We’ve all heard the proverb “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” I believe that to be true. Advertising is a very deadline-driven business, and we all succumb to the demands on our time, getting constantly pulled in many directions, often stretching ourselves much too thin.
While I have always worked hard in my career, I learned early on to try to find the right work/life balance. In fact, someone special in my life helped me to find it: Chris.
Chris was tall, about five foot nine, so we stood nose to nose. She had chocolate brown eyes and long chestnut brown hair, which she often wore in a ponytail. Chris was a vivacious, attractive gal, with a sparkling personality and a can-do attitude. She was also Type A and very driven. The energy she radiated is what first drew me to her.
Her work ethic had been instilled by her mom and dad, who were both from Pittsburgh, where Chris had been born. Pittsburgh, at least in the late sixties when Chris was born, was still a blue-collar city, and the hard-working nature of the people who lived there was evident wherever you looked.
But Chris realized that there was more to life than hard work, and through our many years together, she helped me to find joy in travel and in exploring the world. Well, at least the parts of the world that we could drive to, since Chris didn’t like airplanes.
On the weekends, when we both were ready for a break from our jobs, we had fun. Chris and I had some sort of adventure almost every weekend, especially in the early years when we first started dating. My boss at Eric Mower and Associates, Gene, used to tease me on Monday mornings, asking me if we had gone to see the World’s Largest Ball of String the previous weekend, or something one-of-a-kind like that. The fact is, Chris and I did go exploring, but it was usually to go and see something that wasn’t in the Guinness Book of World Records. Typically, it was something much more inspiring than a giant ball of string, such as a mountain, a waterfall, a lighthouse, or a museum.
But sometimes on the weekends, I just wanted to sit on the couch and not do much at all, trying to rest up and recharge for the upcoming work week, knowing that I was going to have to juggle media plans, media buys, or other projects for the agency’s clients. However, Chris often had other weekend plans for us, and at times, it seemed like she dragged me kicking and screaming off the couch so that we could get in the car and take a trip somewhere to go hiking, or maybe to see some of the many beautiful sites and attractions around the state of North Carolina. I was often envious of how much energy she had, and her great desire to see what was out there. My perception, right or wrong, was that she was going to wear me out on the weekend and that I wouldn’t have any energy left for work the next week.
The thing is, I might have been worn out physically after a weekend of hiking or exploring, but I was always recharged mentally after those excursions, since we always managed to see something really amazing in our travels. Because we took all those fun weekend trips, I got to spend a lot of quality time with Chris. That ended up being a very good thing indeed, because by early 2005, Chris started having health issues.
On one cold winter morning in February, Chris woke up with a backache. We thought that maybe it happened because our mattress set was old, so we bought a new high-end mattress set. At first, the new mattress set seemed to help. But a few weeks later, Chris was still having back pain. She first went to her GP, and finding nothing wrong, she then proceeded to see nearly a dozen specialists over the next nine months.
Since October, Chris had been walking with a cane, her right leg having become nearly useless to her. I was astonished that this was the same person who I often couldn’t keep up with on the hiking trail because she was so lithe and had so much energy. Then, in early December, we finally found someone who could help us understand what was wrong with Chris.
The neurologist we visited on that cold December afternoon knew within about ten minutes what was wrong with Chris. After examining her, he asked us to sit down so he could talk to us. There was no way that we could have been prepared for what he said next.
The neurologist told us that Chris had a bone tumor in the middle of her spine, and that it would need to be surgically removed. He said that she would have to get an MRI to confirm his suspicions. The doctor told us that there was no way to know if the tumor was malignant or benign until after the surgery.
Chris and I were both in shock. We both lived such a healthy lifestyle, and we didn’t understand how something like this could happen. The neurologist said that it could have an environmental cause or that it was possibly genetic. It was even possible that the tumor had been growing for years. But now the tumor was large enough to put pressure on her spinal cord, accounting for her back pain and her difficulty in walking.
As we reeled from the news he had just shared with us, Chris and I were both very worried. I was also thinking about all the fun we had in our adventures over the previous seven years.
I wondered if we would ever find balance in our lives again.
Scott G. Howard worked in the advertising agency business as a media buyer and media director for nearly twenty-five years. He is now an author, storyteller, and freelance writer, and writes from his unique perspective on relationships and life. Scott was born in Syracuse, NY and resides in Charlotte, NC, where he has lived for almost twenty years.