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Mike Van Cleave: A Conversation About Cancer & Learning How to Discard the Meaningless

Ep. 288 on The James Altucher Show

I got a call from my friend Mike Van Cleave a year ago. He told me had cancer. We hadn’t spoken for years.

“It’s like mold in your refrigerator,” he said. “All of a sudden you’re like, ‘What the hell happened? It’s only been a week.”

You never know who’s going to call you out of the blue someday with cancer. It’s scary, but luckily we don’t live with these thoughts in our minds. We only think of ourselves. “Will I get cancer?” And that’s important. These selfish thoughts keep us alive.

I’ve always admired my friend Mike. I felt honored to have him on this podcast. He told me the science of his cancer (thyroid cancer) and the ways he’s surviving every day.

I’ll take emotional pain over physical any day. So my bones can keep typing.

“Do you have pain in your bones?” I asked him.

He did. And it went away. “I have no bone pain right now. So there’s a very good chance that all the bone metastasis is working,” he said.

That takes away 80% of the “badness”. He spoke casually. And sometimes I laughed inappropriately.

I guess I was scared.

In 18 months, his medicine will stop working. The cancer will keep growing again. And he’ll be on a new drug.

He told me about the success rate of his next drug (only 50% of people are helped and it only helps for 6 months).

“What’s the best case scenario?” I asked.

I cried afterwards. Not in front on him.

Not there…

But later, when I was alone with my fear, I cried for hope. He’s down to his second to last drug. The second to last hope.

Unless they create a new medicine…

“We’re look at a maximum of three years,” I said… “What happens next?”

“Honestly, really bad things happen,” he said.

Then he told me, “All of a sudden there was meaning… The desire to connect with meaning overwhelmed the time I had for the meaningless. In some ways, you can’t understand it. And the one thing I’ve come to understand completely is there’s only one thing in your life that matters and that’s the quality of your relationships. It’s such a cliche. You can look back at thousands of quotes from people who are old and dying and they always talk about the people in their lives. Nobody cares how much money you have when you die.”

I stayed silent. I wanted to catch all his words. And learn from them.

“Most of the things we sit around worrying about, you realize, at this stage, has no meaning. Now, it’s important. Maybe. Ya know, it’s important that I have a job, but the job itself only has the importance that you place in it.”

I hope this podcast is a special moment for you like it was for me. I took it as a chance to step back from my life. And the problems I think about over and over again.

This interview allowed me to care for a friend. And I hope it lets you care for a stranger. That’s something I want to do a little bit more each day. Until the day is full with selfless thoughts between selfish thoughts.

Maybe that’s part of the medicine.

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James Altucher is the author of the bestselling book Choose Yourself, editor at The Altucher Report and host of the popular podcast, The James Altucher Show, which takes you beyond business and entrepreneurship by exploring what it means to be human and achieve well-being in a world that is increasingly complicated.




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James Altucher

James Altucher

For some reason, I’ve turned myself inside out and all my guts have spilled onto my blog. One day I’ll run out of stuff but not yet. http://bit.ly/2blmiaG

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