Sunday, October 30, 2016

Pep Talk: "Not Someday, Today!"

“This isn’t about someday finding a cure,” stated Kerry Olson of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. “It’s about finding a cure today.” Your knucklehead scribe has been getting quite an indoctrination into LLS’s good works since being nominated for its “Man of the Year” contest. This annual event pits passionate fundraisers against one another. May the best man, when it comes to raising money, win!

Nobody but cancer loses from the nationwide campaign. Last year it raised almost $39 million for blood cancer research. The emerging laboratory and clinical work (benches to bedsides) is exciting stuff. It has experts predicting the dreaded disease might be curable in the next 20-30 years. Can you imagine? In our lifetime, a world without cancer?

Excellent research being conducted on blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma is a major reason we’re seeing rapid advancements in effective treatments for ALL cancers. One startling statistic? 40% of new cancer drugs coming on the market have their origins in blood cancer research. It makes sense considering blood flows to every nook and cranny of our bodies. If research creates drugs to slow down blood cancers, most, if not all, cancers are endangered. “It’s an exciting time in fighting cancer,” says Rocky Mountain LLS dynamic Executive Director Rebecca Russell. In addition, research and treatment benefits are spilling over to other worldwide health challenges like Alzheimer’s, diabetes and beyond. 

But too many are still dying. There are mountains to climb. One form of blood cancer, Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), has baffled those searching for answers. Treatment has changed little in four decades. At a recent gathering, I learned the critical funding role agencies like LLS provide for continued research. “Drug companies don’t have the patience to fund work in this area,” admitted a doctor/researcher. The passionate man works at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus and receives LLS support. “These breakthroughs don’t happen overnight.”

The breakthroughs are paying off. Cancers that just a few years ago were considered terminal are succumbing without the usual, and debilitating, bombardment of radiation, chemotherapy and/or surgery. More folks are surviving and thriving!

Team Mark Mac’s campaign fundraising goal is $150,000. If you’re interested in helping, let me know. If we raise that amount, or more, the team wins two tickets to next year’s world cancer research symposium. We’ll get to hang with those leading the charge against this fearsome, but now, vulnerable foe. Olson joked, “You’ll get to hear it from the horse’s mouth.” The horses are galloping right now. At breakneck speed research stallions are unlocking once hidden clues necessary for cancer’s demise. It speaks to the power of perseverance.

Effectively dealing with the challenges of life, whether cancer or beyond. They arrive when least desired and make a mess of things. Don’t surrender. Immunotherapy replacing chemotherapy. Our bodies, not poison, conquering cancer.

New discoveries leading to a shift in thinking and strategies leading to healthy outcomes. Could it be, far beyond fighting cancer, what we need to prevail against what ails? Not some day, but today?

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Pep Talk: "We Have The Power!"

Your knucklehead scribe was exiting the gym when a quote on the Kinetics Fitness Studio bulletin board caught the eye, rattled the brain and summoned the cell phone to capture it in a picture. “Almost every successful person begins with two beliefs: the future can be better than the present, and I have the power to make it so.”

Immediately, examples began popping into my cranium. 

Like a wonderful collaboration between the Mental Health Center of Denver and the Denver Police Department. It’s a co-responding effort pairing, as first responders, mental health professionals and police officers. The program has proven to be successful and other Denver-area law enforcement agencies are following suit. The innovative “out-of-the-box” idea has drastically curtailed arrests and dramatically increased services being offered to unstable individuals through mental health providers and not jails. We have a mental health crisis in America. We have too many isolated, vulnerable and displaced citizens. The future can be better. A more collaborative spirit between law enforcement and mental health agencies has the power to make it so!

Example two: Three young women have been forever transformed by school visits to Haiti. “The people there are so awesome,” said one of the young ladies. “They have nothing but are so friendly and welcoming.” Ady, Kenneal and Cecilia are taking action to help children of the desperately poor Caribbean nation recently hammered by Hurricane Matthew while still trying to recover from the 2010 catastrophic earthquake. The juniors from Colorado Academy are organizing a 5K run/walk to raise awareness and money to refurbish two Haitian schools and provide more music, sports and arts for children enrolled in those schools. Three teenagers with servants’ hearts believe the future can be better and they have the power to make it so. Bravo!

