360 degrees in 365 days

Last week I turned 55. One year ago to the day today, I was facing a really ugly tumor. Let’s just say this last year is amazing grace. I just got back from backpacking in the mountains of Colorado with some inspiring friends. To have the strength to do this is indeed a miracle.

A few things I am thankful for today:

  • I am alive
  • I am strong.
  • I am healthy.
  • I have a beautiful wife that loves me, in spite of me.
  • I have two beautiful daughters that are amazing.
  • I still have my Dad and he’s happy.
  • I have a group of friends and colleagues that are lovers of life and God.
  • I live in a beautiful place with the love of my life.

Yea, we had some tough times. Times when I wondered why God was punishing me. But I survived with the support of a lot of people, and those times only served to strengthen who I will be when God is done with me.

I now know those times are just chapters in a really cool novel with MANY chapters.

I can’t wait for the next chapter.

What I learned in one sentence from a grumpy, wise old man.

When Mentors Die

We had just unveiled our new corporate brand.   We had hired a professional marketing firm, done customer studies, acquired a domain, designed a logo and registered a trademark.   We thought it was the most important decision we had made.

We unveiled the name to our board.    “Tada”.


One of our independent board members looked at me and simply said:

“Well, as long as it doesn’t mean f**king a goat in Portuguese, then I’m OK”.

Sam K in a board meeting

The facts are, the name we chose at that point in our company, was pretty much irrelevant.   What mattered was execution, something we were struggling with. He in a very powerful way slapped us back into reality.

Earlier in the venture, he had observed me running around our offices, often carrying a little notebook, taking notes, being busy, busy busy.    I was busy “helping” our team. I was busy “creating our plan”, our “vision”, keeping investors in-check, validating that what we were building was right.  Come on, I was IMPORTANT and being IMPORTANT means being BUSY.

He looked at me and simply said:

“Charlie, you will be more effective the less you do”.   

Sam K Smith speaking to Charlie Alsmiller in 2002

I was speechless.   I was an ex-consultant in a big firm.  My whole value was measured by how hard I worked, how much “value” I created TODAY.    This is counter-intuitive to me. “Do less”? What? How does that work? I didn’t get it.  

“Work on your business, not In your business”

A quote from just about every business book out there

We hear the words, “Work ON your business, not IN your business” all the time.  But, I’m here to tell you, truer words have never been spoken. See, we all have super-powers.  Mine was clearly articulated to me recently by a dear friend. He said, “You have the ability to create something from nothing, and energy shows up around it.   I’m in awe.”. And this from a guy who is a VERY senior and well known tech executive in Silicon Valley. I’ve always been in awe of HIM. But, what he admitted to me is he CAN’T create something from scratch.  I can, it’s my superpower. The facts are, I should ONLY spend time on MY superpower, not his or anyone else’s for that matter. I’ll be more effective the LESS I do. Boom.

Sam K was a fine man.   In Dallas, he was a legend. He ran Texas Instruments for many years.   For some reason he liked me. He was retired, but respect followed him everywhere he went.  He counseled countless young entrepreneurs like me, reminding us through his wisdom and that what we are doing is often way less important than we thought.  And his occasional “F-bomb” in the boardroom NEVER went unnoticed.

Sam died a few years ago.   I was unable to attend his funeral, but it hit me hard.  Not only because I missed him, but because I realized how linear our lives can be.    Looking around, I see the senior figures in my life retiring. Dying. I know it’s the natural order, and I realized that for every person like me that was helped by someone like Sam there’s someone I can help.  

This last year, I faced down cancer and won.  I was the lucky one.  

Many aren’t so lucky.  I have been given years now to give back.  Suddenly the fancy car, the ski-chalet the boat don’t seem so important.    What’s important is helping the next generation.   

And yes, I’m still looking, waiting patiently to repeat Sam’s words about that goat in a board meeting.   

Caring for your Caregivers, Even the Money Ones….

Everybody is constantly complaining about their insurance companies. I’ve posted many times about Medi-share and our experience there. I thought I would share this internal employee newsletter where they featured my story with their employees.

I think it’s important to remember the team of people behind you when you get hit with something, in my case, an ugly disease which was made much less stressful without the “fiscal duress” of unstable insurance or cost containment strategies.

