If you visit the Huntsman Cancer Institute Infusion Center, you may hear Chuck Liff’s laughter from across the room. Even though he has stage IV pancreatic cancer with a terminal diagnosis, Chuck is always cracking jokes with other patients and even playing pranks on infusion nurses—whatever helps him enjoy his days.
“Life is short. Life is precious,” he says. “Why should I waste a day feeling sorry for myself when there’s so much to be enjoyed?”
Chuck is determined to keep a zest for life. “It’s my life and I’m not letting chemo or cancer dictate it,” he says. “Since my last chemo treatment two weeks ago, I’ve either been to the gym or skiing every day. And I still ski the double black diamonds!”
Chuck doesn’t deny that cancer is difficult and painful. “I do have my down times. There are times I’m sad or frustrated. There are times when I ‘chemo bonk,’ either emotionally or physically. It just happens.” But as a Buddhist, Chuck believes in letting himself experience those negative emotions.
“You don’t ignore emotions. You experience them to their totality, burn them to ashes, then sweep the ashes away. Then hit the bar and knock back a few,” he laughs.
Chuck says his attitude is crucial in helping him cope. Though chemo makes him feel awful, he tries to find the positive in it—namely that “it allows me to be here to see my kids smile.”
Meditation and mindfulness also help him cope. “If I’m walking somewhere, I try to be present by feeling the difference in temperature between sun and shade, feeling the wind on me. So when I’m feeling sad about not seeing my kids grow up, I tell myself, ‘Be in the present. The kids are here now. Don’t squander this moment thinking about what may or may not happen in the future. Be here now.’”
Chuck’s wisdom and outlook seem to have trickled down to his kids. In fact, his 12-year-old daughter had these wise words when hearing he had about a year to live: “Daddy, I think you have longer than that. But if you don’t, make every day count.”
That’s what he’s determined to do—by doing what he loves, keeping a great sense of humor…and continuing to play pranks.
“The other week I filled a bottle with water, red food coloring, and dry ice to get it foaming. I put it on my infusion pole with a skull and crossbones label that read ‘Poison’,” he says, laughing. “It’s truth in advertising!”