by Steven Baum
I know how to fall. I realized this in midair.
After a year of training for a triathlon, and just days before the race, I crashed my bike at 40 mph into the side of a crossing pickup truck. Doctors and nurses were all shocked that I survived. They repeatedly told me I should be dead, or at least severely paralyzed. Not only did I survive, I escaped without head, neck, or spinal injuries, or even road rash. Surprising to me, I knew how to fall and it saved my life.
I now realize that knowing how to fall is less about physical talent and more about mental acceptance. It’s about embracing the reality of the moment. In the few seconds before I hit the truck, when it was clear that I was going to crash, I unexpectedly let go. Thankfully, this was an uncharacteristic moment. For once in my life, I did not try to control the situation. I did not try to cleverly maneuver the bike. I did not even brace myself. I was without tightness or resistance. The bike took the full impact of the collision; I was launched over the hood of the truck, landing face down on the asphalt. Four broken bones in my pelvis. Alive.
I imagine that being diagnosed with cancer is like crashing into that truck. Everything is fine, until that instant when it isn’t. Life becomes barely recognizable. The flood of unanswerable questions quickly starts to come. Will I live? For how much longer? Am I strong and brave enough to survive? Will I suffer? Will it be painful? Will I die? Will I make the right choices? Will family and friends support me? Do I have the best medical care? Will I tolerate and respond to treatment? And the anxious noise goes on, and on, and on.
This was the case for my sixty-year-old mother, Nancy Novack, who, after complaining about abdominal pain to her internist, was diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer. A virtual death sentence, she miraculously beat it, defying overwhelming odds. More than thirteen years have now passed, and doctors are still mystified by her ability to overcome such dire circumstances.
Many say that surviving cancer is all about the fight. Watching my mother go through her diagnosis, aggressive treatment, and eventual recovery convinced me that, paradoxically, it’s actually about letting go. Just like in those fleeting seconds before I hit the truck, she embraced her situation with a rare and enviable calmness. And, like me on the bike, I think she surprised herself with a newfound grace and resolve. She didn’t resist cancer, or try to control it. She ignored the noise, aware that so much was out of her control. She focused on her desire to live today, knowing that this was all she could control and all that mattered.
My mother mastered the art of falling, and it saved her life.
About Steven …
Steven Baum is a son, husband, and father. He is inspired by his mother, Nancy Novack, a stage IV cancer survivor, who is living proof that spirit and strength conquer all. He lives in Manhattan Beach, California, with his amazing and beautiful wife, Carrie, and their two Jedi knights, Sebastian and Alexandra.