This holiday season, I am thinking about Frank Canady. I first became acquainted with Frank about a decade ago when he was at Iowa City West High School and one of the very best distance runners in Iowa. Young Frank went off to Grinnell College, where he became a national caliber Division III runner but more importantly, a fine student who was admitted some 18 months ago to the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine. As one of my good running friends said, “the world was his oyster.”
This summer, I heard the grim news. Frank had been diagnosed with stage three brain cancer. I had to sit down when I heard that news! He had just completed his first year of med school and was looking forward to year two. Clearly, his life has been turned upside down and he underwent an operation on the tumor that was deemed “successful.” Next began a treatment cycle of very intensive radiation and now chemotherapy for the next year.
About a month ago, I checked in with his mom and asked her if Frank would be up to a Sunday morning run. He was excited about that and the ”three amigos“ (my marathon partners and me) showed up and ran eight miles with Frank. He was in good spirits, chattering throughout the run and then, later, when we took him out for pancakes and coffee. He knows the road ahead is sure to be full of curves, bumps, uphill struggles as well as downhill cruises. But he’s up for the challenge. He’s planning on going back to med school next fall and he is tutoring first year students this year. What a young man he is!
It’s interesting how one’s perspective changes as one ages. These past three years, I think I’ve become much more sensitized as friends and colleagues age with me and as I attend more funerals and visitations in a year than I did during the entire decade of my 40s. I see one of the most wonderful high school coaches I’ve ever known, at age 63, fighting serious cancer all the while continuing to coach his team to a fourth place finish at the state cross country meet. This is a guy who has literally touched hundreds of high school girls’ lives, including two from the Funk household.
I see a true entrepreneur, in his mid-70s facing serious cancer problems despite seldom having any illness his entire life. At MidWestOne, in 2015 we had two part-time employees in their teens battling cancer (fortunately, the recent news has been good for both of them). A cousin’s wife, a lovely lady, is in the midst of a two year treatment cycle for breast cancer. And, then just today, an e-mail from Belgium, where I played professional basketball for two seasons in the 70s. Our point guard on that team, Charley Rensonnet, is my age. His wife was a good friend, daughter of Polish immigrants, and has cancer that has been described as “grave”.
I have no doubt that many of you who are reading this can cite a list similar to the one I’ve compiled above. Add to that the depressing crisis we see in the news with four to five million Syrians fleeing their country with no place to go. We can allow all of this to engulf and overwhelm us or we can realize what we all know and that is we have been given blessings beyond comprehension. The holidays is just the time for focus on those blessings.
At our recent employee Rally Day, I spoke of reconciliation and the need to face the facts that the world changes and we must change with it. This year, I will be especially thankful for the gift of good health and trying to reconcile the fact that in future years, there will likely be more stories such as I’ve shared above, not fewer. I will be saying prayers for those listed above and hoping with great fervor that they beat whatever is ailing them and recover well.
This holiday season, reach out to someone who is struggling. Do it because it is the right thing to do. Do it before you gather with your family to celebrate the holidays. After all, first things first! And, think about the important race Frank Canady is running and say a little prayer for him, too.