My uncle Benoit called me last weekend. We were catching up, discussing this and that. At some point the conversation got serious and I heard myself asking him: "What would you do if you only had 5 years to live?" It caught him off guard, of course. Like most people, he had never thought about it.
Over the next 3 days, I couldn't stop thinking about what my own answer would be. The question obsessed me.
To be clear, I don't know if I only have 5 years left. It's likely much more. According to the medical literature, the average lifespan for Mantle Cell Lymphoma (MCL) patients is 3-5 years post diagnosis. But MCL patients are usually in their 60s and I'm much younger, in my late 30s. Also new drugs and treatments have recently been approved (BTKs, CAR-T) which can significantly delay disease progression. Hopefully chemo and the new treatments can give me another 10+ years, at which point new treatments may have been developed, extending my odds even further. On the flip-side, the disease could accelerate quickly and that will be that.
The point is - in a scenario where you potentially only have a few years to live - how do you live those years? What do you do? Do you continue your same old life, as if nothing happened? Do you quit your job to go live your dream life somewhere? What does "dream life" even mean?
For the first time in my life I started thinking about my legacy. Sure, if I were to leave this world, my wife, my son, the rest of my family and my friends would mourn and miss me. Then I would join the ranks of those who "no longer live", like billions of other human beings before me. Slowly with time, people would forget about me.
Would I have left a positive impact on the world? Would I have made a contribution to mankind? Does it even matter? For a reason I struggle to explain, I now feel that, yes, it does matter to me. It bothers me that I can't point to something tangible that I have contributed to the world.
I'm lucky to have had a successful "career" so far. I climbed the corporate ladder in tech companies to the coveted C-level rank at a younger age than most. I launched and worked at a few startups. But all these businesses sold generic products or services. I contributed to making the economy grow - but it's harder to argue I have impacted many lives in a profound way.
I now understand why people who make a lot of money like to donate it to charities. I now understand why ancient Egyptian rulers wanted to be buried in massive pyramids that would stand forever. It's a profound human desire to want to leave a mark on this planet and be remembered. It's a feeling that seizes you when you understand that life is not eternal.
After several days of pondering this over, the answer became more and more obvious. I'm going to dedicate my life to advancing the treatment of lymphoma and cancer in general.
How I'm going to do this is unclear. But there is nothing that motivates me more than to join the fight against the disease that is trying to take my life.
This will likely take the form of a commercial venture. I believe this is the most effective way to make a huge impact. My gut says it will also involve the newest developments in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). Cancer is a hugely complex disease with too many dynamic variables for our human brains. AI/ML has made immense progress in the past 10 years and I want to harness this intelligence to take cancer treatment to the next level.
In a following post, I'll start documenting my research and outline where I see opportunities.
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