A Smile Made Me Successful; Brain Tumor

It’s been over 20 years ago since I had a life altering event. I was practicing for a mini-triathlon and was very excited. I knew I wouldn’t win the event but winning for me would be finishing. It had been a long, hard road and this would be a big personal victory. Little did I know, I had to go through hell before I found it.

In 1982, I entered Brigham Young University (BYU) to begin my second degree. I had applied for and been accepted to the accounting program at BYU. At the time, their program was ranked as one of the top 5 accounting programs in the nation. The number of classes and difficulty of those classes coupled with my workload left me with no time for exercise. By the time I was 25, I had been studying, working, and eating junk food for many years and since I had to give up something, I chose to quit exercising. It’s easy to guess what the consequence of my actions was. I became quite fat. Not a little bit, a lot of bit.

To graduate with a degree from BYU, I had to take and pass a class called “Fitness for Life.” At the beginning of the term, they tested your body fat and then you worked closely with your teacher and assistants to improve. At the end of the term, they would test the body fat level again, and the difference between the two was used to determine your grade or so they said. It was a summer school class so since there was less time (about half the time of a normal semester), I knew I would have to do work very hard to get a good grade. The first day of class, the teacher’s assistant measured my fat levels and the result shouldn’t have been surprising; I measured obese. Ouch! They told me if I didn’t change my habits, I would probably die from a heart attack by 35 or 40. Needless to say, that day I received a much needed awakening!

I began running every day and watching what I ate. Even after I graduated from BYU and was working at Nu Skin I continued to exercise. It became a great stress reliever! After a while, I came up with the crazy idea to train for the mini-triathlon.

By that time, things seemed to be going so well in my life. Nu Skin was already had lots of momentum and our story was one of complete success. I had two wonderful children (at the time). It seemed as if life were so good and couldn’t get any better.

In a triathlon, there are three events: biking, swimming and running. So, I began practicing and training. For my bike training, I usually rode quite early in the morning, that way I could usually practice another event after work and thus train for 1 or 2 of the events almost daily. After a while, I began to fall over while riding my bike. At first, I thought I was just clumsy and felt pretty embarrassed. Since some of my friends were riding at the same time, I would quickly get up, brush myself off and act as if I hit a bump or something. The last thing I wanted was them teasing me, telling me to buy training wheels.

As I continued training, I became confused about where I was. Oftentimes, I would stop and try and remember how long I had been running or biking and also try to remember the route home. At the same time, I began having excruciating headaches almost daily. Sometimes they hurt so bad, I thought I would cry.

One day, I became very confused; even though I was barely half a mile from my home, I was lost. I walked in to the local convenience store and told them I was lost and couldn’t remember anything. I gave the cashier my driver’s license and asked if he would please call someone for me. He wasn’t very excited to do anything, but since my head hurt so bad, I sat on the floor and refused to move. He then looked in the phone directory, found my name and number, and asked the person who answered (my wife) to come pick me up. Needless to say, the next morning, I went to the doctor’s office. I had already been several times complaining of headaches, but this was more considerably more concerning.

My doctor scheduled an MRI for the next day. The next day I went and they performed the procedure. Late that night, I received a phone call from my doctor. He simply said, “Keith, we have found some abnormalities in your brain. I have scheduled an appointment for you tomorrow morning with a neurosurgeon; don’t miss it.” I had tons of questions, but he simply hung up, reminding me to go to the appointment the next morning. Even though it was late at night, I can promise you I slept very little that night.

The next morning I went to the neurosurgeon’s office. He was very nice and he put the photos of the MRI on a screen where I could see them. He said, “Keith, these two circles are tumors. We need to remove at least one of them. I suggest we remove one which was in an area where the chances for problems are much less than where the other one is.” He told they would remove the first tumor and perform a “freeze test” on it. From what I understood, the freeze test was about 95% accurate and would tell if the tumors were cancerous. If the “freeze test” was positive, then I had a cancer and he would then remove the second one. The second one was in a very dangerous spot because all of the sensory nerves ran through the second tumor. He then explained that when they removed the first one, I would possibly lose one of the sensory nerves; however, if they had to remove the second one, I would definitely lose more than one of the senses.

I had some other questions, but I was too stunned to talk. Why was this happening to me? I was at the top of my “game.” I was an owner of a company that employed thousands and many other thousands depended upon the work I was doing. I was serving on various charitable boards and also gave my Sundays as a counselor to the youth at my church. How and why; how and why? Surely God had made a mistake. I felt was doing so many good things and this wasn’t a just reward, yet… The doctor gave me less than a week before he performed the surgery.

Word spread quickly in our community. I really didn’t want any attention; I just wanted to be with my family. Isn’t it interesting, I had spent so much time working for the last few years, but when I was faced with life and death, I didn’t wish for more time to work? I only wished for the time I hadn’t worked… Because of my position at Nu Skin, I needed to make sure that everything was taken care of, so I began assigning out work to others. I wasn’t quite sure how long I would be gone, but the surgeon told me to plan on a month, so I was making all the necessary assignments. As I did, word spread quickly throughout the work force and then the entire community of my approaching surgery.

Over the next few days, I had so many friends come to our home and wish me the best. I was very grateful for the time they took. However, I hadn’t heard anything from one of my best friends. I thought that maybe he was too shocked or upset to talk about it. A few days before the surgery, he finally came to the office to talk with me. I honestly thought he came to wish me well. However, after only visiting for only the briefest of time, he left. I was quite shocked but the next few minutes shocked me more than I could have imagined. As he walked out of my office, I noticed that he turned the wrong way; he wasn’t headed for the exit, in fact there was only one room in that direction. I quickly got up to help him, but as I approached my office door, I watched as the person who I thought was my “closest” friend walk out of my office and go straight to the office of the chairman. What was he doing? Why was he going there? There I was, already scared beyond belief, and I learned that he was walking down to interview and put his name in as a replacement for me. It was something that hurt beyond belief. I was going through one the toughest times in my life and one of my so called friends was trying hard to take advantage of me and the situation. He was trying to become my replacement.

About a month later, after the surgery was over and I was back at work, I talked with my partner, who was also the chairman. I asked him why, why hadn’t he hired my friend? In reality, he was better educated, had a lot more experience and to be honest, knew a lot more than me and would probably be a lot better at the job.

I then got an answer that surprised me. He said something like, “Keith, in the very beginning, one of the biggest reasons I wanted you to be part of the team was because you would smile, you were friendly and kind, and you worked so hard. I could and would ask you to do some really hard tasks, tasks that would take many, many extra hours of work; tasks that most people would have complained at or only done half way. But, you would always answer me with a smile and would get the job done. Don’t get me wrong; we knew you were very bright, but there are a lot of smart people out there. Your friendly and kind attitude was what helped you become part of the original founders and your smile made sure that you would always be part of us.”

A smile. A simple smile. I made millions of dollars with a smile whose teeth hadn’t even had braces on them. A smile put me in the position to be associated with a company who has helped so many and become an icon in the industry. A smile changed my financial life forever!

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