Listen to the podcast here
David Richman is an endurance athlete, author, philanthropist, and so much more. His second book, Cycle of Lives, talks about the interconnected stories of people overcoming the most difficult obstacles we deal with, specifically diseases known under the umbrella term of cancer. In his book, he tackles how people deal with and talk about grief, trauma, and death and why it’s important to understand and connect on a deeper level. David also shares the role of distance endurance athletics in helping him contemplate life and dig deeper into his emotions. Join his insightful chat with host Corinna Bellizzi and be moved by his journey to tell people’s stories and uncover important lessons on life and human connectedness.
About David Richman
He continues to do Ironman triathlons and recently completed a solo 4,700-mile bike ride.
Guest LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/davidrichman/
Guest Website: https://david-richman.com/
Guest Social: https://www.instagram.com/davidrichman_cycleoflives/
00:00 – Introduction
02:40 – David’s story
09:31 – The origin of Cycle of Lives
16:34 – Tackling grief and trauma
22:57 – The wheel of emotion
30:41 – Being a distance athlete
35:21 – David’s encounters and the interconnectedness of the universe
45:03 – Talking about death and making deep meaningful connections
53:55 – Telling other people’s stories
57:13 – Final Words
Join the Care More. Be Better. Community! (Social Links Below)
Support Care More. Be Better: A Social Impact + Sustainability Podcast
Care More. Be Better. is not backed by any company. We answer only to our collective conscience. As a listener, reader, and subscriber you are part of this pod and this community and we are honored to have your support. If you can, please help finance the show (https://www.caremorebebetter.com/donate). Thank you, now and always, for your support as we get this thing started!
Cycle of Lives: 15 People’s Stories, 5,000 Miles, and a Journey Through the Emotional Chaos of Cancer With David Richman
In this episode, I am thrilled to introduce you to my next guest. He’s an endurance athlete, author, and friend of the show, David Richman. David is an entrepreneur. He’s an athlete, a philanthropist, and so much more. His first book, Winning in the Middle of the Pack, shares how to get more out of ourselves than we ever imagined possible.
This resonates with me in particular because I’ve always felt like that’s part of my purpose in life. It’s to help people realize their full potential. With his second book, Cycle of Lives, he shares the interconnected stories of overcoming the most difficult obstacles that we face, specifically diseases known under the umbrella term of cancer.
With Cycle of Lives, David shares fifteen real stories and unique perspectives of trials and triumphs with victory and defeat. He invites us to embark on this journey of stories as he travels with us to meet the people featured in this book, these fifteen stories, as he solo-cycled to connect with each in person from his home in Los Angeles and California to Florida and New York in a 5,000-mile epic cycling adventure. David, welcome to the show.
Thank you, Corinna. I’m very excited to talk to you.
I received my copy of the book before. I was able to get through the first of the fifteen stories, and I say get through because it’s a little emotional at times but also inspiring, even in that first story’s case of the tragedy. What a journey, but before we get into talking about that, as I alluded to in my intro, I’m also passionate about helping people achieve what they didn’t think was possible. I’d like to learn a little bit more about this particular book, that Middle of the Pack story and succeeding from the middle.
The Middle of the Pack wasn’t a contrived thing. It was like a lightning bolt that hit me. I was in my late 30s. I had accomplished quite a bit but also had found myself unaware of my purpose in life and what my goals in life were. I was making my way through life, not on purpose, but by accident. I found myself in my late 30s at a pretty low point in my life. I was overweight. I was a smoker. I was completely stressed out from work. I was in an abusive relationship. I got four-year-old twins and needed to get me and them out of that situation. I was away. I was not active. There were a lot of things that were going on.
A number of things hit me at one time, like this awareness of where I was and how I was accidentally making my way through life rather than on purpose. The tasks that were created or that I created for myself weren’t the healthiest of tasks. I’d find myself in bad relationships so I could fix them or find myself in a stressful job so that I could prove that I could do it. Nothing was working. I was hit with a lightning bolt discussion from a friend who gave me some insight. I was hit with a difficult conversation with my sister that gave me some perspective. I also probably looked at myself in the mirror for the first time.
That conversation with my friend was when I was done complaining for the millionth time about all the bad things that were going on in my life, he finally said, “I’m sorry to tell you this, but you’re the problem. Nobody else is the problem. Everything you touch is a rabid dog. You try to pet the rabid dog, and then it bites you, and you get all bummed out because it bit you. Why don’t you worry about your own problems and stop trying to fix everything else?” I’m like, “Wow.” That made sense for the first time. It’s hard to hear. It’s easy when things are hard to complain about the things that are hard. It’s easy to do that, “My wife at the time was so mean. She’s so angry and violent. Maybe I was the problem, not her.” There are different ways to look at it.
