Going Forward with Life

I had, or at least I thought I had, many goals prior to the discovery of my brain cancer. There were places I wanted to go, things I wanted to do, and people I wanted to meet. I also wanted to make millions of dollars per year, own a large house on a huge plot of land, and have a 20-car garage filled with European and American race cars. I also thought about my ideal wife, family, and pets, but I realized that the ideal wife, family, and pets would not tolerate my typical 80-hour work weeks.

Throughout brain surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy, it never occurred to me that I might have to alter my goals. However, during cognitive therapy I began to question what I wanted out of life and whether or not my old goals were still right for me. I learned that the things I called goals were not SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time sensitive) goals because they were not specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, or time sensitive. With the help of many people, I learned about my new normal, accepted my new normal, and spent several weeks creating SMART goals that would challenge me to advance beyond injury. If I had read and understood the following poem years ago, finding happiness and planning for the future might have been a lot easier:

Going Forward with Life

“When the clock has gone forward
and all rehab has been completed,
Where exactly do we pick up our life?

Our abilities and level of function
have changed from our brain injury,
Where exactly do we pick up our life?

We cannot go back to a different time
to a place where we have already been.
Where exactly do we pick up our life?

In many ways we are now a new person
old dreams must somehow be put to rest.
Where exactly do we pick up our life?

How do we figure out what is realistic?
Will we know the right path to follow?
Where exactly do we pick up our life?

We have felt a beginning and also an end.
We must somehow say good-bye to the old.
Where exactly do we pick up our life?

It is frightening to find a new beginning,
never knowing if we can possibly succeed.
Where exactly do we pick up our life?

We must stop wasting time and move forward,
we have to let go of “what has been” before.
Where exactly do we pick up our life?

We have to stop hiding, we must not be afraid,
even though every change is quite over-whelming.
Where exactly do we pick up our life?

We have to take steps and venture into unfamiliar,
we must change old goals and think of something new.
Where exactly do we pick up our life?

We start with today and embrace our gift of life,
realistic planning can help to readjust our dreams.
Where exactly do we pick up our life?

We must consider today as the first day of life,
letting go of what once was but can also never be.
That is exactly what we do to pick up our life!”

              ~ Debbie Wilson, Going Forward with Life, 10-16-97

Did you have a plan for success prior to a life-threatening injury? How has the life-threatening injury affected the plan? Do you recognize and accept the fact that the starting point for your goals might be different now than it was prior to the injury? How are you defining and measuring success? Is your goal a SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time Sensitive) goal? What are your perceived obstacles? What do you need to overcome your perceived obstacles? Please let me know how I may help.

Thanks to Debbie Wilson for sharing her poem.


  1. The only way to go forward with life is to understand the full extent of your injury. The “full” extent may not be the treatment you may have been given. If you have not been given the full extent, chances are you will need to look, and I believe going forward will require for you to understand the full extent of your injury. Once you do, you will have to pass the information on to people who tell you to “get a job”…and get moving…when the injury itself has taken those things away. ADVICE…needs to be proper assistance…(many times not given)…and was told not able to work anymore….????

    1. John,

      I appreciate your view, but I disagree with the main premise that the full extent must be known to move forward. The premise is logically and historically flawed. No matter what subject we consider, whether it be health, civilization, paleontology, space exploration, or any other field, there is a degree of uncertainty in every decision. The uncertainty does not prevent anybody from moving forward. There are many example in the history of every field where people acted without knowing all the facts. Some facts cannot be known unless somebody takes the first step.

      It is not practical to wait until all information is know before acting. In fact, waiting for all the answers can be quite detrimental. We exercise and eat well because we belief that doing so has a positive impact. If we never exercised, never ate good food, and never slept, it may be too late to act differently by the time the benefits are truly understood. Some people act too soon, some act too late, and some never act. One thing is certain, somebody is right.

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