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How A Stranger On My Plane Today Changed My Life

I met the most amazing man on the plane today. I am convinced it was fate. On any other day I would never strike up a conversation with the person next to me on an airplane.  I would typically have my kids with me, and would be too preoccupied to find the time to really talk to someone, to listen to their story.

Maybe I would make small talk, ("Hot enough for you?" or "I hope we take off on time")  but that would quickly end, and my nose would soon be buried in my phone or magazine, avoiding the awkwardness of a conversation with a perfect stranger at all costs.  

But today was different.  Today I was alone, returning from a conference filled with meeting new people, so why not meet one more?  Maybe he wouldn't be a talker and I would exchange pleasantries and then enjoy my in-flight beverage without ever giving it a second thought.

But that isn't how it worked out. 

It all started with a simple question: "Where are you headed?" and ended in a two-hour conversation that will change the way I look at obstacles in my own life, both now and in my past.

It turns out this man seated next to me, whom I assumed was just an ordinary guy on an ordinary trip for either vacation or business, was actually recently diagnosed with cancer and was flying back and forth from Atlanta to Pennsylvania for his cancer treatments.  

Whoa.. I didn't expect that answer when I asked the question.

He was on his third treatment (going every 2 weeks) and has about 2 years of treatments left in his treatment plans.  And here is the thing.. Even with that daunting future, he was a really HAPPY guy.  He wasn't bitter or angry, and he didn't blame anyone for the hands he was dealt.  He was actually looking forward to whatever lies ahead.

He told me his life story about where he grew up, how he ended up in Atlanta, how his kids still live there even though he is now divorced and why he moved up to Pennsylvania to follow his heart and expand his horizons.  

His life was going okay.. and then he was diagnosed with the c-word.

And if that wasn't enough to knock anyone on their butt, he also explained that one of the only in-network cancer treatment center he could use was 5 states away, near his grown children in Atlanta.

So instead of complaining about his 'commute' to treatments, he instead considers these bi-weekly trips "mini vacations" where after chemotherapy he spends a few days with his family before boarding the plane and heading back to Pennsylvania. 

He is in the fight for his life yet he is still smiling and turning the negatives into something positive.  In our entire conversation, he never once complained when he reflected on his past and his diagnosis or the inconveniences of these flights and the out-of-state treatment.  He instead focused on the things he could control.  He talked about his new diet, the support of the family, and how wonderful the cancer center nurses, doctors and staff have been.  He considers them 'blessings' to him.


And even though his life isn't turning out the way he imagined (divorced and facing cancer) he is still finding joy in the life he was given.   He isn't living in regret, since regret doesn't change anything.  

When I asked if he had the chance to re-do anything in his life would he do it, he said "No.. since then I wouldn't be the man I am today.  And I wouldn't be sitting here with you, sharing my story."  

Those words were so powerful.  Our pasts have made us into who we are.. they are OUR STORY and our story matters. And our story doesn't end today, it is only partially written. We can be the authors of our own lives. 

If things don't go how you expect them, even if you are facing obstacles you never thought you could handle, you still have a choice: You can accept the past and learn from it and grow..  or you can focus on the things that 'could have been' and be miserable.  The future is yours to control, so pick wisely. 

I will probably never see this man again in my lifetime.  I will never know if his treatment is successful or if he will become a grandfather or if he will fulfill his lifelong dream to visit Canada. I will never hear the rest of his story, but I believe no matter how the ending is written, it will include joy.. if that means riding a bicycle or fixing a home cooked meal, he will always choose to focus on what makes him happy.

That is how he will choose to write his story.

And now his life will always include a chapter about a two hour plane trip from Atlanta.. where he touched the life of a blogger on her way home from a conference, and gave her a new perspective on how she looks at her future.  

And that makes it an AMAZING story. 

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  1. I know this man and he is definitely amazing! It's his birthday today!

  2. Happy Birthday to this man who will always see the glass half full opposed to half empty.......sharing is caring!


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