How My Wife’s Lung Cancer Impacted My Career (LinkedIn Influencer Cross-Post)

My wife was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in January 2014. Obviously, this has been a devastating development for her, but it’s had pretty significant implications for me too. In this post, I’ll explain what my wife’s lung cancer has done to my career.

I’m a tenured law professor. There are many ways for academics to measure their activities, none of them ideal. Two metrics I’ve meticulously tracked are press quotes and public talks given. (Collecting this information helps when I explain my year’s accomplishments to my dean). I’ll show you how those stats have changed since my wife’s diagnosis.

Press Quotes

Here are the number of press quotes I’ve made over the last dozen years:


As you can see, I was consistently giving well over 200 interviews since 2010, but I slid to 150 in 2014. Another way of reading the data is that lung cancer set my media visibility back 6 years.

I can think of at least two explanations for this drop. First, I turned down more media calls than I used to (or didn’t respond quickly enough) because I was too busy with caretaker duties. Second, because I did fewer external-facing activities (as discussed below), reporters were less exposed to my work and therefore didn’t think to call me as often.

Public Talks

The drop in my public talks is even more dramatic:


I had been giving over 30 talks a year for the past few years. In 2014, I gave 9. Stated another way, lung cancer dialed back my speaking activity a dozen years.

The explanation for this is quite clear. I withdrew from numerous speaking commitments immediately upon my wife’s diagnosis and turned down all new talk requests in 2014 that required travel. [A related indicator of how much I reduced my travel: I flew 75,000 miles on United Airlines in 2013 and earned Platinum status; in 2014, I flew 15,000 miles and earned no status]. My public talks also dried up because many of my professional colleagues knew about my wife’s lung cancer (I blogged about it widely). Trying to respect my time, they simply didn’t ask me to speak even if they would have wanted me to come.

Other Impacts

I significantly scaled back my administrative duties as Director of the High Tech Law Institute. I also ended my involvement in most committees and advisory boards and have added virtually no new ones since my wife’s diagnosis. As a result, many lines in my CV end with “-2014.”

I also reduced my blogging. I don’t have precise counts of how many blog posts I do per year, but I produced fewer blog posts in 2014 than 2013. The drop is especially notable at my Forbes blog, where I had contracted to make 5 posts per month. After my wife’s diagnosis, we mutually agreed to remove that minimum, and the 2014 number dropped to about 2 per month.

Producing scholarly works is another key output for academics. 2014 was a train wreck for my scholarly writing. However, as I cleaned up all of my other obligations, it’s actually created more time for my scholarly work. I anticipate I’ll complete several publications in 2015, a rate well above my output for the past several years.


I hope I don’t sound like I’m complaining. In some cases, I probably needed to prune and reshuffle my professional commitments irrespective of my wife’s health. Plus, I intentionally prioritized my domestic obligations over my work obligations for very good reasons. And as unfortunate as my situation is, it’s nothing compared to my wife’s situation.

Still, I previously talked about how a lung cancer diagnosis ripples widely through a community, and this post provides more supporting evidence. Even though I’m in good health, lung cancer has hit my career hard. This is why I think lung cancer research is so crucial. It’s not just about helping people with lung cancer, it’s about preventing lung cancer from ripping open big holes in our society.