Here’s the article.

February 4th is World Cancer Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness and education about cancer. CCM employees serve hundreds of cancer patients each month, Charlie is just one of them. 

Charlie went in for surgery in July of 2019 believing his tumor was benign. It wasn’t and he learned he would need extensive radiation treatment.

In Charlie’s words, “So this cancer journey isn’t cheap. Radiation, I understand costs roughly $3500-$4000 PER SESSION. I will be having thirty. That’s an estimated cost of $180,000-$200,000. Needless to say, I was feeling a bit anxious about the fiscal part of this journey.”

“I was literally sitting in my car waiting to go in for my first radiation treatment when I get a call from Medi-Share’s VP of Cost Management. He tells me not only are my bills fully shareable but he asks my permission to pre-pay all 30 treatments. I was speechless and incredibly thankful. For all the people who criticize Med-Share, I can’t say enough. These people are amazing! I am a member for life or as long as they’ll have me.”

Cancer is a scary diagnosis not only the physical hardship but add to that the economic ramifications. Never forget that your service to these families is priceless. Your prayers, your interventions on their behalf, your service to make sharing a reality are making a huge difference in their lives. 

Thank you to all of you who directly serviced Charlie and his family.

You are the story…

Being vs. Doing – Christmas Reflections after a year of curveballs

Merry Christmas to all this year!

This year threw us some curveballs, including cancer, a huge business opportunity and a new home to renovate. I was just reviewing my goals for last year and oddly, they are largely under-achieved. Yet, those goals said nothing of headwinds or taking advantage of what’s in front of you.
This year God has given me a new lens which I am fortunate to be able to use. So, I need to use it.

My “goals” also said nothing of being thankful for where we are in life, including health, family and general happiness.

So my “goal” for this next year is to be OK, with “just being”, including being thankful for where you are not just where I am going. It’s not my path anyway. Disclaimer, I will still be working hard on my goals…but with a different lens.

“Peace is the result of retraining your mind to process life as it is, rather than as you think it should be.”

Wayne W. Dyer

Thank you all for being so supportive this last year, we’ve felt the love and prayers…..

Six Weeks Post Radiation – Quick Update

So you know how a microwave oven keeps “cooking” the food even after it’s finished? I think radiation treatment is a bit the same. I naively thought that once it was over, symptoms would stop or at least start improving.

That’s not the case. But, I can feel it coming! Apparently, after some “research”, the symptoms “peak”, 4-6 weeks AFTER treatment ends. News to me.

According to the radiation machine’s manufacturer, Varian here’s their definition

The TrueBeam® radiotherapy system is an advanced medical linear accelerator—fully-integrated for image-guided radiotherapy and radiosurgery. and designed from the ground up to treat targets with enhanced speed and accuracy. TrueBeam treats cancer anywhere in the body where radiation treatment is indicated, including lung, breast, prostate and head and neck. Having the power to not only treat quickly, but also deliver highly precise dose rates are hallmarks of the TrueBeam system.

Varian Medical Systems on TrueBean Radiotherapy

I’m still not exactly sure what an “advanced medical linear accelerator” is. Here’s what they say:

medical linear accelerator (LINAC) is the device most commonly used for external beam radiation treatments for patients with cancer. It delivers high-energy x-rays or electrons to the region of the patient’s tumor.

I’m only sharing this to set expectations for anyone about to do radiation. Especially radiation in the head or neck area. Those areas are apparently have tons of nerve endings making the process a bit more irritating to those tissues.

It’s OK, just means I don’t have to go to EVERY Christmas party or business trip. Hopefully just a few more weeks and the corner will turn!

Being Kind (to Yourself)

Our friend is undergoing the early stages of radiation in Houston right now. The other night, just thinking about what she’s been through and what she’s about to go through got to me. But, I also realized what I’ve been through was getting to me too. While I want to be compassionate for her, I need to be compassionate to myself as well.

This feels selfish, but it’s not. Here’s why.

You simply cannot love others without loving yourself. That means taking all that negative talk out of your head and be compassionate with yourself. Right now.

