Stop whatever you’re doing and think on this: What would you do if you learned you might have only a few years to live? It’s not a fun question, but I’ve found myself pondering it more than once. Turns out, the answer for me was to donate most of my savings and try to make the world a better place, especially for those who are less fortunate.

How did it happen? It all started back in the early 90s during my time as CEO of Hughes Electronics. I was diagnosed with hairy cell leukemia and everything changed. My case was pretty serious, because it had gone undetected for quite a while. Luckily, I was able to enroll in a promising clinical trial. But still, I had to confront the reality that my cancer could kill me. I write all about this in my book Cancer With Hope.


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The trial was successful, in that it eliminated my cancer. However, I developed a life-threatening blood infection as a side effect of the treatment. My immune system was weakened, and the infection spread quickly. I spent several days in the ICU, once again not knowing if I’d survive. The only thing I had was hope. That hope filled me with a desire to not only live, but make my life one of great impact. How could I do the most good?

Flash forward to 2005. Shortly after I retired from my position as Chairman and CEO of AT&T, I found out I had advanced prostate cancer and launched headfirst into months of radiation and years of intense hormonal therapy. On top of that, I received a brand-new diagnosis —Parsonage-Turner Syndrome (PTS), an autoimmune disease that attacked my phrenic nerve, severely limiting my breathing. I battled the PTS and the prostate cancer simultaneously. My doctors tossed around dismal odds, less than 50 percent chance of survival. This jump started my drive to maximize the potential of my remaining years.

When hope met purpose

Still reeling from yet another battle with life-threatening illness, I had nothing to cling to except that same thread of hope that had gotten me through years earlier. That’s when another thread appeared. Purpose. I knew I had to begin weaving the two threads to create a lasting and positive change for the world around me.

I had already been progressively increasing my financial contributions to Johns Hopkins Medicine, where I’d received treatment for my prostate cancer and PTS. I was already giving to the disadvantaged. But, I wanted to do more. My wife, Anne, felt it too. During my many hours of treatments at Hopkins , we came to a conclusion. We would give most of our net worth away to projects that advance medicine, and to promising initiatives that make the world better for those who are struggling.

Living a meaningful life, now

When Anne and I agreed to make helping others our top priority, it infused our lives with meaning. We felt good about using our time on Earth to create change. It also helped me as a cancer patient, boosting my hope by helping fuel my determination and keeping despair at bay.

My illnesses were the catalyst for realizing my responsibility and potential as a giver, but you shouldn’t wait for adversity or sickness to put things into perspective. Why not start now? Many of us have a desire to do something extraordinary, to be selfless. But, it’s so easy to let the rigors of everyday life take precedence. We go along on autopilot and before we know it, our time runs out before we discover our bigger purpose.

There’s no time like right now, and no act of service is too small. If you have the means and desire to make a difference, I urge you to think about causes that inspire you and give freely. And remember, there are many ways to give. In addition to my financial donations, I have also donated a good deal of time and energy helping organize and plan projects with some of the organizations I support. Something as simple as helping out at a local soup kitchen or volunteering as an tutor can do much to help people in need and also bring purpose, fulfillment, and meaning to your life. There is no limit to the ways you can transform the world around you simply by caring and showing up.

I hope you never have to confront the frightening reality of battling for your survival due to serious illness. Don’t wait for that scenario to happen to give your life meaning. My wish for you is that you do it (whatever it is!) now. I hereby challenge you to not postpone your dream of doing something wonderful. Our journey on earth is finite, but there’s no quantifying the benefits that you and others will reap when you decide to step outside yourself and be part of something bigger.

Mike Armstrong is the former Chairman and CEO of Comcast, AT&T, and Hughes Electronics. He began his career at IBM, where he spent more than three decades rising through the ranks to become one of IBMs top executives in charge of the company’s operations in Europe, Africa, and the Soviet Union.  Having battled leukemia, prostate cancer, and related serious illnesses throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, he became an active supporter of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and its associated hospitals after retiring from the corporate world in 2002. In 2005, he was named chairman of the Board of Trustees of Johns Hopkins Medicine. Now fully retired, Armstrong is on a mission to share his story as a two-time cancer survivor to help others on the cancer journey find hope. He and his wife Anne are donating most of their net worth to projects that advance medicine, help the disadvantaged, and make this world a better place. Connect with Mike at

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