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Eyes Open(ed)

We recently finished the 30th anniversary of the WVU Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center with the annual gala at The Greenbrier.

This glorious celebration lived the promise of “One WVU,” as Athletics and the Cancer Center collaborated. While there was much celebration, there was also a connection to lives lost and a commitment to the purpose of the treatment and prevention of cancer.

While there were many great medical talks by a group of very talented faculty members at the MBRCC, I found myself most taken by a story told on Friday night by Bob Huggins, West Virginia icon and WVU Men’s Basketball head coach.

Coach Huggins lost his mom to cancer. In her memory, he and his wife June set up the Norma Mae Huggins Cancer Research Endowment. Their generosity could be the focus of this column, but I will, instead, highlight a story he told.

To give his players perspective on their lives and opportunities, Coach Huggins took his players into a coal mine. Commenting on the mine's darkness, he told them that if they turned off the helmet lights, they would not see their hands in front of their faces.

They were excited to see if he was right and, finally, when it was time to turn off their lights, they stood in total darkness – so dark that they could not see their hands. Having their eyes wide open, but not being able to see was pretty scary to them, and they hurriedly turned the lights back on.

Their eyes were open, but they failed to see. This is a metaphor for all of us – this realization opened my eyes.

Often we do not see what is in front of us that is really important – service, purpose, friends, family, health, independence, humility. These elements are the basis of gratitude and resilience.

Understanding what is really important and what is not can help us lead happier and more fulfilling lives.

So what lessons can we take from Coach Huggins’ story?

Much like in the depths of the mine with the lights out, many of us have our eyes open every day but fail to see what is in front of us.

We often ignore important foundational gifts and focus on those that are not, as beautifully articulated by Roger Bone, MD, who wrote a series of essays on dying, including “Another Taste of Lemonade,” in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

We need to focus on simple gifts.

I'll share another lesson I learned at the gala in my next post. Until then, keep your eyes open and truly see.