A Story of Survival
As we sit down for coffee and catch up for the first time in more than a year, Jim Morrison tells me he has another funeral to go to on Saturday. This will be the fourth this month with not even half the month gone. It’s become a reality for Jim as the more people he meets and connects with, the more of his newfound friends lose a battle that families in every corner of the nation are far too familiar with. “I feel obligated to these families and for my own self. I feel survivor’s guilt. But when you’re in a war there are going to be casualties, but just because there are casualties doesn’t mean you stop fighting,” he tells me.
The reason for these feelings in Jim is the last 13 years of waking up to yet another sunrise he wasn’t supposed to see. January 4, 2004, Jim Morrison was given a 2 percent chance of survival and a diagnosis of six months to live. Upon returning from a hunting trip he felt an awful sickness in his chest and the diagnosis was stage 4 lung cancer, despite the fact Jim was not a smoker. Like everyone who receives a death sentence, Jim was devastated, but the thought of death quickly washed away from his thoughts; he was going to survive this. Jim began putting goals in front him, the first being to walk his daughter down the aisle despite the wedding date being set past his life expectancy. When the idea of moving the wedding date came up, Jim told her absolutely not and months later found the strength to stand and escort his daughter on the most important day of her life.
As Jim’s battle with lung cancer continued, he went through tremendously debilitating bouts of chemotherapy, and for a long time the only thing he could keep down and subsist on was little bits of water and gummy bears. What he never did along the way was quit. Jim had horrible days just like every other terminal cancer patient but was determined not to focus on the statistics but rather his own preservation. Fast forward to 2017 and Jim Morrison is alive.
He has twice-a-year checkups, but in the past decade, there has been no sign of the cancer that was supposed to put him in the ground before the end of 2005. He credits three ‘f’ words for keeping him alive: faith, family and facilities. Jim’s diagnosis changed his outlook on life and his life’s mission forever. Gone are the days of caring about trivial matters, possessions and not being honest with one’s self. Today, tomorrow and each day he continues to live is about sharing his story of survival and creating an army of cancer warriors. “I’m a workaholic and this is my new career. If God spared me for a reason, it wasn’t to screw around with the rest of my life, and the best reason to live is to help others,” says Jim.
Jim’s other unexpected career is that of an author. He chose to write his first book, “To See Another Sunrise,” in order that he might inspire others who receive a cancer diagnosis. The book is brutally honest, and Jim leaves very little off the table about the man he was before, during and after his cancer. Anyone who has met or listened to Jim can attest that this brand of honesty is never leaving this man. As Jim meets weekly with those battling cancer, he is not there for comforting “it’s gonna be ok” phrases; Jim is in attack mode. “I’m in reality mode,” he says. “Sweet talking people doesn’t help anybody, and some people don’t like that. You’d be shocked at how many people just roll over and quit.”
These days Jim says he doesn’t have time for people who just want others to feel sorry for themselves about their cancer. “As soon as they get the diagnosis, they think death, my card has been pulled, and they quit. My philosophy is that life starts with cancer, it doesn’t end. The priorities you should be pursuing come to light with a diagnosis.”
Jim lives and does most of his visits in North Idaho and Eastern Washington, but as his book has found its way into the hands of people all over the country, so has Jim. He’s been a keynote speaker at symposiums and summits, and has visited patients in hospitals all over. He’s recently given his presentation in New York, Washington, D.C., Colorado and North Carolina, as well as completing a five church tour across British Columbia. “I look forward to any opportunity to share a book and hear a story. It’s amazing the amount of people across the country the past few years that have reached out to me. I can tell you that I don’t think there’s a county in the U.S. that doesn’t have cancer in it,” Jim says.
When being vetted for speaking engagements, Jim is often asked about his presentation and style. He’s been taken out of contention for some engagements because organizers felt his message wasn’t sympathetic enough. Despite that, Jim’s message isn’t changing. He continues to look at cancer as a war between the disease and the person, and if that person isn’t ready to fight for everything they hold dear, the disease is going to win out.
