By Ken DeLeon
Having come so close to death, I have gained a heightened appreciation for life. I now appreciate every moment, as I now know life can end in an instant.
Through the life lessons I learned while recovering from my nearly fatal car accident, I gained the courage to leave the practice of law in 2000 for my passion: real estate. Fast forward several years to 2007 – my life was going amazingly well, my real estate career was thriving, my young family was growing, and my first son was expected to join my two daughters in a few months. With all of these positives, I was trying to not let an onset of sharp pain in my back bring me down.
However, even with a physical therapy regimen, the pain progressed and became so intolerable that I finally went to see a doctor. Upon initial examination, I appeared fine and was scheduled to get a cortisone shot to numb the pain after a precautionary MRI.
Since my doctor’s appointment was scheduled for the next week, I was surprised when the doctor called me the day after my MRI asking me to rush in. Full of apprehension, I listened to the doctor’s diagnosis.
With a concerned face, the doctor said, “Ken, we have both good news and bad news. The good news is that your back is fine. The bad news is that the MRI showed that you have a mass, likely a tumor, the size of a large softball. This mass is expanding and pushing on your spine and spleen, causing your back pain.”
Being only 35 and seemingly in good health, I was shocked. Thoughts of my daughters and unborn son rushed into my head and I asked incredulously, “Doctor, how can this be and what could it be?” The doctor then asked me how I got the large scar running up and down my right leg. I told him that a speeding car hit my calf and all of the swellings required that my leg be cut and left open for a week as the muscle swelling subsided. The doctor hypothesized that I had lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph nodes. Lymphoma strikes younger victims and is associated with heavy trauma, such as my horrific car accident.
I went to a deserted restroom to process this shocking news. I cried for thirty minutes as I thought of all those I loved. My children needed me, and after my sister’s suicide, I was all that my parents had left. My love for my family and parents then turned into a strength, and I resolved to battle this cancer with courage and grace. If I potentially only had 6 months to live, I was not going to waste a single second.
My childhood friends all came out to visit and support me. With their company and laughter, I was able to overcome my fear, and then felt I could conquer cancer. Just after my first round of chemotherapy, my hair started falling out. Rather than bemoan this, my friends and I took it in good stride and they helped shaved off my remaining hair so that I could rock a Mohawk for a day. I felt so tough!
Once fully shaved, my two- and four-year-old daughters would wake me up in the morning by banging on my bald head, giggling, and saying, “Daddy drum, daddy drum!” I never told them that I was fighting for my life, as I felt the sadness and uncertainty that would come with that knowledge were best avoided so long as my prognosis looked good.
After six rounds of chemotherapy, I received a daily half-hour of radiation directed at my tumor. The radiation was so intense that even with the copper shield, the skin near my tumor turned dark red and brown, almost like a bad sunburn.
I stayed positive throughout my treatments, as I believe in the mind-body connection and felt optimism would increase my chances of recovery (now empirically proven). Slowly, my brilliant doctors at Stanford Cancer Center got the tumor to shrink, and after nine months I was cancer-free.
While no one ever expects to get cancer at such a young age, in the end, beating cancer gave me more positives than negatives. After this second brush with death, I realized that love and the legacy you leave behind are the most important things in this world.
While battling lymphoma, I learned several life lessons. I learned to accept and then optimize the negatives in life, such as my grave medical condition. By accepting what I could not control and instead focusing upon what I could control (positive attitude, healthy diet, getting the best medical care possible), I focused on doing all the right things leading me closer to recovery. After losing my sister, I realized that it is family and its eternal bonds that matter most, and I now live for my four children. Beating cancer also made me realize what was most important: my precious family and brilliant clients.
Another discovery I made was that I could positively impact the lives of my clients by helping them get a great house in an appreciating neighborhood, which is no small task here in Silicon Valley. Serving my clients and setting them up for success for the long-term gave my career great meaning beyond monetary success. Additionally, beating cancer endowed me with a sense of perspective of life, and I am now very calm. This calmness benefits clients, as I can be cool when a home purchase has issues. I learned many other life lessons when beating cancer a second time, which I will discuss in my next installment.
I am so thankful to the Stanford Cancer Center, which provides Silicon Valley with the latest medical care, innovative research, and treatments. I felt so fortunate to have world-class medical care just minutes away, as other patients often drive hours to be treated at Stanford. I am trying to pay this forward through helping them fundraise and being a public speaker at their events where I describe the exceptional, cutting-edge care I received. Please reach out to me at Ken@DeLeonRealty.com if I can be a volunteer speaker for cancer fundraising or awareness, or for more information on how to contribute to the Stanford Cancer Center.