New Year's resolutions

Health scare can give new perspective on life

Updated: 2014-01-21T15:54:39Z

By DUGAN ARNETT

The Kansas City Star

The Tikker is a rather understated wristwatch, with a plain, digital face and a simple band that comes in black or white.

But it is fancy. It ticks down to death.

The goal of the watch — which uses age and habits to establish a user’s estimated time of death, and then counts down to it — is to remind people that their time is limited, and that it’s not worth it to sweat the small stuff.

“I think that if we are aware of death, and our own expiration, we will have a greater appreciation for life,” explains Fredrik Colting, who founded Tikker in 2012 and funded it with a Kickstarter campaign (advance price is $59 each).

While the idea of watching one’s life tick away on a wristwatch might seem a bit morbid, it might also be a happier alternative to the way many people arrive at the same realization. As Colting notes, individuals who have battled potentially terminal diseases or narrowly escaped death often describe a marked shift in perspective, a change in how they view the world, how they prioritize things.

So why can’t we undergo this kind of psychological awakening without the negative event that often precedes it? How can we harness this thinking before being faced with some kind of life-altering event?

It’s a question without an easy answer.

Abby Young serves as a program manager at Gilda’s Club Kansas City, an organization that offers support for those battling cancer.

Young is no stranger to the life-changing effects of a cancer diagnosis; her own husband died of colon cancer five years ago, and Young’s work with cancer patients and their families has put her in a position to witness the transformative effect the disease can have.

In many cases, she says, those affected by a cancer diagnosis typically respond in one of two ways.

At one end of the spectrum is what Young calls the “fast track.” Some people when confronted with their own mortality want to get things done, to accomplish as many things as possible before it’s too late.

On the other end is a kind of stop-and-smell-the-roses effect, in which individuals prioritize, and put less emphasis on things like careers and money.

The latter is more like what Patty Knox of Overland Park underwent two years ago when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the age of 48.

Though she’s now cancer-free, her life views and habits have been forever altered.

Trivial things that once bothered her, like a broken copier or crowded lane at a big box store, no longer affect her. She has made a point to be in the stands when her grandson takes the field for Little League games in the Northland. And instead of staying home to clean the house, as she often did before, she now joins her husband, Jerry, on motorcycle rides through Kansas and Missouri.

And the biggest change in her day-to-day life?

“I’m happier,” Knox says. “People would think that’s hard to believe, going through cancer. But I am.”

But without an event that forces us to confront our own mortality, says Young, it can be difficult to make that mental transition — particularly in a world in which we’re bombarded with commitments and responsibilities.

“I think it’s really hard to kind of live that way sometimes, because there are so many obligations within our families, our personal contacts, our jobs,” Young says. “And that’s hard because there are so many needs that need to be met.”

For her part, Knox says that without her cancer diagnosis, she doesn’t believe she would have reached this point.

“I truly think that people are like, ‘Well, I’ll do that tomorrow’ — and sometimes, there might not be a tomorrow,” she says. “I would have been one of those people had this not happened to me.”

But she admits that many of her positive lifestyle changes could have been made without undergoing such trauma.

“Some of the changes were easy,” she says. “And it’s like, ‘Why didn’t I do these before I got sick?’ 

This is the sentiment that products like Tikker aim to generate.

“As humans, we share certain things that make us content and fulfilled, like good relationships, a meaningful day, health and joy,” said Colting, whose first watches are slated to ship in April. “Some will probably argue against it, but for me Tikker is the true smart watch. Instead of making us work more, it’s designed to make us happier.”

In the end, Knox says, it’s about doing everything you can to make life count.

“Sit back and take a breath and think about what’s really important (while) you have time,” Knox says.

“I tell people that all the time: You just spent five hours cleaning your house when you could have been at the lake.

“Just ask yourself, ‘What’s more important?, Cleaning your house or seeing your grandkids?”

To reach Dugan Arnett, call 816-234-4039 or send email to darnett@kcstar.com.

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