High Standards Prevail, but in Context

I went back to the gym last week and I’ve never been the biggest/strongest guy there AT ALL, but I’ve traditionally been on the respectable side. Not now. Last week my trainer put up a tiny little set of weights and said go for it. I refused and wanted bigger ones, which we did. But, in this process I realized I simply had unrealistic expectations of myself. I would never expect one of my daughters, or Mary or really anyone else to try and bench press their body weight after 5 months off and radiation therapy.

What’s my problem? At that moment, my head started pounding and I just sat there feeling dazed. At that moment one of the really nice people at our gym just looked at me and said:

“Charlie, be compassionate with yourself”.

This really got me to thinking. WHY are we so hard on ourselves? One of my biggest mental struggles in this process is not feeling productive. I’m a serial entrepreneur, I own three separate businesses all of which have their own needs. But I’ve been careful to own them, and not operate them. They’ve been fine…they haven’t grown much in the last 5 months, but they haven’t shrunk either. So in that way, I accomplished EXACTLY what I wanted…a business that doesn’t really need me. But, it’s also unnerving.

Managing your mind is likely more important than managing any other part of your life.

I’ve been learning about “mindfulness”, which is basically taking the controls back of your mind. I am really bad about letting all the voices run wild in my head with worst case scenarios, whispering in my ear all kinds of crap. Meditation has helped this over time I have learned to slow down the mind and just “be”….and “be compassionate with yourself”.

Psychotherapist and wellness coach Megan Bruneau suggests practicing simple awareness of thoughts and feelings, particularly the “critical inner voice” — without trying to change anything. She helps her clients understand how their critical inner voice has been helpful in the past. “What or who was it protecting you from? How did it motivate or comfort you? Once you find understanding and compassion for the critical voice, you can thank it for the good intentions.”

Allison Abrams, Psychology Today

Why compassion is important, especially when you fail

I have a friend who is dealing with a very public business failure. I am not fully aware of everything, but I know he’s been hurting, re-evaluating his associations, values and other things. He shared his stories of panic attacks every time the phone rings, and waking up in the middle of the night with soaked sheets.

I’ve been there. So have others. It sucks. But in his case he seems to be close to forgiving himself, for allowing himself some compassion. In the long run, he’ll be the guy that conquered all that and went on to the next thing and he’ll be better for it. I’m proud for him crossing the chasm.

In my experience self compassion in that situation is super hard. That situation is harder than cancer. It’s harder because in your mind you created it and you have yourself to beat up for it. It’s also your professional reputation, which is fragile. With cancer, there’s nothing to blame yourself for with but when you fail in business, your blame is everywhere. At least that’s what you tell yourself. I am praying for his self-compassion soon, if it’s not already there.

God is compassionate, YOU can be compassionate too.

So to conclude, our small group last night we had a discussion about prayer and asking God for support, love and compassion. Why not? What’s holding us back? In the New Testament, stories abound about loving your neighbor as yourself, and so on.

So it seems to me that loving yourself fully is the first step to loving others and bringing good forward. Being compassionate with yourself and others is part of the plan.

Now, get out there and show some compassion, but start at home.

Weakness in Healing. 3 Weeks Post Radiation

Yes, that picture is me on my 50th birthday. I’m just a couple of years older now but have been through more. It seems to me that without THAT strength the process I’ve just been through of enduring two surgeries and 30 radiation treatments would have been MUCH worse.

So the preface for the little pity rant I have now is that without preparation and strength, weakness would have been MUCH worse. I thank our trainer and coach Adam Hammett for making this real. Without him, I’m really not sure how this would have gone. Worse for sure.

So I finished radiation treatment three weeks ago. I was excited for the discomfort to come to an end.

It hasn’t.

In fact, it’s stayed pretty consistent. Headaches, fatigue, sinus pain from the treated area and some other things I won’t bore you with. Let’s just say I still can’t taste or smell. I must admit to getting a little irritable. When I met with our Dr. last week I asked how long this will take.

‘They don’t know. It could be two more weeks, months or even years. “. She says.

Well shoot. Time to get used to the new normal I guess.

Look I’m thankful it wasn’t worse. I have my eye and all my brain still in one piece. But I gotta tell you until you see the light at the end of the tunnel this is annoying.