The conversation with my sister came at the same time that I was getting this awareness. You don’t know until you know. I didn’t know until I knew. My sister called me up one day and said, “I got some news. It’s not real good, but let’s talk about it. I’ve got terminal brain cancer.” With a husband, young kids, a beautiful job, a beautiful circle of friends, and living a very happy, stress-free life as opposed to me, that hit me because I was so happy for her to be in such a great spot.
We both have come out of some severe traumas as youngsters, I admire that in her. It’s like, “Even living her best life, it was going to end soon.” That gave me some perspective. Those two things combined made me look in the mirror and go like, “Who are you? What are you doing? What are you trying to accomplish?” I realized I didn’t have any answers. I embarked on some answers and tried to see what I was made of. That’s where the idea of the Middle of the Pack came in.
As you dive into this second book, I’m hearing some of the same themes throughout, or at least from what I’ve read thus far, where it is one part of self-analysis and being real with where you are with acknowledging the pain and the trauma that you might be going through when someone close to you or even yourself is diagnosed with something as, in some cases, terminally final as cancer can be. Even as science continues to go forward and people in proper treatment are often on a path to recovery, it can be that event that blindsides you and causes you to take that cold, hard look in the mirror and get honest with yourself in a way that you might not have been in a prior moment.
Everyone reading this is going to have, at some point in their lives, a personal connection to somebody that they were close with that got a diagnosis of cancer. It started for me when I was nine years old. My grandmother, who I love dearly, was diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer. She was active. Nobody expected her to succumb to such a disease at only 63. You’re in your 60s. It’s okay. It’s a good life, but it was so fast and dramatic because they had not discovered cancer until it was too late.It's easy, when things are hard, to complain that things that are hard. Click To Tweet
One of the things you talk about in your book is the stage at which somebody is diagnosed and how you worked in compiling these stories of fifteen people or finding people that were at any stage in this journey, like some people who might have found out that they had a diagnosis at Stage 1 versus others at Stage 4, the survivors, and also those that didn’t survive telling their stories through their loved ones.
As I commenced this journey with you reading it, I reflected on those difficult moments where it was hard to understand even what was happening to someone you cared so deeply for. I want us to start this conversation from that perspective where you selected people to tell their stories, walk through their trials and tribulations, and in some cases, their success. How did this whole journey start with Cycle of Lives?
The whole journey started from what we finished talking about a little bit, which was the Middle of the Pack. The Middle of the Pack allowed me to embark on this journey of self-discovery through endurance athletics, which was completely foreign to who I was. What you said at the very beginning of this, “Be better. Get more out of yourself,” is I hadn’t ever been used to measuring my self-worth based on how I felt about myself. I always measured it based on what I thought others thought of me, the problems I could solve, or how good I could do against my competition at work or whatever. It never was self-motivating self-setting goals. With endurance athletics, I said, “Let’s see what you can accomplish and see in the middle of the pack where nobody’s looking and watching.”
Everybody watches the people at the front. Who doesn’t want to cheer the last person across the line? Everybody else in between, nobody cares. Nobody’s watching. It’s a freeing thing. You could do it for yourself. What can you accomplish? If you’re doing it for yourself, you can set your goals high because it doesn’t matter. Nobody else cares. It’s what you want to do for yourself. It’s a cool thing. I learned a ton about looking in the mirror and taking an honest assessment of yourself.
I started to learn more about myself and become a little bit more introspective rather than worrying about how I was perceiving what others would think of me and how I interacted with the world from my perspective. That brought me to the Cycle of Lives. When June, my sister, was going through the last stages of her fight with cancer, I noticed that the caregivers, doctors, and the people that were involved, her friend circle, family, and everyone were good about dealing with the tasks around cancer, but they weren’t real good about dealing with the emotional side of it.
I have learned through this project that whether or not Stage 0, not anything major, even the fear of cancer can be as traumatic as even Stage 4 terminal cancer. Who’s to say how somebody should feel about what’s going on in their life? I was touched by the idea of why people are so ill-equipped to talk about the emotional side. Why do they get quiet, self-isolate, and have an inside voice going on?
