Last week I was in California presenting at a conference of one of the world's largest entertainment companies. It was a heady experience--other presenters included celebrities from the movie industry and high profile tech industry executives. On the flight to LA, I am sure my feelings were the same as any child anticipating a “magic” experience. And it was.

The theme of the conference was change and disruption and how to respond in ways that transform these experiences into opportunities for inspiration, growth and learning. I was charged with talking about disruption in our personal lives. Here is the story from my book—Mark Of An Eagle--that I shared.

When faced with a life-threatening situation, it is the rare person who can look beyond his or her immediate survival and give thought to the notion that this experience could eventually be transformative. As should be, the focus is on the here and now, enabling all energies to be used to overcome whatever the challenge one is experiencing. Clearly that is how my life was unfolding in 2011, as I went through almost two months of radiation and chemotherapy for head and neck cancer.

To ensure that the radiation is focused in the exact area of the head and neck where the cancer cells were active, the radiologists mold a plastic “mask” that fully covers the head and shoulders. The mask looks quite ominous and has bolts that screw into the table upon which one lies (see picture at the top of this post). The purpose is to restrict head movement as a wrong move could mean a permanent disability. For example, as a professional speaker, damage to vocal chords would be devastating.

The radiation itself is not painful, but side effects I still live with are loss of taste, lack of saliva and hearing loss. The good news is that today my overall sense of well-being is excellent, I am productive and fully engaged with my family, friends and my work, and my cancer has been cured.

As you might imagine, however, the “mask” does not hold pleasant memories for me. It never occurred to me that anything transformative would ever come from being in the embrace of that mask for so long. But, someone else saw the mask in a totally different way and had a vision for its use that I could never have imagined.

The fourth of my five children, Jessie, is an artist. On one of the trips to the hospital for treatment, Jessie was my driver. On the way home, she enquired as to what happens to the mask once the treatment is over. Now, if you have artistic children, or know artists, or you yourself are an artist, then it should be completely clear that artists’ brains explore worlds where no-one has gone before. This is especially true of Jessie, who once she discovered that the hospital threw the masks away, immediately laid claim to it.

My counsel to Jessie was the following: “I have no idea what you are going to do with the mask but know one thing – I never want to see it again.”

As the months went by, the quest to regain my health and strength absorbed all my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual resources. What Jessie might be doing with the mask quite frankly never entered my mind. Then one night eight months after my treatment, a fundamental shift in how I perceived my cancer took place.

The St. Paul Art Crawl is an annual fall event where Jessie joins many other artists who feature their work. As any proud father would do, I always make Jessie’s space my first stop. This year, upon entering the room, I was drawn immediately to a piece hanging on the far wall. My eyes could not make out exactly what it was, but my visceral response was so great that I knew it was the mask.

Cautiously, I crossed the room as my emotions were running rampant, but as the image came into full view, I was confronted not with my past, but my future.

On the wall--its eyes peering into my soul--was a magnificent eagle!

I stood there for several minutes as I endeavored to absorb the symbolism of this magnificent work of art, and then I read Jessie’s words on a plaque framed next to the eagle.

“I believe that we all have totems that guide us through our lives. For my father, it is the eagle. It is a symbol of his spirit, vision and strength. I’ve made this work from my father’s radiation mask. This mask represents his enormous spirit, his vision of a healthy and cancer free life, and his unfaltering strength.”

Even those whose purpose is to encourage others face times when they themselves need to be encouraged. At that precise moment, as I stared back into the eyes of the eagle, I became fully aware that my spirit did not feel enormous, nor did I have a vision for a cancer free life, nor was my strength unfaltering. I was, instead, in a state of significant uncertainty and unclear about what even the day ahead might hold.

But here was a precious daughter letting the world know how she perceived her father and what she wanted for his life. And that was all I needed.

Ah, how limiting our thoughts can be. Oh, what restrictions we place on the possibilities of what could be. Thank you, thank you, thank you to Jessie and all those whose imaginations inspire us to transform the ominous into the magnificent.

Here is the transformation from mask to eagle video. Don't miss it!