Living Large

A potentially terminal diagnosis will make you want to live your life to the fullest. Why wait for that? Get living now.

Dave Smith Headshot


“I will not last forever. But I am damned well going to know I have been here!”

George A. Sheehan, MD

When my wife, the Sarge, was diagnosed with breast cancer she took the news as if it were an assignment, not a sentence.

She had just gotten home from doing a class and was exhausted and sitting at the dinner table when the doctor called. She is one of those women whose family has been plagued by breast cancer; her mother fought it for over 25 years, so the Sarge has been very consistent in her mammograms over the years. But the call was still shocking.

She listened to the doctor tell her that she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer and upon hanging up she was deep in thought. I am sure her memories of her mother, the struggle, the pain, the courage, all came rushing back as she sat there thinking. No tears and no whining followed, just planning. And in the next few weeks she got a double mastectomy, did her job, and took her antelope in Wyoming. Yep, got her hunt in in the middle of all that! It was planned and carried out like a well-executed search warrant, just like you would expect from a 29-year veteran of crime fighting.

As I write this, she is sitting next to me, bald as an eagle, and working on her podcast. Chemo is a nasty thing, but her doctor told her at her last treatment that she was the healthiest cancer patient he had ever had. Her mileage went up instead of down on her sweet fitness bike (that I am constantly thinking about taking the air out of the tires to slow her down.) When her hair started falling out, we shaved her head to eliminate the trauma of a sink full of hair and, frankly, she looks pretty cool. Prognosis? She will probably outlive me by 20 years and be that tough old lady in line at the store telling the staff how to restock the shelves properly.

Each of you reading this has your own experience or will have in the future with illness and age, pain and suffering, fear, and uncertainty. Life is often represented in our entertainment media as idyllic and constant, and this does not prepare us for real life.

I had the good fortune to attend two lectures as a young officer by George Sheehan, MD. He was a physician, runner, writer, and philosopher and I found him mesmerizing. He encouraged play, work, racing (competing), and living fully. When he was diagnosed with cancer, he chose the least restrictive treatment so he could run and compete as long as possible. I read his struggles as he described his own end to the last in his writings, and upon his death, I prayed that I might live as fully as he had.

Living fully means getting out and doing just that. Ready to retire from your agency? Then get ready for your next adventure. Plan life, live life, pay attention to life. Don’t just go on vacation, live a vacation. Do, don’t watch. Can’t run? Then walk, Can’t walk? Ride. Don’t tell the kids, show the kids. Feeling down? Call someone, take action, don’t let life bind you to a chair. There are many support groups standing by to help, but they don’t reach out to you, you must reach out to them.

If you’re curious about something, study it, read about it, and learn to do it. I have tried dozens of diets just to see how they worked, and I’ve done the same with defensive tactics. I have been knocked out in Wisconsin, had my hair pulled in Washington state, and got kicked in Tallahassee, just to see if I thought the system worked. I have done long slow distance running and intense interval training, and tried high repetitions and slow negative ones, all to see how it affected my muscles. I drank … well never mind, you see my point … try life.

Each of you has dreams, or at least you should. If you have stopped, get dreaming again. If you are one of the crime fighters facing one of the social crises so common today, look at it as an assignment, study it, prepare for it, act on it. Attend to the details of the day and prepare. Help others cope, and I bet you will find strength in the effort, as you work together. Tough times, come and go, but the constant in your life is you. Live fully, pay attention, grow, challenge yourself, help one another, and stay safe.

Dave Smith is an internationally recognized law enforcement trainer and is the creator of “JD Buck Savage.” You can follow Buck on Twitter at @thebucksavage.  

About the Author
Dave Smith Headshot
Officer (Ret.)
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