The Top 5 Things About Going Toe-to-toe with Death

Toe to Toe with death

Courtesy HAAP Media Ltd.

In Spring, 2006, I was diagnosed with Stage II melanoma. Ten hours of surgical procedures and weeks of rehab later, I went back to work. In August, 2012, I nearly died from a pulmonary embolism. Golf ball sized clots in my left lung were discovered when walking up stairs became as difficult as racing up L’Alpe d’Huez in the Tour de France. So nervous was my hospital care team that even the four steps to the loo might be sufficient to knock a chunk of clot loose to float into my heart, they confined me to bed for two days until the clot-dissolving meds took effect.  Cause when that clots hits your heart, Jack, you dead.

I lead a charmed life.

An 80 year old friend and I spoke on the phone the other day. As a boy, he survived 5 years on the run from the Nazis and Russians until his family made it to the USA where he became a pediatrician. I mentioned that he was a heck of a survivor and I was in awe of what he had overcome. He said, “You’re a heck of survivor, too. Cancer didn’t kill you. An embolism didn’t kill you. You’re gonna live to be 100.”

The Top 5 reasons I cherish nearly dying:

5) NAPS.

I love my nap. I highly recommend a daily nap. When I went back to work after my cancer episode, I blocked out 40 minutes each day for my nap. I brought in a folding camp chair with an extendable footrest. I set the timer on my phone to vibrate, and placed it in my lap. I downloaded a ‘sleepcast’, donned a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, and crashed for a while. Without question, my nap was the only way I got through the second half of the day.

When I was sent home from the hospital after my PE, I was under doctor’s orders to nap 60 minutes every day for a month. No worries – sleep was mandatory. I was so exhausted that, as I walked up stairs, I had to pause on the landing to catch my breath. Eighteen months later, perfectly healthy, I still make no excuses about taking a nap. Up at 7:30, I work through lunch, and by 2:00 pm, I put myself down for a 25-minute nap. By 2:40 pm, I am ready to get after it all over again.

Naps – They refresh. They recharge. They help you get more stuff done.


There is nothing like having every doctor in a hospital tell you “Buddy, do you know how lucky you are?” to give one clarity of purpose. In an instant, you learn to tell the difference between what matters, and what doesn’t. I have long been a believer in the 80/20 rule of life. My scrapes with my own mortality taught me that at least 80% of what seemed important was utter horse hockey.

This is what matters.

a)      Family

b)     Your spirit; the growth of love and compassion.

If everyone you care about is still alive at sunset, you’ve had one damn fine day.


As teens, we are all ten feet tall and bulletproof. In our 20s, death happens to other people who get into accidents. In our 30s and 40s, we are so busy making a living and raising our kids that we don’t give much thought to our legacy. I promise you, should you be faced with death in your late 40s, and nearly die in your 50s, quite suddenly, the notion that you might well die tonight becomes very clear. With that notion, a fire gets lit under your ass and in your hair that tells you, “whatever you plan to leave behind as a creative or spiritual legacy better get done pretty damn soon.”

I am a writer. Since my fire got lit, I have developed three book projects. One is completed, one is a massive proposal under review by an agent, and the third is 30% finished. Not to mention the hundreds of thousands of words worth of blog posts I have posted, and the voice-over business I started.

Urgent? Damn straight I’m urgent.

2) I DON’T GIVE a SHIT (about stuff that doesn’t matter).

I truly don’t care about anything that doesn’t matter. Please don’t bore me with your internal dialogue vis a vis the lastest iPhone upgrade, or your conversion to veganism, or your hatred of Obamacare, your contempt for the GOP, or your latest misadventure at the yoga studio. Tell me about your kids, or what made you smile, or a great meal you had, or how, at the diner last week, you anonymously bought dinner for a scruffy looking lady with four kids. Tell me good stuff.

 Pal, if it’s not good stuff, I just don’t give a shit.

1)     I am FEARLESS.

When you spend time near death, you cease to fear death. Nothing can stop you. If my voice-over business goes belly-up, my life will go on. If I want to sing as I walk through the mall, I have no fear that I’ll piss off a random guy who can’t stand hearing someone sing for 3 seconds as we pass outside American Eagle. If you regret that you and your dad don’t ever hug and kiss anymore, then grab him in a bear hug next time you meet up and plant a big-ass smacker right on his cheek.

If you’re alive, you’ve got nothing to fear.



The Beginning
About David Stanley

Teacher & science guy, writer, musician, coach, skier and bike racer, I am interested… in everything; your story, food & spirits and music and everything in the natural world, spirit & sport. My son is 22 and still needs his Dad. I am 56 and so do I.
I blog on life and death, cancer and sports, kids and education at

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This is what I think...