So I go searching for some kind of uplifting passage about pain and healing. This one came up.

“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

Isaiah 53:4-5

Like many of you, I’ve read stories about the suffering endured on our behalf. I have to admit I still don’t really get it. I’m not suffering I’m merely annoyed and hurting a tiny fraction of what He endured. Why are we so weak? I do not feel strong today but I know I am, because I know I am not alone.

I’m looking forward to getting through on the other end of this and being the man that endured and thrived.

Until then I need some pain medicine. 👍 .

Pity party over. Carry on.

10 Days Complete. Feeling stronger every day.

I completed radiation 10 days ago. I must admit I haven’t felt any better over the last 10 days until today. It was small and I’ll spare you the details. But finally a small improvement.

I guess I had expected the effects of radiation to wear off faster. No taste, burned sinuses, burned face and eyes. Yesterday I was able to hit the 10,000 steps demanded by my Fitbit but then I slept for 12 hours.

Oh and it doesn’t hurt that we are on a cruise with our friends. 😎

More to come. Feeling stronger every day.

5 Things I learned during cancer treatment. Oh yea, and I am cancer free! #cancerfree #fuckcancer

I just completed two surgeries and 30 treatments of radiation for a very rare sinus cancer. I was super lucky. I have all my body parts, my face is a bit crispy at the moment, but it’s in-tact. I am so thankful for the doctors and nurses at UTSW. They are amazing. But, this journey is different for everyone and no one experiences it the same.

Here’s a few things I learned:

  1. Cancer sucks. It impacts just about everyone at some point in their lives either directly or indirectly. It doesn’t discriminate. White, Black, Hispanic, rich, poor, young, old, whatever. It doesn’t matter.
  2. How your show up matters the most. In my experiences watching people go through this there’s a tremendous difference in the victim, the passenger or the warrior. The victim complains, the passenger takes what comes without comment and the warrior takes command. I think everyone is different. I started out in the passenger camp and ended up in the warrior camp. Again, I’m lucky so it’s easier for me to be that way.
  3. Some of your “friends” are faking it. This one really sucks to write, but it’s true. Some of your so called friends really don’t care. I see this as a great opportunity to learn who those are and pull some weeds. I had one guy (a customer posing as a friend) ask if I had a autopsy done yet. I told him I wasn’t dead yet but yes, I had pathology done and the result was malignant. He answers, “Hey where’s that report your promised.” You don’t need fakers in your life.
  4. Treatment is incredibly draining. I didn’t do chemo, but I see the results of radiation. I am exhausted. I’ve never NOT been able to do something because I was too tired. If someone is going through this, give them some space.
  5. Every case is different. I feel like these doctors are chasing ants and killing them one at a time, and each ant behaves differently, eats different stuff, looks different, etc. It’s literally impossible to get all the different varieties. For anyone who has looked at this disease, the variations are so endless, I have no idea how we can beat it until we find the core issues causing it. I have no idea what that is, but I plan to support organizations that have an idea where to start.

Last but not least is the biggest one. I saw a tumor in my head that looked huge. It’s now gone. But consider this.

You are only here today because God decided for you to be. You could have stepped off a step wrong, pulled into the wrong lane on the freeway, choked on your food, had a heart attack, been murdered, ANYTHING. The odds are truly against us having a pain free and suffering free life.

The real question is “What are you going to do with TODAY?” It’s a gift, you are only here because God wants you here.

Charlie Alsmiller

Look I’m no religious bigot or crazy bible beater, I get it. I am friends with non-believers and I can see how they got to where they got. But, in THIS experience, God was EVERYWHERE. The nurses, the hospital, the doctors, the community, my family, my body. It’s impossible to ignore.

So my parting thought here is this.

What are you going to do with tomorrow? What are you holding back on doing? Who are you holding back on loving? What thing can you do that makes an impact? Tomorrow might be the day that you end up with an Avocado in your head, like me.

Contact me anytime, I am going to go back to my normal posts of talking about software, marketing, self awareness and the like too but one thing is sure. I am different and tomorrow will be different because God has given me a cancer free future.

Love to you all.