What I noticed was that on the emotional side, people weren’t able to start those conversations. What I tried to do was to say, “I’m not going to tell you what’s difficult. I’m not going to try to figure out who’s got it worse or whose trauma is affecting them the most.” I want to learn why when it comes to the emotional side of what we’re going through, we tend to self-isolate or not want to invade people’s space. I don’t want to say the wrong thing.
When your grandmother’s diagnosed with cancer, what do I say to you? How do I say something that doesn’t make me sound like an idiot? How do I give you a safe space to talk to me about how you’re feeling about it? These are hard subjects. Every person I spoke to, like a doctor, patient, loved one, or family member, had a degree of understanding that it was a difficult thing for them to talk about the emotional side. That sparked me into wanting to start this project of Cycle of Lives.
Something that we don’t think about often enough is that there is a moment in time before and after when you have a diagnosis. There’s everything that led up to that moment. Often, that moment changes or defines what the rest of that person’s experience is going to be. You grieve for the life that existed up until that point when you might have had a diagnosis. This is something that I’ve personally seen. It’s like there’s a before and after. It’s a defining moment in that way, good or bad.
A lot of people define themselves through trauma. They are put back in the center. They think about what’s important to them. They change things about their lives in many cases. Even coming to that point, does it mean that you’re going to necessarily survive the long-term? Your expiration date may have been moved so much closer than you ever anticipated. The time you have left feels inconsequential. These things themselves are traumas, even having to confront your mortality in this way. When it’s not something we’re personally going through, or if we haven’t been through that trauma, it becomes hard to relate to one another.
That reality then becomes a part of the lives of the people that are going through it. They’re like, “This person can’t understand what I’m going through, so I’m not going to share it.” Therefore, because they’re not sharing it, they become more disconnected. That leads to more depression and other challenges, making it harder to get through the hard days. I’ve been affected perhaps more than many when it comes to cancers. I personally also started to become a distance athlete when I had a friend get diagnosed with leukemia.
I raised $20,000 over a couple of seasons, running marathons for the team and training, then becoming a training captain, and supporting the journey of others who were doing the same. Both the people I ran in honor of lost their lives. When you get close to something like this, the grief, and get into the daily lives of people that are experiencing cancers in particular, even as somebody who may not have that diagnosis, you live a little bit of it with them. You get to understand and see behind the curtain of the challenge.A lot of people do attack trauma in very positive ways. Click To Tweet
You can. A lot of people attack the trauma in positive ways. They help their friends. They support them. They transport them. They take things off them and unburden them when they can at work, family, or whatever. They raise money. They show their support in ways like you did, which is personal. I’m sure you put many things on hold so that you could do this to support them. It was a way in which you felt you could help and make a difference. We all do that. Most people do, and it’s great. I’m not going to minimize it. What happens is more of the case.
What I’ve learned from talking to hundreds of people about this is that those people are not indicative of all of the relationships that are in their lives. There are two sides to this coin. One is, “If I’m going through that trauma, I don’t want to burden people. I don’t want to bring them down. I don’t want to bring them into my dark reality. I don’t want to burden them unnecessarily.” There’s that side of the coin. The other side of the coin is, “I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to be in their space. It would bring them down if I talk about how great my life is.”
There are a million things that go on that give us a straight arm and allow us to distance ourselves from them because we don’t want to do or say the wrong thing. It can be isolating. I tried to say, “I probably don’t know what my sister was going through, even though we were very close and open about talking about it. I couldn’t get into her head and understand how she was processing the emotions of this cancer, in her case terminal, and what was going to take away her family and from her family.” What I could understand is the traumas in her life that happened earlier that affected her ability or inability to deepen the relationships that she had in her life about this trauma.
In other words, I knew I could relate to her about these other traumas, which would give me some insight on how to communicate with her about what she was going through at that time. I might not understand what they’re going through with their “cancer journey,” whether they be a doctor, a patient, or whatever, but I could understand abandonment, abuse, drug addiction, making bad choices in life, all the things that happen in our young adulthood and adolescent that form who we are.
If I knew you better as a nine-year-old, we were friends, and I could understand what you went through outside of your grandma, I might have a better way of communicating with you and forming a deeper, authentic connection over that thing I can’t understand, which is you trying to process this idea of how this cancer is taking away your grandmother. It’s a way for me to communicate with you better. I might not be so arms-distance or allow you to self-isolate. I might try harder and be better equipped to have these hard conversations with you if I could understand a little bit more about what these other traumas in your life were.