Jim’s phone rings and new emails pop up daily from people locally or nationally reaching out for guidance either for themselves or a loved one. Jim organizes monthly Cancer Warrior meetings in both Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls, Idaho, but also visits people in hospitals and in their homes. “Within the first or second meeting I can see if they are going to be a warrior. With others I come out of the meeting, sit in my truck and just shake my head. Cancer will take you down the path of fear or the path of faith. Faith conquers fear, so it’s simple: Are you going to overcome cancer or not.”
Jim’s base of cancer warriors come out to his monthly meetings to continue to convey their plan of attack against the disease. First-time visitors are often surprised by what goes on but leave with a new appreciation for life and wanting to continue living it. “I’ve gone to funerals of people with treatable stage 1 cancer, but in my Post Falls group I have two brain-cancer survivors, both of which are more than five years past a diagnosis of death. Those are the true warriors,” he says. While there are stories of triumph and individuals overcoming this disease, the truth is some of Jim’s best and most inspiring warriors did not have the same outcome as he has. Despite losing their life to cancer, Jim still considers them victors in the war. “I’ve seen many uplifting and positive people pass, but if and when they die, they die in peace.”
Since gaining regional and national attention from his first book, Jim has encountered an amazing array of stories. As he gathered these experiences, he knew it was time to once again share his experiences, although this time the focus would be on the people he’s met. Cancer - My Rainbow in the Dark is a collection of these stories. In it are tales of unbelievable acts of courage and survival as well as low points of family members leaving their cancer warrior in the middle of their battle. It maintains Jim’s strict level of honesty and transparency in life and encourages the reader to look inward and become more honest. You will read the story of Charles Clock, a man who spent 30 years of his life battling cancer and beating it five times, as well as a father who sent a copy of “To See Another Sunrise” to his drug-addicted daughter in prison and credits the book for getting his little girl back clean and sober. Glancing through online reviews of the book, you will find others battling addiction, abuse, self-pity and other afflictions who can apply the message to their own situations as well.
“I knew these stories had to be told; those who thrive despite their circumstances is amazing to me,” Jim says. His original three ‘f’ words of faith, family and facility have now grown to 13. One of the most common questions he receives during presentations and book readings is, “How did you find the strength to keep going?” Jim pulls out his ‘f’ words to make things as clear as possible. “I do it for God, I forgive, I forget the statistics and focus on surviving.”
Jim’s technique is not a cure for cancer, and he is not promising this to anyone, but the bottom line is he was given a 2 percent chance to live more than six months, and with a combination of his personal faith, a supportive family and an incredible team of doctors and cancer facilities, he is cancer free. In Jim’s eyes, a cancer diagnosis is somewhat of a blessing as it allows you to focus on what is really important in your life. “All you have to do right now is survive, so what the hell difference does career, diet, exercise, money or anything else make if you don’t survive this?”
Jim now looks at cancer one individual at a time. He has fully embraced his role as a mentor to those who want to truly live and become a cancer warrior. What he wishes to convey to everyone he meets is his belief that the number one way to extend and live a better life with cancer is attitude. “There are very good things that come from cancer. You have to fight to see them and when you do, you’ll realize just how special cancer can be.”
As we wrap up our hour-long interview and finish the last of our coffee, Jim hands me a stack of five books to pass along. It takes me very little time to think of people to get these to. The first will be my mother, who through early detection has kept her cancer in check however has battled recurring bouts with the disease but maintains a positive and fulfilling life. I’m not sure if this attitude came from her strong will or after reading Jim’s first book, but I like to think it’s a combination of both. Once she’s read it, she will pass it to one of her best friends and neighbors who in her late 50s is battling aggressive breast cancer and is not expected to live a full life. Will the book help save her life? Will it make an impact and give her peace during her final days? Will one of her three children or husband read it as well and take something from it? I simply don’t know. What I do know is these five copies will find their way out into the world and at some point make a direct impact on someone’s life, and that’s all that Jim Morrison hopes for each time his words are read and his stories are shared.