DEL MAR — San Diego resident Glen Kirkpatrick’s nickname is Outlier, but the first time he heard the word in 2011, he didn’t know what it meant. Having been diagnosed three times with cancer since 1987, Kirkpatrick had been forced to take early retirement. He was in financial distress and suffering from depression.
“I was in my therapist’s office, a woman whom I’m forever grateful to,” he said. “She told me that the rules of life didn’t apply to me, and then she said: ‘you’re an outlier.’” Even though he wasn’t familiar with the word, Kirkpatrick said that he “ … sat up a little straighter” after she spoke, and as soon as he got to his car and Googled the definition he knew he had good reason to be proud of his new moniker.
“It’s a name I’m fond of,” he said. “Hearing it that day made a shift in how I looked at the world.”
That shift in perspective changed Kirkpatrick’s life, which he shared with visitors during a Local Author’s series at the Del Mar branch of the San Diego County Library on Saturday, July 7.
When Kirkpatrick was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma 31 years ago, he faced dismal odds. Only 2 percent of people with the disease survive longer than five years. But he and his wife Debbie were just starting their family, their first son had been born a few years earlier and the best years of their lives were ahead. Kirkpatrick was treated with radiation and told that the cancer was in remission.
Two years later the cancer returned. This time Kirkpatrick underwent chemotherapy, and lapsed into a severe depression. “I had suicidal thoughts around the clock,” Kirkpatrick said. “I kept thinking to myself that doctors gave people chemo to extend their lives but they’re going to die, anyway.”
The cancer went into remission a second time but returned as chronic lymphocyte leukemia, and with it a number of other serious conditions stemming from the cancer treatments.
It was during the second recurrence that Debbie Kirkpatrick began having conversations with a Christian co-worker. The friend told Debbie: “God is reaching out but you keep pushing him away.” Although until that point in their lives neither Glen nor Debbie had been religious, they started studying the bible, were baptized and joined the San Diego Church of Christ, where they’re still members today.
“My faith is the springboard,” Kirkpatrick said. “I still read the bible everyday.”
Besides his faith, Kirkpatrick finds strength through writing. In the early 2000s he wrote a three-page book proposal but nothing came of it. Then in 2012, at the advice of a friend, he began writing a daily blog. “I wrote every day,” he said. “The writing was life-giving. I didn’t feel sick when I wrote. I was carefree.”
The blog led to a book he co-wrote with his wife titled: “Overcome: A Story of Intervention, Rescue, and Redemption,” that chronicled his cancer journey and how he came to learn that personal growth is an important part of that journey.
“I’ve learned to find joy in each day,” he said. “There are things that I do each day, with intent. I can find joy in something as simple as standing underneath our beautiful jacaranda tree. The time I spend with my grandson is joyful. As is my time with Debbie, I’m a better person because of her. I like to say that I’m overcoming daily — the journey continues.”
Kirkpatrick’s book, published by Touchpoint Press, is available on Amazon.com. Find the Kirkpatricks on Facebook by searching @kirkpatrickauthors.