.   As you are listening, check for understanding.  Words mean different things to different people.  Ask questions.  Encourage the other person to keep talking.   Take the time to evaluate what you are hearing.  How credible is it? What is the evidence? Is this a fact, an opinion, a prediction?  Take time to discern.   Then respond.   Respond with what you say and what you show.  Lead your emotions- don’t let them lead you.  And most importantly, before you open your mouth, ask yourself , “is what I am about to say of value?”

I want to thank my friend Dr. Rick Bommelje for reminding me of the power we have within ourselves to be better listeners.  I may never be described as a deliberate, cerebral and calm, but I can certainly work toward becoming a more mindful, thoughtful person through how I choose to respond.



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What’s in a Name?

The company I work for recently launched a global brand refresh.  A logo with softer, rounded edges, a new color and lower case font.   The goal?  To project a softer, kinder, more modern image to the world.   

If a company can successfully launch a brand refresh, why can’t I?   Turning 43 this month and starting off in a new town in North Carolina, it seems like the perfect time to try out a brand refresh of my own. 

So for starters- I’m changing my name to Missy.   It has that light, easy, friendly feel to it, doesn’t it?  Kind of like a softer, kinder version of me.  Melissa sounds too much like Methuselah.  Thick and tired and old.   Not the look I’m going for.  

It sounds easy enough to just change your name,  but to be honest, I was a bit reticent about making the switch.  

In junior high I tried going by Missy, but I picked up the unfortunate nickname of Missy Moo Cow, or Moo for short.  It got worse in college when that nickname morphed into Mooster (thanks to Liz Payne).   Not exactly the personal brand one might aspire too.  “Hi don’t mind the extra 15 pounds of beer weight and the fact that my friends call me Mooster- I have a GREAT personality.”    But I digress.  Back to my brand refresh.

So last night Tom and I went to a new member mixer at Prestonwood Country Club, and I put “Missy Carlson” on the name tag.  It felt so wierd, kind of cool actually, to be referred to by the name reserved in the past only for my family and close friends.  It was familiar.  It was friendly.  And since they’ve just met me, they were not associating me with a cow.    

So far so good.   Next step in the brand refresh? A new mani/pedi and a nice long stroll through Nordstrom.   BaBAAM!

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet…. unless you’re being referred to as a cow.”
Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

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Back to School

Last night was back to school welcome night for the new kids and parents at Cary Academy.  My daughter starts sixth grade next week.    She is totally psyched and up for the challenge.  Thank God.

 For me, moving to a new town and starting sixth grade was pretty much a nightmare.  Of course it all turned out fine (it always does) but being the new kid in middle school can be brutal.

I remember walking into the cafeteria my first week and not knowing where to sit.  I went up to a group of girls and asked if I could sit with them.  One of the girls (who will remain nameless) suggested that I should go sit at the “looser table”.   Luckily, the kids there had some seats available.    

I remember my mom suggesting I call one of the more popular girls to come over and play.  After getting up the nerve to give it a try, I still remember her response:  “How did you get my number”?  The kid was mortified.  

In middle school,  that 80’s preppy- layered look was all the rage.  Turtle neck + Izod w/ collar up + long sleeve collared shirt  + LL Bean sweater, and chinos.  I looked like the Michelin man.  But, if someone could see your bra strap through your clothes- you were a total skank.  Brutal.

So this is the crap I am thinking of when I went to the back to school thing last night.  How much it sucked to be in middle school.     What a relief to find out that starting sixth grade doesn’t have to be so brutal.   

  • Wondering where to sit at lunch?  No problem.  Lunch is served family style- with all sixth graders assigned to a table with a faculty member, and they switch around every 3 weeks.
  • Wondering what to wear?  No problem.  Just check out the easy to follow dress code.
  • Wondering if you will make friends? No problem.  There are a series of planned activities and events provided on campus specifically designed to foster friendships and limit cliques.

When we were leaving last night, my daughter ran over and hugged a girl that she had met at camp this summer.   She came back all smiles.   “Cool mom, I’m making friends already”.    

Way to go honey.  Sixth grade is going to be awesome.


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