Example three: “Mark, I’m being released to a halfway house next week!” was the wonderful news from a talented and handsome young man. Three years ago, I was challenged by this dude to begin a workout program for men in the Denver Rescue Mission’s New Life Program. A Stronger Cord was born. Since then, it has morphed into a wellness outreach movement designed to encourage participants from all walks of life to embrace the value of fitness, relationship building and community service.

Another major challenge in America today is the relapse rate for folks on the comeback trail from addiction and incarceration. It’s not surprising, considering current policies tend to keep them isolated and without adequate support upon re-entry into society. ASC is trying to change that with an emphasis on wellness. Healthier in mind, body and spirit with a supportive social network encouraging participants to be fitness-minded, dependable and productive folks who seek a stronger cord to families, purpose and communities.

Three examples. I know there's more. It all starts with us believing the future can be better and we have the power to make it so. Look around, be inspired and take action. Live that truth this week!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Pep Talk: "Positive Psychology"

On an absolutely gorgeous Centennial State fall afternoon, your knucklehead scribe maneuvered the golf cart behind where a brother-from-another-mother’s ball rested. It was not a friendly spot. Thick rough hid the dimpled sphere rather well, while a grove of trees hampered progress toward the green and a creek flowed steadily nearby. Danger lurked everywhere.

As the small business owner exited the cart, all we could do is look at each other and chuckle. My buddy had no shot. Doing my best to encourage, while reserving the right to be a wise guy, this flowed from lips: “Remember, the four most powerful words in the English language, when strung together? I believe in you!” We laughed even harder. The rescue attempt sucked on the way to a double bogey. For the record, the dude who runs Elder Auto birdied two of the first three holes on the back side and kicked this hacker’s butt.  

Anyway, back to the point of this Pep Talk: The power of having someone believe in us. Wow, makes a difference doesn’t it? This much I do know. On this roller coaster journey known as life, it has saved my bacon often. To name many, but not all: Parents, coaches, friends, business colleagues, siblings and wife. Along the way, despite unexpected twists and turns, always there to encourage a sometimes wayward soul. Encourage. It’s my favorite word in the English language, defined as: “To give hope and confidence to.”

So as we chased a little white ball around beautiful grounds of a central Denver golf course, thy cranium, considering how bad I was playing, kept wandering to earlier that day. To a morning breakfast event celebrating the good works of the Mental Health Center of Denver.

Six hundred people packed into an excellent meeting space at Glendale’s Infinity Park to learn more about MHCD’s mission to enrich lives and minds by focusing on strengths and well being. The organization’s leader, president and CEO, Carl Clark inspirationally spoke about MHCD’s commitment to what’s called “Positive Psychology.”

I almost levitated from my chair as the charismatic doctor shared the organization’s belief that focusing on strengths instead of weaknesses (we all have each) is a better way to reaching a higher level of wellness. Agreed.

That philosophy has been the bedrock of Victory Productions’ work for 15 years. Encouraging folks to be students, not victims, of life’s experiences. It led to the creation of a wellness outreach movement, A Stronger Cord, designed to encourage Americans, especially the isolated, vulnerable and displaced to embrace the value of being more fit, connected and giving. Healthier, individually and collectively.

To believe in ourselves? It helps to have encouragement from others. Often, considering how life kicks us around, we need support. This journey is challenging. Please embrace the fact we should not try it alone. We need a loyal team of encouragers. 

Positive psychology. Use it often this week. Even when, like for a golfing buddy, the lie is poor, give others hope and confidence they have a shot!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Pep Talk: "Smoke Pits"

“I try and stay away from that place,” declared a fellow knucklehead one Saturday during an A Stronger Cord community service project. We were picking up trash. “It’s not good for me.”

The handsome and fit veteran was talking about a piece of the parking lot at the Denver Rescue Mission’s Crossing facility, home to the New Life Program. The ASC wellness outreach movement has worked with these men on the comeback trail for the past three years. The “place” referenced is small in stature but large in temptation. When visiting, it’s close to where I park. It’s a popular spot for the guys.