I’m reflecting on the first chapter of your book, Cycle of Lives. Anybody reading this can go to CycleOfLives.org to find out more about this particular work. I noticed in the very beginning that you followed a format. You shared for yourself, your relationship with cancer, your age at the time, your family status, location, first encounter, a summary of your cancer journey, treatment specifics, community involvement, etc.
You do the same thing at the beginning of each of the chapters, which helps people to get a framework of understanding for each of the individuals. I also thought it was interesting that you were calling out the strongest positive emotion and the strongest negative emotion. At the beginning of the book, you share that you’re using Dr. Plutchik’s Theory of the Wheel of Emotion. Can you talk to us about the Wheel of Emotion and how this guided some of the writing of this book?
Here’s what I want to do if we’re going to have more meaningful, deeper, authentic connections. At the end of the day, when somebody is on their death bed, near the end of their life, or contemplating their life, there are probably two things that they think about, who didn’t die, form a relationship with, or what regrets do I have over the relationships that weren’t deep enough? Two, they had gratitude for the deep connections that they’ve had in their lives. That’s about it with everybody that I’ve talked to. Those are two outlets. That’s all based on emotion.
I needed to find a framework for what emotions we have in common and why we have different emotional responses to things. It’s because you know as well as I do that somebody could look at something and have fear or joy. They might have fear because it’s an obstacle. Somebody else might have joy because of this opportunity. It’s the same thing. We all have these eight basic emotions. Dr. Plutchik’s theory is that these eight emotions are four emotions opposite of each other, like anger versus fear. They are based on our survival instincts.
We all share the same emotions, but there are additional layers to these emotions. Not everybody at their base has fear about everything, but you might have some hesitation or apprehension. Since we all have the same base of understanding and emotions, I wanted to do was to better understand how somebody might react to something with gratitude and somebody else might react to it with regret? Why is that? I got one story in the book where somebody was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. When told this by her husband, she started streaming tears of joy and said, “Thank God it’s cancer.” I’m like, “Huh?” I couldn’t even imagine that.
You read Bobby’s story. Bobby’s story is filled with gratitude, hope, and optimism, even though it’s unbelievably tragic and heartbreaking to know what he had gone through. I wanted to understand the emotions involved so that if I have somebody going through something close to me, or if I’m going through something like how I connect on that emotional level, I wanted to understand people’s emotional responses.
Usually, as a witness, caregiver, or whatever, they had one overriding positive emotion and one overriding negative emotion. When I asked him, “What’s the first thing that came to your mind?” it could have been something positive, such as gratitude, joy, or happiness. It could have been something negative, such as fear, anger, despondency, or whatever. I wanted to understand why that was and give us a way to relate to people going through trauma.Somebody could look at something and they might have fear because it's an obstacle. Somebody else might have joy because it’s an opportunity. It's the same thing. Click To Tweet
I can’t imagine finding out I had terminal brain cancer and saying, “Thank God it’s cancer.” I’m betting she thought she was going crazy or something.
It seems to be unreasonable. When I first heard it, I thought it was unreasonable because I was told the story is this. Here’s this beautiful woman. She’s had six kids. One of them, unfortunately, died at eighteen months. It was very tragic. It’s a wonderful, long 25-year marriage to her soulmate. They got through difficulties together. They were both successful on many different levels. They were close extended family. They were living a full, vibrant, relatable life. It’s fantastic, but she started to change. She started to become angry and not treat her family in the same way. It got worse and worse.
Eventually, she got to the point where she was not herself. In a moment of clarity, she said to her husband, “It’s been a few years now that I have been spiraling down into this hole. I’m never going to get out of it. You have to put me away. You have to get me checked out. There is something wrong with me.” They put her into a mental institution. She had seen every doctor imaginable. They put her in a mental institution because, in that moment of clarity, she said, “It’s me. I’m the problem. I’m not myself. I’m in this dark hole. I’m never coming out.”
That was the point that she realized that her family, dreams, life, and everything were gone. She was the cause of it. When she was put into this institution, they did a battery of tests on her and right away found out that she had a grapefruit-size tumor in her brain. They called up her husband and said, “You need to get down here right away. Surgery has been prepared for. We’re going to bring in the best doctors possible. She probably won’t make it through the surgery. If she does, she won’t live long after, but that’s what’s going on.”
He races at 3:00 in the morning to the mental institution she’s in, grabs her hand, raises her up, and says, “I need to tell you something.” Her response is, “Thank God it was cancer.” For years, she’s been thinking that she’s spiraling into this dark hole that’s in her and her mind. She has come to the realization that it’s her, she’s crazy, and she needs to be locked up away from everything that she’s built and loves.
