Work. Life. Risk. Reward.

Working hard to plan the unknown.

By Chris Thibault

Although I just spent a couple of days laying low after I had some serious aching bone issues, I am feeling some positive things. My body is telling me that the tumor growth has slowed down, or maybe even halted. At least for the last two weeks or so. I didn’t get a scan to confirm, but it feels like something is happening. Historically, if I listen closely, my body tells me what is going on. Even without the scans I usually know what’s up. I’ve been coughing less, down to about 0-30mg of codeine a day from about 100-130mg a day. I’ve been on codeine since day one of the metastatic diagnosis. It’s the only thing that can tame the cough but a narcotic I could’ve easily become addicted to. 

But when I have to let go, I seem to be able to. I’m lucky in that way. Even with alcohol. Before the diagnosis, I was drinking all the time. Every night. I would just sip on shots of silver tequila. I went through a lot of tequila. But after the diagnosis, when the doctors told me that alcohol was no good for cancer, I took it way down. That was it. I’ll have a drink here and there now, but that’s it. I’m lucky in the sense that I wasn’t born with a particularly addictive personality. But I am sympathetic to people who do have that trait, because it is a tough nut to crack. Probably the toughest.

I’ve gained roughly 10 pounds or so since the last blog post. I seem to be hovering at that weight and not packing on the pounds like I thought I would, but still, it’s progress.

Snapshot from my Renpho Scale app. I weigh myself pretty regularly.

Tumor marker CA-15-3 graph. In general, the higher these numbers, the more cancer there is. It’s the lowest since December. 

I even worked out a handful of times, and I have to say, it felt good.

If I had to live the rest of my life feeling exactly like this…it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. Sure my voice is still a little whacky from a nerve being irritated by the cancer. Yes, I have to take a codeine pill before I eat big meals. Doing anything that requires a minimum amount of physicality still leaves me winded. And even little things like sneezing sends a sharp pain to my rib cage, reminding me that my bones are still very much compromised.

But…I can pick up and hold my little 1 year old with no issues. Five months ago I couldn’t. I can now walk up and down the stairs without any pain.

My youngest daughter Cassidy.

And while I am still unable to run around and operate a camera like I used to, I can still work. Not just show up and be there. Actually work and get shit done like I used to. And that my friends, is the statement in question. I can work.

Even though I am far from healthy compared to a “normal” human, at the current moment I feel like I can work just fine. But I do realize my memory is short. 3-4 weeks ago I was singing a different tune. And 3-4 weeks from now could be drastically different as well. For better or worse. It’s a crap shoot. 

So what the hell do I do? It’s one thing to live in the moment and play things by ear, but in order to make smart decisions planning is key. 

I’ve been taking it easy on the work side of things by not aggressively going after new jobs. But if something comes in naturally and I feel good, I take it on. We usually start to book production work about 30-60 days in advance, so you can see I have to forecast how I am feeling a little bit. This is where I have a problem. Should I bet on me feeling better in 30-60 days, or feeling worse? I have to make specific business and personal decisions based on that. The doctors can’t answer that question. Nobody can. And I can’t just forget about the financial side of things totally, because that would for sure cause its own set of issues down the road. 

On one hand, I want to believe that my health is going to trend in the right direction and I should plan on working more and more as time goes on. 

On the flip side, what if I book all these jobs and then I am not feeling up to the task of a full schedule? That is the conundrum.

If you’re a numbers person, the stats will tell you that metastatic cancers usually win. Two year, five year, ten year…at one point it usually conquers you. According to the American Cancer Society, the 5 year survival rate for metastatic cancer progressed like mine is around 20% or less. That means that only 1 in 5 people with my diagnosis will live to see the 5 year mark after diagnosis. 80% of those people will die within 2-5 years. I’m approaching 1 year (metastatic diagnosis) this month. You do the math. So traditional thinking is I should expect a slow downward spiral and plan accordingly. But I’m not necessarily a traditional thinker. I think I’m going to win. Not sure how yet, but the possibility is real. I am eating good, taking natural supplements that have been studied to have anti-cancer properties like Turkey Tail mushrooms, Turmeric and Berberine among others. I am also drinking plenty of vegetable juices like celery and carrot, and most recently Pomegranate juice which has been studied to have anti-cancer properties regarding my specific type of breast cancer.

Some of the supplements I am taking.

Getting an IV infusion of Vitamin C at a Rhode Island “Drip Bar” – IM120.

I am also seeing 3 doctors now instead of one. And I plan on seeing more for different opinions and suggestions. My point is, I’m going hard. And regarding those statistics…how many of those people who died of their metastatic cancers went hard like this to try to fight it? I would assume only a fraction. It’s very hard to change someone’s lifestyle, even when they are actively dying and have the opportunity to do something about it. Self discipline is hard to come by. And of course, some people can’t even afford to take the extra steps at all. If my brother Brandon didn’t die I myself probably wouldn’t be so determined. Needless to say, I read those statistics with a grain of salt.