“The only thing that goes on at the pit is lots of smoking and even more complaining.” Four men laughed in unison at that sarcastic truth before resuming helping others. ASC Saturdays are about community service. Everybody has challenges. They may be addiction, incarceration, divorce, mental illness, physical illness, bad attitude or whatever. A beloved buddy right now is ravaged by cancer. We’re susceptible to despair. Knowing and believing this, ASC encourages participants to stay active in good works because we know it’s good for us, especially in troubling times.

To accomplish that simple but not easy task, we have to stay away from smoke pits. In this instance, the venue at the Crossing is a hang out area of asphalt, chairs and a table  fueling addiction to nicotine and negativity. Neither a good thing for men trying to become students, no longer victims, of life experiences. For any of us, consistently participating in activities harmful to physical, mental and spiritual health is, well, destructive.

But we have our smoke pits. Anybody stating differently is lying. It might not be located on the grounds of a respected recovery agency, but smoking pits lurk. They’re ready, willing and able to derail the journey. There are places we should avoid, at all costs, because outcomes are rarely healthy and productive. Where are we KNOWINGLY wandering physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually and not honoring, nurturing and adding value to our lives? Where are the smoke pits?

Patience, or lack of, is a big one for me. Honestly, your scribe gets discouraged sometimes about ASC’s progress. We’re trying to work with police departments, non profits and faith-based groups looking for a new way to engage the community. Why not community outreach focused on encouraging others to become more fit, connected and giving? Healthier? Individually and collectively? America needs fresh ideas. We need to build a stronger cord to one another. We’re too divided. 

What’s taking so long to get traction? Self doubt creeps in too. “Am I crazy?” Two personal smoke pits. Folks, we have to stay away from the smoke pits. With every detrimental drag on whatever is readily available wherever we unproductively roam, it sucks air from our lungs, brains, souls and lives.

Nothing good happens while lingering at smoke pits. Pour that time into beneficial service to others and yourself. It’s far healthier.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Pep Talk: "Be Curious and Welcoming"

“You can’t come in here,” was sternly stated to your knucklehead scribe. Taken aback, I queried, “Why?” The dapperly-dressed government employee offered, “You were not invited.”

What a bummer. My past. It’s hard to escape sometimes. In the almost three years of working closely with fellow travelers through the A Stronger Cord wellness outreach movement, one thing has become quite apparent. It’s tough for many to escape our past. Our past might be as a member of the media or an isolated class of folks trying to comeback from affliction.

In terms of trying to encourage others to become superior to their former selves, there’s a fine line to walk. Between being soft of past transgressions while open to fresh ideas on how to successfully re-integrate isolated, vulnerable and displaced folks into our communities. In many ways, our nation’s police departments have become isolated, vulnerable and displaced. Relations between women and men in blue and the communities they serve have become hostile, tragic and unacceptable.

With a strong belief that A Stronger Cord’s community-building wellness philosophy  could help with the healing, I was trying to attend a recent U.S. Department of Justice gathering of Denver area leaders. It was a much publicized community forum with many influential, especially Black and Latino, Mile High City leaders pondering how to improve the ugly law enforcement/community climate present in America today. Among the myriad of issues, there is little trust.

The polite but resolute dude who would not allow a concerned community activist into the meeting was just doing his job. But, it was a case of mistaken identity. He thought I was a member of the press. In some capacity, I’ve been on Denver television and radio for almost 30 years in some capacity. These days as a shameless pitchman for Denver-area companies on a CBS4 program called, “Help Team 4.” But that’s occasional part-time work. Helping others achieve goals and overcome challenges with ideas like a wellness outreach movement designed to encourage folks to become more fit, connected and giving has become full-time work.

The excellent security guy was performing tasks as assigned in keeping the press at bay. It was a case of misunderstanding. Of being judged by the past.

It was no big deal. Once the event was over, I stood outside and made connections with summit attendees. It was still a productive moment and helped spread the word about ASC’s potential value to police departments looking for innovative ways to build community bridges where today too many barriers exist.

As I drove away from the event, my mind kept wandering to the importance of not judging others too harshly. We all have our past, we’re known for something. It’s often a case of mistaken identity leading to missed opportunities. 

This week let’s take time to discover what another is known for, not just what they’re known as. Be curious and welcoming. It will open our world to new and, possibly, transformative ideas at home, work and elsewhere.

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