My Worst Day’s Silver Lining

November 16th, 2009 wasn’t such a good day for me.

I started it off reading a few pages of Andre Agassi’s autobiography, Open. The guy was whining about hating tennis—complaining that he had always hated tennis. “What a waste,” I thought. Forget about the tennis player for a moment and think about the man, spending many years of his life doing something he supposedly hated.

Throwing the book onto the hospital bed that I’d spent the previous night on, I thought about how great I felt, physically. But I also knew that later that day I was going to be sliced and pried open so a surgeon could take a rotating saw to my ribs and spine.

Two week’s previous, I was diagnosed with bone cancer. I wasn’t very happy about that.

The surgery went well, and I had three ribs removed (accurately, 8cm pieces of 3 ribs) They also cut as closely as they dared to my spine, and after the surgery they said, “We did what we had to.” That was reassuring.

Progress towards my first few post surgery steps came a couple of weeks later.

Then I put myself on an exercise program to regain mobility. Wearing a spinal support vest for the first six weeks, I tolerated the frustration and discomfort, thanks to support from my parents (who flew to Singapore to help me) and of course, my wife was amazing.

Emotional roller coasters followed. I had a routine MRI scan done two months later, and my surgeon said that I had a larger tumour in a similar spot, and that surgery would likely cause neurological damage. Lovely. After another scan, he suggested that he might be wrong—that it might just be post-operative scar tissue. So—I went for a second opinion (after hugging the guy) and the oncologist I saw couldn’t confirm that it wasn’t cancer. Bummer.

But then I had another scan, 6 weeks later, and this crazy phantom tumour was still the same size, indicating that if it was an aggressive bugger, it decided to take a tea break. My surgeon saw this as a sign that it was scar tissue. Sweet.

Back to a third opinion….an American oncologist in Singapore wasn’t so sure. I saw him about two months ago, and next week, he’s arranging another MRI so he can see if it has grown in the past two months.

Why don’t they just do a biopsy? They’ve suggested that it’s invasive (given the location) and that biopsies can spread cancers such as this one. Every doctor has agreed with that. Shitty.

So I wait for another week—and have another scan. If it hasn’t grown, my odds are better. It might not be cancer.

What’s this all about, and how does it relate to Andre Agassi?

Well….I’m not the athlete that Agassi is. But I’ve enjoyed being physically active my whole life. Last year (although there are many runners my age faster than me) I won the JP Morgan Corporate Challenge, beating some decent runners who were nearly half my age.

This year, I entered the race again, but this time I wasn’t first, I was forty third. And that felt better than winning it did last year.

At this point, I haven’t been given a clear bill of health. But I’d like to win that race again next year. And I’d like to make far more important plans with my wife beyond that.

I can think about my ordeal two different ways:

1. Some people don’t like to make ambitious plans when they risk falling flat on their face. So they don’t make them.

2. Other people ask, “What the hell? Why not make ambitious plans?”

If it’s true that Andre Agassi spent the majority of his life doing something he hates, that’s a sad waste. Life is short—live it well and enjoy it.

The only thing I don’t like about sharing this story is when people say how sorry they are. Forget, “Sorry”

I prefer people to say, “Yeah! Kick ass—and kick it as hard as you can!”

We’re all terminal. We all have to kick ass. So don’t get wrapped up doing something you hate—or wrapped up fearing something that you might not be able to accomplish. You, me…everyone.

We’re terminal. So live life dancing, kicking, laughing, sharing and kicking.

Don’t forget the kicking!

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Andrew Hallam

I’m a financial columnist for Canada’s national paper, The Globe and Mail, as well as for AssetBuilder, a financial service firm based in Texas. I’m also the author of Millionaire Teacher: The Nine Rules of Wealth You Should Have Learned in School (2nd Ed. Wiley 2017) and The Global Expatriate’s Guide To Investing: From Millionaire Teacher to Millionaire Expat (Wiley 2015). My mission is to educate, motivate and inspire people on basic retirement planning and best practices for investing, using evidence-based strategies. I'm happy to comment on your questions. However, please read the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and the Comments Policy.

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17 Responses

  1. Damn… I can't imagine the feeling when you first were diagnosed. It must have been tough… but you had the right attitude, and support to help you along the way. In the end, we are still mortal, so you are right; we have to make the best of it!

  2. Wink Richardson says:

    Way to go on another race!! Many would not even try. I'll be thinking of you doing the Kusam Klimb this year in Sayward… Love Wink

  3. Cheers Kevin,

    I cringe a bit when reading that post's final couple of sentences. It sounds as if I'm trying to tell people what to think. Ha! As if I'm some kind of authority. Now THAT makes me laugh!



  4. Thanks Wink!

    Enjoy the Kusam Klimb this summer. I did that event the first year they had it. It's a crazy climb into the snow. At sea level, where we started (the year I did it) it was 30 degrees celcius, but we climbed up to the snow level–which all seems so ridiculous when I think of it now. Have fun—and I hope the weather ends up being perfect for you.


  5. Mich @BTI says:


    Each one of us has an expiry date. Keep the moral high and make the most of life. Your advice reflects the right attitude. Keep it up!

    Please keep us updated, we'd love to hear you getting a clean health bill in the coming weeks.


  6. Sue Alfawicki says:

    Go do it, Andy! We know you can!

  7. Thanks Sue! I will!!

  8. Neil Holm says:

    Hey Andrew,

    Thanks for the update. Continue to kick butt and go for first place next year in that race.

    Hopefully we will see you two this summer. We need to do another 66 minute loop run towards the dam.

    Neil & Karin

  9. JoAnn says:

    Ahh Andrew….I love hearing your stories. Still have your picture up the "ice cream sandwich"…you between Bill and I in the summer out in Kye Bay! I love the lifeforce you have and your outlook on life..go bird go!!

  10. Wow Andrew. Great post. Life is certainly for the living. The only other thing I want to write is: kick some ass!

  11. Natasha says:

    Well Andrew, you nailed it…in that the one thing we all have in common is that none of us get out of here alive.

  12. Andrew Hallam says:

    @Neil Holm

    Thanks Neil,

    But let's make that a shorter run this time! Your easy pace will be like racing for me now!


  13. Andrew Hallam says:


    Thanks JoAnn!

    It took me a few seconds to figure out the "Ice Cream Sandwich" metaphor. But then I remember how you and Bill had spent waaaayyyyy too much time in the sun that summer! And I hadn't spent enough!

    See you in July!


  14. Andrew Hallam says:


    Hey Natasha,

    I thought you'd be the sort who believed in past lives and "forevers". Comforting thoughts, no? I just read a book called Many Lives, Many Masters. I have an open mind, but it made me laugh incredulously out loud a few times early on.

    Psychiatrist to patient undergoing past life recall:

    "Catherine, what year is it?"

    Catherine to psychiatrist:

    "It's 776 B.C."

    This wasn't supposed to be fiction, but if this gal was living 776 years before Christ, how would she have known that– before the Christian calendar was created?

    Anyway, it's a nice thought.

  15. Natasha says:

    Andrew: Ask me when I am drawing my last breath what my actual belief is…perhaps it will have changed.

  16. Lara says:

    So just keep on kicking ass boy!!

    Looking forward to stealing some of your time this summer if you've got any left!

    Hugs, from all us Dixon 4..:)

  17. Andrew Hallam says:


    Thanks Lara,

    We're looking forward to the break. Speaking of breaks. I was running the other day and some guys accidentally slammed a portable dumpster into my ribs, breaking two of them on my surgery side. And according to a recent MRI, I already had one cracked rib. Oh, the stories will flow this summer!

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