Everyone’s natural point-of-view is for me to take it easy. But in all fairness, they are not really taking the reality of the financials into account when saying that. But for me, turning down a job that could pay my mortgage multiple times over is a tough one to call.

We have been lucky enough to have a lot of support by family, friends and the entire community. And trust me, it helps. But I can’t rely on that to fund our whole life! It wouldn’t last too long with the treatment plan I’m on! I still have to figure out how to keep the train on the tracks as long as I’m still here. 

I have done so much work (that I wasn’t fairly compensated for) leading up to this point in my career it is very hard to turn away what seems to be a lot of money at this point. I remember when someone was willing to pay me $100 for me to produce a video for them. That was unbelievable to me at the time! I probably labored over that video for an entire week. When you added up the hours, I made way less than minimum wage. But I didn’t care. I produced countless videos like that early on. I have the physical videotapes to prove it. Yes, actual tapes and DVDs, not memory cards. I put in my 10,000 hours and then some!

Finally, a decade later, people are willing to pay me fairly for what I do. And then I go and get cancer! Do I turn down a job that can pay a month’s mortgage? 2 months? 6 months? Where do I draw the line? Could that money go towards a much needed vacation for my family? Or maybe a trip for a new cancer treatment center abroad?

Is there a better way to make money that utilizes my skills to the fullest?

I struggle with those decisions. But, looking back at it, I’ve been in similar situations before. I remember my wedding videographer days. This was over a decade ago, just before the DSLR revolution. My heart was never into filming weddings. At the time, I had a feeling that we (the videographers) were the last ones on the totem pole. We would get hired only if the couple had it in their budget after hiring everyone else. I also felt like we were aggravating the guests at the wedding by being very paparazzi-like. It just wasn’t for me. 

Even with knowing that, it was extremely hard to resist that down payment check. The real problem with that is, sometimes the wedding wasn’t for another year! So in order to get out of the wedding game, you have to kind of do it cold turkey otherwise you have obligations for a long time. Shut it down totally, no matter how good that down payment check looked. One day I made up my mind that I wasn’t happy doing weddings and I decided to not take any more reservations. Of course, this left me very broke for a while. So broke that my gas and electric got turned off at one point and I was routinely taking cold showers in the dark. My girlfriend at the time thought I was a “fucking loser” (those words verbatim) and couldn’t understand why I was giving up thousands of dollars of down payment money. I didn’t have all of my priorities in line back then, but in the long run, my decision to quit wedding videography was one of the best ones I ever made because it eventually opened up doors that weren’t going to open up otherwise. Also, I didn’t like doing weddings, so I naturally felt better about my life in general.

One of my first commercial videos I created that got me exposure. I proposed the project to the Springfield Armor and they said yes. I did it for FREE in order to start building my commercial reel. Funny thing is years later I got called by a Texas NBA-D League franchise that and they wanted a ballpark number on what something like that would cost. They were throwing around numbers and guessing around $15-$20,000! Haha. I said no it was $FREE.99! But this was one of the first videos I did to start getting my services noticed. I won an AdClub award for this one, which is cool considering I just made it up and filmed it with friends and family. 

Now, I don’t hate my job. In fact, for the most part, I love what I do for work. So it isn’t totally the same situation as my wedding days. But it is similar in regards to the short-term money vs. the long-term-play aspect of it. If I don’t do business as usual, what other opportunities for financial growth are there? For instance, something like a book or a movie can produce revenue even if I am dead. All of our work right now is one-time-fee type of work. It is not residual. And that’s all fine and good when I am healthy. But is it time to switch it up? We put 95% of our energy into client work and about 5% into personal creative projects. It may be time to flip those numbers around and see what happens. It’s one hell of a risk though. Especially at this crazy time of my life. 

But I remember my mother telling me a story about my father. The month I was born he quit his job and bought an oil truck. He was going to start a fuel delivery business. Everyone was mad at him for leaving a good paying job right when his first born child was arriving any day. A scrappy guy from the North End of Springfield with nothing more than an eighth grade education couldn’t possibly run a business. But he went ahead and bought a truck and hustled his ass off.

Guess what? That risk paid off.

I’m going to leave you with something that has nothing to do with the subject of this blog post but we talked about it in the last podcast. It’s something I created a couple of years ago for my kids. I heard a song by a band called “Too Many Zoos” titled “Warriors” and while listening I instantly had an idea and proceeded to write some “lyrics” down and then record them for the rugrats. Enjoy!


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