By David Rodriguez, Executive Vice President & Global Chief HR Officer, Marriott International
In reality the race track was not very long but on most days it felt like it stretched from one end of the earth to the other.
It started outside my temporary apartment on the hospital grounds and into the garage complex and then across a skybridge into Johns Hopkins Hospital. In those early weeks of outpatient chemotherapy following my lengthy hospitalization for leukemia, every step I took felt like a major investment of willpower and life force. So, I did what came natural: I turned the daily morning trek into a game. Except that my fellow competitors had no idea that they were in the arena.
At first I was quite the sight, with the ends of my PIC line dangling from my right arm until a nurse noticed and taught me to wrap them with a bandage — good thing too, because I was certainly drawing stares as they flopped around. The game itself was simple enough. I had to pass as many people as possible on my walk and avoid being passed by others. It felt like I was walking in cement shoes. Depending on the timing in my chemo cycle, it was not at all about passing people but pressing not to be passed by the more robust octogenarians on their way for a routine physical exam!
My game certainly helped to mitigate the monotony of the daily walk to my arsenic-based infusion — yes, that’s right, rat poison, as I called it. But at the end of each daily race I was assessed for “fitness” to receive the chemo infusion and I often failed.
My heart rate was much too high and that meant that I would be waiting for a couple of hours until I was deemed ready for the infusion. Usually that also meant getting a pre-infusion of chemicals to ensure that my cardiovascular system was stable and sometimes an EKG as well. At the end of that, my prize was the original couple of hours of chemo. Needless to say, by the end of the process, I would be wiped out.
Then one day it dawned on me. It was the “race walking” that was my undoing. So I gave up the original game and started a new one where I would walk as leisurely as possible to get by the heart rate hurdle and thereby win back a few hours of my life. Perhaps it was not big data analytics, but it worked!
That revelation took place about two years ago. The physical limitations that disease imposed on me and my coping experiences (and games) left an indelible mark. It certainly reminded me that sometimes to go fast you must first go slow and to never, never, never give up. It also reminded me that sometimes our biggest obstacle in life is to be so fixated on a goal of our own making that we fail to recognize a larger purpose. I openly talk about my experience as a cancer survivor because I am grateful for the opportunity to share and hopefully inspire others in their pursuit of wellbeing.
On September 17, I completed the running of my first 5K at our Marriott (No. 9 on the DiversityInc Top 50 Companies list) TakeCare Unplugged event. I had trained over the summer to participate in anticipation of my doctors declaring that I had passed the important two-year cancer-free milestone.
I am happy to report that I have closed that chapter in my life and look eagerly to the next with an overriding proposition: Live gratefully and neighborly. I am convinced that many troubles in our society today can be overcome if we empower the person we see in the mirror each morning to do a little good each day for ourselves and others.