Work/Life Balance and What That Means When Things Fall Apart
By Nanea Reeves
My husband is dying. He is a man who began his journey in this lifetime with a rough start, stumbled and fell quite a few times before ultimately transforming himself into a quiet compassionate force of nature. He is also the only man I have ever loved with all of my heart. The others just got little pieces of it.
I am writing this as I spend another night in a hospital room as he gets treated for FTT which means Failure to Thrive. Vic has stage 4 liver cancer from Hepatitis C. He was diagnosed with cancer last year and we thought, “We can beat this. We will hold each other’s hand through this and beat it.” The doctors told us he would beat it. He was in great shape, we have everything we need to get the best care and we were preparing ourselves to get a liver transplant within the next two years
One year and a few successful treatments later we were out to dinner with his grandson Liam and his stomach hurt. It hurt for four more days and on the 5th day we were told his tumors were back with a vengeance. The doctor who gave us the news that he was no longer eligible for a transplant (the only cure for liver cancer) actually had tears in his eyes because he too had fallen in love with my husband. He said, “I am so sorry to have to tell you this because I really like you. You are a good man.”
When my husband found out many years ago that he had Hepatitis C it was clear that I had to go back to work. It wasn’t a choice of leaning in. It was a necessity. He started a treatment for his condition and I was very angry about everything — his lack of energy, his inability to provide for us and the fact that I had to go to work in an office after we had an agreement that I would focus on the things I love to do with his support. And probably the most painful thing of all was that I was suddenly confronted with how selfish I was. I had no idea what it meant to make a real commitment. In sickness and in health haunted me. I asked myself, “What kind of person are you?” I was not happy with the answer that came back at me in that moment.
And so, begrudgingly I got a job at a web development shop that incidentally was the breeding ground for me discovering a very unexpected passion for building software and creating online services. Ironically, my husband’s illness gave me a wonderful career. And, my career ultimately gave my husband the freedom to create a meaningful life of service.
My work is my life. I have loved every second of it, even on those days when I hate everything about it. This past year as President and COO of textPlus has been one of the most difficult in my career and yet one of the most amazing work experiences ever. We hit some very challenging bumps in the road with our platform not evolving with the business needs. We galvanized the entire company around rebuilding it from the ground up. After 12 months we have emerged not only with a new platform, we are a stronger and better team. All of this shows in our new product, Nextplus. It is an achievement I am very proud of — not for myself but for the team that delivered it. Because, they know now that they can build something from the ground up and even better, that they can do it again. The greatest gift any leader can give to a team is to push them beyond their perceived limits, to not settle for the path of least resistance and to focus their attention on contribution, things that really move the needle. We all learned how to make a real commitment this year.
However, if you ask anyone who knows me personally, they will say that my relationship with my husband is the greatest achievement in my life. We have allowed each other the freedom and the space to pursue each other’s dreams. We have supported each other’s families. We have never kept a scorecard or tracked the percentage of each other’s contribution to ensure everything was “50/50.” We have been best friends and even better lovers.
So, when I was hit full throttle with the fact that I was going to lose him within the next few months, I could almost feel the atoms in me fall apart.
It is all I can do to negotiate myself back to the present moment where I say to myself, “The time you have left is precious. Don’t waste it by caving into fear and sadness now. You can do that later.”
All I want to do is make the end of his life wonderful. To surround him with everything and everyone he loves and let him know he made a difference in my life as well as the lives of so many other people he has helped throughout the years. Everyday during the past 2 months streams of people flood our house to tell him they love him. It is a beautiful testament of the adage, “You get what you give.”
Vic said to me one night, “Listen. You can’t let this thing going on with me distract you from making Nextplus a hit. It is important for you to do that, Nanea. The most compassionate thing you can do for me is to make sure that your life is filled with success so you can use it to help others.”
And so, I keep going to work. And what I found was that the people at work were there for me. My friend and CEO Scott Lahman has created a wonderful environment of support for me. The Founders whom I have known and worked with off and on for more than 10 years have held my hand when I cried in the conference room after telling them my husband was going to die. My direct reports looked at my working only 8 hours a day and sometimes only a half-day on “chemo day” as an opportunity for them to step up… and they are taking it.
When people ask me, “What are you doing for yourself?” I say, “I go to work.“
Because work is a place where I can make my own space. It is a respite from a long night of caregiving. It is a place where I find growth and life. I am very grateful for it.
Quite honestly, I can’t keep as many plates spinning these past 2–3 months as I normally can. Asking for help and air cover is not the easiest thing for me.
That changed when a friend recently said to me, “You have to allow others the opportunity to feel the same joy of a generous heart that you have experienced when you and Vic give to others. Don’t cut people out from having that experience, too.”
I lobbed an SOS out to the universe and an army of people showed up to give — all bearing food and hugs and even donations for Vic’s non-profit Bodhicitta, Inc. so he can leave here knowing his last project to build a school in Tibet will be completed.
I am, for lack of a better term, blown away by the response. I expected support to only be from friends and family but when people I worked with 5 or more years ago reached out to help me in a time of need, I realized that something else was happening here. Through our time working together we had somehow made a real connection beyond celebrating a great product launch (or fixing a bad one.) They were thanking me for being part of their journey and they wanted to help me through this difficult part of mine.
I used to think of work as something outside of my real life — that my family and friends were the only real things in my life and what I did for money was just that — something I did for money. When I had this attitude I was miserable because I realized that one can’t spend 8–10 waking hours not living. No amount of money makes that even viable. Living only occurs in the moment we are in. And all of it is meaningful and all of it should be fully experienced — even when it is breathtakingly difficult.
We are getting close to the end of Vic’s journey. Unless miracles really do exist, within the next few weeks he will likely be gone. Every day he seems to step a little further away from me. And then he has these wonderful moments where he comes back and is very present. I saw that the other day when his friend Nick came to visit.
I have no idea how or even who I will be on the other side of this. I do know that the one thing I have learned through this experience is that we are very much at peace knowing that we lived our relationship fully and deeply. I don’t think we could ask for anything more… other than just a little more time together.
Vic passed away on April 22, 2015 peacefully in his meditation room surrounded by his family and friends while Nanea held his hand telling him that she loved him, that she will keep his promise to build his school and that she will find him again.
Update on January 16, 2018: The school in Tibet opened 3 weeks ago. Thank you to all who helped us make Vic’s last wish come true.