When she found out that it wasn’t that, imagine the joy that she felt. How am I to tell somebody how to respond to things? I can relate to that story. I can relate to the despondency that she must have felt to realize that everything that she loved, cherished, and built was gone, and she was the cause of it. To find out that she wasn’t the cause of it, how traumatic is that?
You would feel liberated in a way. It’s like, “It’s outside of my control. It was sickness and not a mental collapse. It was a tumor.” That is so moving. I find myself reflecting through this conversation on my journey as a distance runner for a few years. I now have the gift of bunions. I stop the distance runs but still do enjoy jogging and have pain if it’s longer than about four miles. One of the things that I was personally driven to do through my distance training was work through the pain of feeling outside of the control of the situation when somebody is dealing with the potential end of their lives, and you’re close to them, you care, and you want to do something.
There was something for me about physically pushing myself to the point of being beyond a limit that I thought was there that helped me cope with that pain and go on this journey of discovery of pushing beyond the boundaries of what I thought I was capable of, at the same time, thinking about the reality of their situations in treatment with chemotherapy or something along those lines, working to push beyond their own boundaries and what they thought they could handle. I wonder if you could talk about that and share if this is your experience, too. Cycling 5,000 miles over 6 weeks in a solo trip is a lot of solo time thinking, biking or getting completely blank. Sometimes some of those moments would have been completely blank.
For many years, I’ve been doing Ironmans, 50-mile runs, 100-mile runs, multi-day bike rides, you name it, I’ve done it. One that draws me to endurance athletics is the ability to get super deep, reflective, and contemplative about problems in life and whatever. I have come to realize that when you’re told to do something such as climb a mountain, run a marathon, do a hard project at work, or start a business or something, they’re much harder. They come with a lot more fear and apprehension than if you elect to do them on your own.
By electing to do it on your own, if somebody told you, “I want you to run a marathon in three months before you had ever done it,” you might say like, “I’m not motivated to do it. I’m fearful of that. I don’t know if I can accomplish that.” If you turned the table and went around to all your friends and said, “I know you don’t know me as a runner. I’ve never run in my life, but I’m going to do a marathon in three months,” it’s a whole different set of reality and facts. It’s something that permeates into other parts of your life as well. Setting a goal, accomplishing it, overcoming the fear of finding out what you’re made of, and seeing how far you can push it yourself because you’re trying to push yourself, are things that can permeate into other parts of your life.
I’ve done lots of individual days like that, even some multiple days like that. To do 45 days in a row, minimum of 7 hours, an average of almost 12 hours a day, and some days as long as 17 hours of cycling day after day for 6 weeks, I solved a lot of problems because there were a lot of contemplative space there and a lot to process. It was a hard thing to do each day, no doubt. It was also a gift because I was doing it for myself and this project.
It had the right motivation and the right place for me so that I could be in a good emotional state during the time. That’s where I absorbed the most about what was going on around me each day and the people I spoke to about this project. It also allowed me to contemplate stories on a deeper level because when you’re in the middle of Texas, biking for fourteen hours a day, you just keep moving. You could solve a lot of problems.One of the draws of endurance athletics is that ability to get super deep and reflective and contemplate about problems in life. Click To Tweet
That brings me to my next question, which has to deal with the process of writing. I personally find that most of the writing I do happens in my head before I ever put them on paper. I’m thinking about it. I’m processing what I’ve learned. I’m even deciding where I’m headed next, even with an article. A paper in college was the same thing because so much of the writing is off the page before you get to it.
I wonder what the longest stretch was between these fifteen different individuals or groups that you were working to tell the story of and if there was perhaps some grand moment of realization that occurred because you were on these incredibly long-distance rides for a lot of that time all by yourself. I wonder if you could share something along those lines.
I’ve done a lot of these shows, and I appreciate you having me on. Nobody has asked me that question, and it hit me. There was this magic moment. I’m the same way with writing. It goes on in the back of my head, but once you get it out on paper, it sounds different because the voice that we have in our head is very different than the voice we have on paper and way different than the voice we have reading what’s on paper. I’m the same way. I let it marinate in the background sometimes for years. I had been interviewing these people for a couple of years. I knew them well, even though I had not met most of them. I’d met a few of them but had not met most of them.
That connection of meeting them in person with who I thought I knew them to be was separated. Why I went on the bike ride was to connect that if we’re all connected. The point that made me realize the true essence of this project was when I was in Louisiana. I had 2 or 3 nights in a row of running into complete strangers who did the most unbelievable, tiny little things that were so monumental to me for this project, having never met me and never heard of it.
