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Brock Yetso, CEO of the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults, shares his story, promoting colorectal cancer awareness.  

Winning is NOT always everything and “how you play the game” is sometimes more important.

Growing up playing sports, from little league to college soccer, I always thought winning was everything. Yeah, yeah, some coaches and your parents might say winning isn’t everything and “how you play the game” is equally important, but I never really bought it. Now, as a parent of two young boys, I can definitely appreciate the “give your best effort” mentality, but indulge me a bit to see where I’m coming from.

Growing up, I was a competitive soccer player, and goalkeeper at that. At the end of a 90 minute game if I gave up more goals than the opposing team, we lost! Simple as that. As I moved along in life, I applied this “winning” versus “losing” philosophy to much of what I did and saw pretty decent success – on the soccer field, in the classroom, and in the business world. Little did I know, and would later learn, winning is NOT always everything and “how you play the game” is sometimes more important. The way you play the game is what makes the people around you better and stronger and leads to longer lasting success.

So where am I going with this and how does this relate to March and the Ulman Cancer Fund? In March of 2000, my family and I faced the hardest opponent any of us had ever seen. This opponent wasn’t an opposing striker, a difficult test or a high stakes meeting – this opponent was CANCER. Cancer turned my life upside down and humbled me. On the surface you’d probably say it won – but over the years I’ve learned it was far from winning and I’m still in the game FIGHTING right back!

On February 17, 2000 my mom was diagnosed with Stage IV Colorectal Cancer. She was fifty-seven years old, had been a nurse for over twenty years and experienced no symptoms. She was a loving wife, mother of 5 kids and living her life in a way people could only aspire to imitate. Her youngest son was about to be the last of five to graduate from high school and her oldest daughter was a few months from getting married. She had so much to live for and the world had so many reasons for her to live. She was a PTA President, Soccer mom, community leader, health care professional and more – she lived a life of service and compassion for others.

Cancer turned my life upside down and humbled me.

My mom’s cancer journey was a short one – from her diagnosis in the local ER she received immediate surgery followed by chemotherapy and radiation. Unresponsive to any treatments, we to took her home from the hospital four weeks after her diagnosis on March 16, 2000 where she died peacefully in her home with her family by her side on March 17, 2000.

Today, as I sit back and reflect on my mom’s life, her cancer fight, its impact on me and how I live my life, I go back to my initial thoughts I shared with you about winning and losing. March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Every March I’m reminded of the pain this disease has caused thousands of families and myself. It has been 14 years this month that I sadly commemorate my mom’s passing to cancer but I’m also proudly celebrating over a decade of fighting the disease that took her life. In my eyes, cancer may have scored the first goal but we’re now in the second half and I’m fighting right back, and winning!

She is most likely sitting back smiling now because cancer picked the wrong fight.

Whether it is a soccer game, or the fight against cancer, I’ve come to appreciate that over the years that winning is NOT always everything. My mom taught me that better than anyone. She played the game of life in the most admirable way possible. She played by the rules, lived life to its fullest, work hard and loved those around her. For the 57 years she was here she left no regrets. She raised a family and instilled values in those she touched that will live indefinitely. Her battle with cancer was no different – she tackled it head on with respect, grace, and determination. She never let it invade her soul. Cancer is a ruthless, uninvited, deceitful, rude, and cheating opponent but it is an opponent that can be beat over time. It doesn’t follow any rules and it will continue to invade all of our lives. It doesn’t care who you are, who you love, or what you have to live for – it cheats and steals until it feels it has been victorious.

What Cancer doesn’t know is for every person it goes up against, there is a team full of family and friends supporting that person and they are ready and able to FIGHT back. Although she is no longer physically with us, my mom is very much still in the fight. She left behind a legacy of family and friends that will fight on. She is most likely sitting back smiling now because cancer picked the wrong fight.

So what does this all mean for you and me? The next time you embark on your next journey, competition, or challenge – just give this some thought. What does “winning” mean to you? Is it the place you cross the finish line, the score of the game, your rank amongst the group? Don’t get me wrong, how you perform has its place in this world, and I’m the first person trying to win, but I can’t emphasize enough the importance of evaluating yourself and others on how we “played the game”. We’re not going to win or be successful in everything we do. Persistence and perspective are so critically important. Win, lose or draw – we need to be able to be proud of the performance we gave and be able to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and move on to the next challenge.

The next time you “step up to the starting line” or walk into the boardroom, ask yourself: Did I give 100%? Was my effort part of a larger and longer lasting effort that will have greater change? Did my individual efforts help impact others? Am I proud of how I conducting myself?

Winning might be a great feeling for you temporarily – but is it also changing the world around you? As the cliché saying goes – “Make your mom proud”. It’s all in how you FIGHT that really counts!

– Brock Yetso, CEO