The Amazing Michael Crossland Gave Me The Reality Check I Urgently Needed
And nothing will ever be the same again.
When I woke up this morning I was so tired I could weep. You know what I'm talking about ... probably all adults do. That bone-deep, surely I have some kind of illness, I need to sleep for a week, type of exhaustion.
It’s not surprising really. I’m a full-time working, single mama of two with no family to lean on. I live in a city where the folk lean towards aggressive and the noise is intense. The traffic unfurls right outside my door all day, all night.
My life is full. Overly. And like I say, when I woke up this morning all I could think about was how damn shattered I felt. I spent a good chunk of time declaring to myself that this was no way to live. I may have even allowed myself to think I deserved better.
It was a familiar refrain. A sorry little ditty I’ve been humming to myself for the past year or so. Maybe longer? I kept it up as I headed to my local train station and then, the entire walk to work. A stroll, I might add, that takes me right past our city’s harbour - which is glorious and sparkling and beautiful. Only I’m not sure I even saw it. I was busy. Pitying myself.
Later, at work, I took a call from a man I had organised to interview the day before. His name was Michael Crossland. And it took only a moment or two of speaking to him for me to pull my head in.
You see, Michael is also tired. Legitimately so. But he’s not feeling sorry for himself. Not at all. And he helped me to realise why I ought not to be either. Michael's story is difficult to accept.
It can’t be reduced to a few hundred words on a website, but I’m going to do my best to give you an idea of who this man is and why he’s so incredibly special and in a genuinely rare and extraordinary way.
So let’s start with this … Michael was diagnosed with cancer at 11 months old. Incurable cancer. Of the central nervous system. And stage four at that.
He celebrated his first birthday with a cake and a single candle - and chemotherapy. Later, surgeons attempted to remove the cancer. They failed. “They tried to remove it all,” explains Michael.
"But after six hours of surgery they told my mother there was nothing more they could do. My family was told to say goodbye.”
But then, a miracle of sorts, if you believe in such things. An American doctor was visiting Australia with an experimental drug to treat cancer. Just 25 children were chosen to receive the drug. Michael was number 25.
The treatment was revolutionary - but excruciatingly painful. “It was horrific,” recalls Michael. “We were transferred to the burns unit within 24 hours ... We were covered from head to toe in blisters. Our skin was peeling off. I was constantly vomiting blood.”
But worse was to come. Within one month 20 of the 25 children taking the drug had died. In 90 days Michael was the only child still alive.
He continued to undergo the treatment for the next two years. Michael was now a child of three years old and he had a dream. A dream so simplistic, so small and inconsequential it’s heartbreaking to even contemplate it. Michael wanted to be a regular kid.
“I wanted to go home and lead a normal life. I wanted to go to school and make friends," he sas. But his team of doctors were firm, telling his mother he would likely never leave hospital and if he ever did, his life would be severely limited. They stressed it would be a miracle if Michael reached his teens at all. But Michael's mother kept this to herself.
“She told me they were confident everything was going to be okay,” said Michael, his voice thick with tears. And I believed her. She never let me know how close I was to not being here at all. She protected me ... always."
Unaware of how close he was to death, Michael went to school. He even played sport. He loved baseball and eventually his talent got him noticed. He was selected for a national team and later, he landed a scholarship to a college in Texas where he played the game he lived for.
How did he manage to do that? He had a dream - and he refused to let it die. When he dreamt of going to school he made it happen. When he declared he would play baseball in the US he refused to let anyone tell him otherwise. Also, unlike me, he never felt sorry for himself.
“It was my dream and I was determined to see it come true,” says Michael. “Nobody could tell me what I can and can’t do. Nobody can tell anyone what they can and can’t do. Your life is your life and you must make of it what you can.”
I listened to Michael’s story and I compared it to my own. Yes, some significant struggles. Yes, some tremendously hard times. Anything I could compare to what he has experienced? No. Frankly, my life is nirvana in comparison.
Having said that, I’m a firm believer that comparisons don’t actually do anybody any good. I believe your pain is your pain and the knowledge that someone else is suffering more will likely not reduce your own intense feelings.
But hearing a story such as Michael’s did make me stop and think. And hard too. Michael thinks we could all do with a little of that. A healthy dose of reality, a little self-reflection. And immediately.
“We tend to wait until it’s too late,” he says. “We wait until we’re diagnosed with lung cancer to give up smoking. We don’t tell someone how much we love them until they’re on their death bed. But we need to change that ... we need to focus on being the best version of ourselves every day, starting right now.”
Michael’s story doesn’t end there of course. He has suffered and in a way few can imagine - certainly not me. He has continued to battle serious health issues. He has flirted with death too many times to count. And even when things have briefly turned golden for him, he married the love of his life and they recently welcomed their first child for example, there has been struggle.
That baby, a boy named Lachy, was born premature and terribly ill. He came perilously close to death - at one point stopping breathing while in Michael’s arms. But Michael has kept on. What choice does he have? He has a family to support, a mother, a wife. He must be their rock.
So he continues to believe in himself and also the world in which he lives. Michael, too, is bone tired. He’s more exhausted than I will probably ever be. But he’s not feeling sorry for himself. Not one bit. He’s ecstatic to be here. He’s grateful. And his story has helped me to be grateful too. Seen through his eyes, my life is wonderful and in far too many ways to count.
I just need to adjust my focus somewhat, think about the things I do have - not the ones I don't. And to remember there's always someone doing it much tougher. Someone like Michael, who is moving through the world with grace and dignity despite everything the world has thrown at him.
Simple Steps To Up The Positivity In Your Life
Find Your Tribe
“Look for people who are happy and joyful and successful in a state of mind, not wealth,” says Michael. A big bank balance does not equate to a big heart or a high level of life satisfaction unfortunately. Truth is there are plenty of wealthy yet miserable folk out there.
The truth is plenty of people have faced hardships and not only survived, but flourished. And, they've written about how they did exactly that.
“Steer clear of negativity. That includes what you read, see and who you spend time with,” says Michael. Positive people will boost you. Negative folk will do the exact opposite, he adds. Be careful where you get your news in particular and consider steering clear of social media that makes you feel badly about yourself.
Sometimes it can be helpful to simply learn about other people and their experiences. A great place to do this is via Humans of New York. This site started telling the stories of the city's many residents but has since expanded to include residents of other cities, towns and even countries.
Michael Crossland is a businessman, author and motivational speaker. You can read more about him here.