One night, I was in a little restaurant in Louisiana, to make a long story short. The waitresses, hearing what I was doing, all got together and gave me their tips for the night to give to the project. All the proceeds from everything go to cancer research and care. They had heard about this, and they didn’t know me from anybody. Here, they worked all night and gave me their tips so that they could make a donation for what I was doing. I was like, “Huh?” The reason why is because each one had a story like you did about your grandma. We’ve had probably two dozen stories since then, but they had a story.
The next night, I checked into a hotel. It was the longest night I had had. I checked at a hotel at 1:30 in the morning, and the woman behind the counter came racing out, “I’m so glad you’re here. My grandfather died of cancer two weeks ago. I was so close to him. I read about what you were doing and was so excited to talk to you because I wanted to ask you a question. What can I say to my grandma?” I’m like, “What the heck?” I realized at that point that connection where we’re all connected by this. It just hit me. I want to find people that are connected.
Every bone is connected by trauma, loss, the fear of losing someone, and somebody going through something as difficult as cancer not knowing what to say. We’re all connected by it. That’s when I was like, “That’s the thread of the book.” We’re all connected, which is an optimistic, powerful thought because we’re all living our own lives. I don’t know anything about you, and you don’t know anything about me. That’s the way it will be for most of the people that exist in the world. We’re all connected by that one thing.
What I venture is that those moments came up when you needed them the most, whether or not you don’t acknowledge that. I had a very similar experience where suddenly, this thing that you’re working hard for, someone else acknowledges and brings a story forth that offers that inkling of inspiration that keeps you inspired to keep going even as you have those subtle sores and your body is fighting you for pushing your muscles to continue going like this every day upon day for 45 straight. I understand how hard that is.
You’re so insightful. It’s shocking that when you need it the most, somebody was there. When I knew nobody was going to be there, I figured out a way not to need somebody. It’s weird. There was a time in Texas when I was getting five flats a day because I was on the interstates and those tiny little pieces of wire popped through my tire. I’m on the freeway in Texas. I’m down to 1 tube, and I’m getting 4, 5, and 6 flats a day. I’m out at my wit’s end because I’m stuck on a freeway. I got one tube left. I don’t even know what to do.
All of a sudden, some dude stops on the freeway. He comes running after me going, “What are you doing on the freeway? You got these bags. You got to be coming from somewhere far. What are you doing?” I told him in 30 seconds what I was doing. He had somebody that was going through cancer right then. He was a big cyclist, and he’s like, “Get off here. Turn right and left. Go two miles this way. There’s a bike store. You tell them to stop and ask for my name, and they’ll take care of you.” It was like, “Who knew I needed that at that point other than the universe?”
You’re spending all this time alone. You tapped into something different that people are not typically aware of. This is something I experience when I travel alone. If you’re gone for a long stretch and spending this time with yourself, it’s almost like you feel the connection or thread to other people. Whether or not you know them, it feels like the universe brings these moments together at those particular points in time.
It’s not like this is something you could scientifically talk about, but time and again, we hear these stories or experience these things where when you need it most, that’s when someone is there for you. It’s not like you could say, “I solicit it somehow from the universe.” In a way, perhaps you did. It was a cry for help that you didn’t even know you were uttering.The voice that we have in our head is very different from the voice we have on paper and definitely way different than the voice we have reading what's on paper. Click To Tweet
It is tough to contemplate. I try to capture some of that in the book because the book is fifteen stories. Those are moving and inspirational. Some of them are tragic but hopeful. Each one will leave you with a better understanding of the thought of what people are going through or have gone through so that we can maybe bring that to our own lives and try to connect with them. In between each of the fifteen stories is a short narrative of the bike ride, which includes me trying to come to some understanding about my life, losing my sister, and some other emotional issues, but I don’t get super deep into that.
They’re pretty short, but I talk more about the people I met and the weird interaction with the universe as it were of that thought of people are there when you most need them, and you didn’t know you did. It’s all the other beautiful life lessons that I learned. When you sit back and think about it, it’s like, “I can only understand it through you telling me a story because it’s weird. How could you need something at that particular time in the middle of nowhere, and then all of a sudden somebody comes along?” It’s interesting. If you’re seeking it, it becomes somewhat of a barrier if you’re open to it. If you’re looking for something, oftentimes, it’s hard to find them if you’re not lucky. If you’re not looking, all of a sudden, something appears like, “That’s what I’ve been looking for.”
