A Room Full Of Heroes

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A Room Full Of Heroes

A Room Full Of Heroes
Where do heroes come from? Is being a hero like creating great art – we are not sure where they come from but we recognize them when we see them? Or, are heroes created by outstanding circumstance. I saw Miles Davis* play years ago. Miles was a hero. I’ve met larger than life heroes including Robert Rauschenberg, * Annie Leibovitz* and author Seth Godin* and I had the privilege to sit in a room full of heroes today.

Karen Cochran, Executive Director Office of Development for the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center, invited me to the spring Board of Overseers Meeting for the new Duke Cancer Center. The people on Duke’s Cancer Center Board are exceptional and heroic. Men and women from all over the country and the world met today to create an amazing thing. These are men and women on a mission.

 My last post, Strangers Always Save Our Lives, tapped into something I saw today. I’m here living, writing, riding bicycles because of researchers, doctors, nurses and people like those I met today. Seth Godin, in Linchpin his latest book, defines art as a personal gift that changes the recipient. Here is what Seth says on page 83:

Art is a personal gift that changes the recipient. The medium doesn’t matter. The intent does.

Irony is an interesting thing. I read Seth’s definition just before Duke’s meeting started and connected the dots. Everyone on Duke’s Comprehensive Cancer Center’s board is an artist. They are giving one of the most intimate and personal gifts possible – life. Speaking to Karen yesterday she mentioned creating time lines. I’ve lived inside of business time lines for thirty years, so the concept was immediately intriguing.

Karen explained working with Ogilvy and Mather, Duke’s Cancer Center’s agency, they developed time lines of life after what could have easily, in the old days, been an exit point. One breast cancer survivor's time line extended twenty years past the old point of no return – TWENTY YEARS. What is the value of twenty years? What a magnificent gift. What a heroic thing.

I need to earn my life. I realized after hearing a doctor say “cancer” and my name in the same sentence. Honestly, my first thought was depressing. I thought of my life’s glass as half empty. It is easy to think this way. Dan Heath, author with his brother Chip of Switch: How to change when change is hard and Made To Stick, spoke at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business a few weeks ago. Dan asked a great question. “Why,” Dan asked an audience of three hundred MBA students, faculty and me, “don’t we obsess over success?” We perpetually look at our life’s glass as half empty obsessing on the “failures”. Serendipity and living a dream changed how I see life.

I help college students from all over the world write better admissions essays. My first job was as an Assistant Director of Admissions at Vassar College. Putting my experience at Vassar online prompted a student I interviewed years and years ago to email. He thanked me for our connection. Our brief conversation changed his life. He attended Vassar. Vassar was the best time of a difficult life, a time he drew strength from every day. Two serendipitous moments in one. I met hundreds of students, probably thousands, and, thanks to the Internet one of those students reminded me how full my glass is. Its A Wonderful Life is more than a movie. It is a summary of how we walk past life’s magic and joy. Cancer teaches appreciation for each day’s magic. Strange it takes a knock on the head, a movie and an email from a brief encounter thirty years ago to teach such valuable lessons.


If magic exists so do heroes as I observed today. The second part of how I learned to view life’s magic was to jump off a cliff. The most important thing for me to do is ride a bicycle across the country to help raise awareness and money for cancer research and treatment. I don’t have a clue about how to do half of this. I know how to ride a bicycle and that is about it (lol). People will help. People always help. Heroes act like heroes.

I wrote Karen an email after my next-door neighbor helped find out whom to talk to. Here is some of what I shared with Karen:

 I'm here because of Duke's excellent care.  The clinics are incredible. Everyone is a pro, cares and is respectful (you would be surprised how rare respect is). Duke is the leading researcher on Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL). Everyone in my family contributed blood to Duke’s CLL study. If anyone can cure cancer Duke can! And, your new center looks and sounds AMAZING. I love the building's design and well thought out ideas such as the infusion terrace outdoors!!!!! That is a FANTASTIC idea. Everything about your new center has Duke's stamp of excellence.

Magic happens daily, but heroes are made; creating things such as cancer centers and giving mighty gifts make heroes. Cancer Centers don’t materialize. They are born like children. They require much the same level of careful interaction and guidance as children. Duke’s Cancer Center will give astonishing gifts to millions of patients for generations of families, friends and loved ones. If Martin’s Ride can be a tiny part of this mission, if we can hold the door for these great heroes, then my life’s glass will be full to the top. It will be a wonderful life indeed.

Thanks to Karen and Duke’s Comprehensive Cancer Center board of heroes. Thanks, thanks and thanks.

Marty Smith
Durham, NC April 22, 2010

Be A Hero, Donate
How many life saving checks do you write? Most of my checks are to the electric company or making mortgage payments (no lives saved there :). Duke's Cancer Center will save someone you know and love. Six degrees of separation says we all know friends, family and loved ones who will or are fighting cancer. Duke's Cancer Center will be a global asset saving lives from around the world so donate today and be a hero. (The secure link below goes directly to Duke.)

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Posted: April 22, 2010 by Martin Smith | with 0 comments | Tagged as: Duke_Cancer_Center
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