It’s listening to your intuition and that feeling, “I just need to walk down this way. I’m not sure why, but I do,” and then encountering a person that could even change your life, or as Bobby tells the story of the relationship he had with Brandy, following the moment this woman wanted to introduce him to her friend, and he was hesitant. He hesitated, yet he said, “Why not?” This ends up being the woman who changed his life from being an angry person to something more, even though he loses her only a few short years later.
There is meaning in these moments. Sometimes, we just need to listen. I wanted to share something from my personal experience of dealing with grief even though, in this case, it wasn’t cancer. People reading this might find comfort and solace. That is when I was handling the deepest grief I can recall ever being exposed to. One of my dear friends, my best friend from college, was murdered. It was a random attack out of nowhere that nobody could have anticipated or ever prepared for.
She was ripped from us immediately. Shannon Kathleen Collins, one day here and then gone. We all recognize that we would be on the verge of crumbling if even asked to have a few simple words, which were, “How are you?” If we got asked these words by somebody who wasn’t living this with us, we would fall apart. We started to greet each other with a new way of connecting. We would say simply, “I love you.” We had this rule through our community because there was in these few words that acknowledgment of, “We’re in this, and it sucks, but I love you. I want those to be the words I’m greeting you with.”
It helped us to navigate some of the more difficult moments of the grief, even while we were, in some cases, handling that with self-destructive habits like drinking far too much and continuing a multi-day wake to deal with the trauma of having lost one of our dear friends. I counsel people when they are confronting grief, when they come to, “What do I say to my grandmother?” with that moment that you had, where someone says, “What do I say to her?” who is a virtual stranger.
It’s more than asking them how they are. It’s saying, “I value you, and I’m here for you.” That action alone can help people navigate some of the darkest moments, even knowing that you’re there thinking about them and want to help them remember the person they lost in some way or be there with them to share in the experience of where they are present.
It’s beautiful. What a tragic thing. I can’t even imagine what you, her friends, her family, and even people who barely knew her or even knew of her. There’s no possible way to wrap your brain around it. There isn’t a verb, adjective, noun, or whatever you can put on that would make any sense. It’s not understandable. Even saying that doesn’t even come close to explaining it. It’s difficult not asking how you are because you don’t know how to answer that.
Do they want an honest answer? Do they just want you to say you’re fine and you’re not fine? If you admit it, they might not want to ask you again the next time because it’s a time bomb.
It’s what we talked about at the very beginning, “I don’t know what to say. I don’t want to say the wrong thing. I don’t want to bring you down. I don’t want to sound like an idiot.” There are a lot of reasons that we don’t say anything. I don’t want to say this for you and your circle of friends, but what a lot of people experience is some sense of abandonment because people don’t know what to say. They know they don’t know what to say, so they would rather say nothing and just disappear.
It’s uncomfortable for them because perhaps they have a hard time with grief, too. Maybe they have a hard time with death. There’s so much to unpack there that we’ll never get to the bottom of it. From experience I’ve had with people from cancer or the sudden grief that I was confronted with is often telling people you care, and that’s everything, “I care. I’m here.”
It’s also to form a deeper connection. I might not be able to ever come close to understanding the emotional journey you have had to endure over this. What I might be able to do if you and I had reason to want and need to connect at a deeper level is, instead of offering you sympathy or trying to figure out what you went through, maybe it’s giving you an opportunity to connect with me on a different level. That’s maybe asking questions such as, “What would she like?”If we have a desire to connect on a deeper, authentic level, then we'll kind of navigate those hard conversations as best we can. Click To Tweet
It’s because you want to remember and honor them. That was one resounding theme for the months that followed her demise. We wanted to be around people who knew her because it felt more comfortable because you could reminisce, tell stories, and even get to the point where you were sharing things that made you laugh and for that to be okay, even to laugh and cry at the same time. I reminisce and think about her often.
Honestly, we don’t know each other. We could talk about this for hours because it’s something that I could never understand, and you can never make me understand, but it’s something that we can both relate to because of the traumas we’ve gone through, our ability to be open to growth, and our ability to face difficult issues, even if we’re facing it in our own heads on long runs. There’s that little thread of connection between us that we have emotions that have been related to trauma.
If we have a desire to connect on a deeper, authentic level, we’ll navigate those hard conversations as best we can rather than, “I’m going to move on because I don’t want to say the right thing, and you’re going to move on because you don’t want to say the wrong thing.” That’s the beauty of it. That wanting to form deeper connections to each other at the core of who we are, that’s what I’m hoping discussions like this, books like this, educational experiences, or anything that can allow and empower us to feel more confident to engage in these hard conversations, whether we’re the one going through the trauma or somebody else is, all the better.
Don’t we want to have these deeper connections? I met some people I’ll never run into ever again. I’m talking about dozens of them, just on that little 45-day bike ride and the thought of the connection that I had with him and the very short interaction. It has never left. It will never leave me. They’re so impactful. Sometimes, the briefest, meaningful, deep, true human connection over these issues can be the thing we need. Wouldn’t it be nice to understand a little bit better how we might be able to do that with people in our lives that are strangers? That’s what my hope for this book was.
With Cycle of Lives, I’m only 50 pages in. It’s a great read thus far. I’m looking forward to the next 300. I will enjoy it piece by piece. Even reading stories like this helps you work through your own relationship with your grief, whatever loss you’ve experienced. It doesn’t have to be from cancer. In the pages I’ve read thus far, I found this incredibly insightful. I enjoy the journey and the perspective. As somebody who has participated often in distance athletics, I have respect for the work you did to create this book and the powerful 5,000 miles you rode to tell its story and connect with these people in person.
Before we wrap, I want to share this with people. There were a couple of surprises for me, even in those first 50 pages. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I got into Bobby’s story if it was going to be written more narratively, but it felt like you worked hard to tell the story in his voice. I expect that each of the fourteen experiences that follow will be in the voice of the people you’re telling the stories of.
It is correct. It’s so hard, especially if you can imagine that these are people I’m talking about their deepest and darkest. Every single one of them told me multiple times, “We can talk about this, but I’ve never talked about it before.” There’s one little aspect of the thing I had to go deep into in order to be able to do that because I wanted it not to be from my voice. I’m not in their lives. I’m not a part of their life. When you think about it, how could somebody tell your experiences in life or this traumatic experience and do it right in your voice, getting inside your head? It is a scary thing to do.
You’ve revealed that your next book is likely to be a novel because if you can do that, you can write novels.
I write traditional fiction as well. I do those things. That’s the thing that is the hardest, like when you get to Jen’s story. Jen’s story is about losing her dad when she was only six years old. We talked about how she grew up and how the community and her family were a place for her to develop oneness with the world. She’s a beautiful soul, coming out of this tragedy of losing her dad and becoming a pediatric oncology nurse because she had this connection to young people going through this trauma.
When I sent her the story, it was traumatic for me because I was doing it in her voice. Imagine me trying to say, “Here’s what is in your head.” These are real people, real stories. Go look them up. They’re not anonymous. They’re real people in this. This is their real lives. For me to send a story about, “Here’s how you went through some traumatic event and how it’s affected you throughout your life,” and I’m telling it as you would, is a scary place for a writer.
Thankfully, in Jen’s case, I don’t know why I picked her, but she was probably the one I had the most respect for during that process. She called me up, and she was crying. She was like, “It’s so beautiful. I don’t want to change a word. I shared it with my mom and friends. It’s perfect.” It’s a relief. There were a few people who were like, “I don’t quite remember it that way, but okay. It’ll work.” It wasn’t exactly perfect. Each story is told from their perspective in their voice, which is first person. I’m not in any of those stories. You get to hopefully feel what they feel.
That’s part of the reason why I enjoy it so much and why I intend to finish it. Thank you for sending me the book. Thank you for spending the time on this interview and for your continual hard work representing people who otherwise might not have their stories told. That’s incredible. I hope all my readers will go and check it out. You can go to David-Richman.com or CycleOfLives.org to find out more and pick up your copy. As always, I encourage everyone reading this to go to CareMoreBeBetter.com.
As we close this show, I want to invite all of you to tap into your curiosity. Seek out and support efforts like CycleOfLives.org. You can contribute to the work that David is doing to bring more awareness and funds to cure cancer. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it with your community. You can do so by sharing this with all of your friends or even going to their phones and downloading the episode right onto it, so they’re more likely to read. You can even grab that phone and do it yourself.
This is important stuff, especially for those that are dealing with surviving cancer or trauma of any sort. If you have questions, I hope that you’ll send me a note at Hello@CareMoreBeBetter.Com. You can send them to David or me. I’m sure we both love to hear from you. Thank you, readers, now and always, for being part of this community because together, we can do so much more. We can care more, and we can be better. We can even regenerate our social systems and this planet we call Earth. Thank you.
- Winning in the Middle of the Pack
- Cycle of Lives
- Local article about Shannon’s death