Jun 14, 2022

My next most favorite Biblical story after the GOOD SAMARITAN is DAVID versus GOLIATH.  The act of facing overwhelming odds can produce greatness and beauty. The powerful and strong are not always what they seem – sometimes just BIG BULLIES dressed up as giants.

The giant tells David “COME TO ME”. The giant wants hand to hand combat with David; but David is smarter than the giant and uses his talents and skills with his sling instead of traditional hand to hand combat to slay the giant. When facing a “bully” or a ”giant”, be mentally stronger to figure out how to win.



Prepare your mind not to accept mediocrity; instead PURSUE EXCELLENCE.

We cannot avoid suffering and failure, but we choose how we cope with it. The best ways to deal with suffering is to FIND MEANING & PURPOSE IN IT: MENTAL TOUGHNESS – something I refer to as, “swallowing my own spit”.

I have been battling cancer and its effects for over 30 years. Those experiences bias my thinking as a “parent” away from making sure my children or players are feeling good and more towards making sure they are competently prepared and possess grit. No parent wants their child to have to face any “undesirable difficulty”. PERIOD.

The three toughest moments that stick in my mind from my journey with cancer are from the perspective of a parent:

  1. Watching “MY” parents overwhelmed and devastated by the news of my diagnosis when I was 20 years old. I’ve never seen my parents so distraught.
  2. When attending my own treatments and medical care over the years, sitting in the hospital or waiting rooms and seeing little kids have to go through cancer, and watch the anguish and helplessness in their parents faces and hear it in their voices.
  3. Having to meet with my two children, Andrew & Chelsea, and tell them that I’m not doing so good and giving them hugs and talking about how I expect them to act and carry on if I die.

Watching young children go through “cancer” and chemotherapy always tears at my heart; their courage and toughness is a lesson for all of us.


Cancer is a bully, no doubt about it. It picks on the elderly.  It picks on little kids. It is relentless.  It never gives up – it’s 24/7.  Even if you BEAT IT, it CHEATS & comes back.  It doesn’t play by the rules.  

In 1984, I was 20 years old; I was diagnosed with a malignant tumor in my naso-pharynx – basically right behind my nose and right above my throat. After surgically removing it, I underwent the crudest forms of radiation to my neck, throat, ears, and face.  It burned me and scarred me and torched me in order to kill the remnants of the tumor.  

This is the photograph used for my student ID taken after multiple radiation treatments. You can see how burnt my neck and throat area are. It looks like I have “scruff” on my face from growing a bad goatee but those are actually permanent markers and dye inserted onto my face so they could line up the radiation machine properly for treatments.

While I was going through the radiation, I was unable to swallow my own “spit” for over 2 months. I lost about 60 pounds and weighed about 100 pounds.  I had yeast infections in my throat.  All of my nutrition late into my treatments was through IV’s.  

But I made it through.  

During my radiation treatments that spanned 4 months (parts of the fall and spring semesters), I was a full time college student at USL carrying 15 hours – my GPA both of those semesters was 4.0.

When I started my treatments in the fall, I was coaching biddy basketball at PIUS, then baseball at LEYSA in the Spring.

I was working in my mom’s catering business.  I was young and never worried about dying and never thought about quitting and never ever thought that I wasn’t going to be OK – young & stupid & invincible.  I had big dreams and big plans and surely did not have time for CANCER or any of its foolishness.  

The side effects of radiation: Fast forward to 2015:

  • I was having trouble breathing; upper respiratory problems.  
  • Swallowing kept getting tougher and tougher.  
  • My voice was noticeably different- more raspy and muffled.  
  • My ears were constantly oozing and ringing.  
  • I had sinus infections and sinus headaches every day.  

Finally, during the softball season during our off-week, I went into surgery for what I believed to be a simple clean up of some scar tissue and I almost don’t come back out alive. My esophagus is inflamed and over 99% obstructed. I have pneumonia because of aspiration into my lunges from trying to swallow.

I am put on a feeding tube and instructed not to swallow even my own saliva.

Try to go one day without SWALLOWING.
It is something so simple, we all take for granted.


I go to M.D. Anderson and they recommend a total laryngectomy because my vocal chords are paralyzed and I’ve been breathing “through a straw” for the past year. I decide not to have the laryngectomy because the tissue in that area is so burnt and it is going to be very difficult to distinguish and separate the burnt tissue from the good – which will probably result in too much being removed and putting my body in serious threat of recovery.

I cannot hear – my ears are burning and ringing and oozing fluid which is affecting my balance. My head is pounding and my sinuses are so stopped up. I cannot breathe out of my nose anymore. I cannot lie down because it cuts off the flow of oxygen. I have to sleep sitting up.

So, I cannot eat, I cannot hear, I cannot sleep and I can barely breathe.

Plus now, I’m not 20 years old – I’m 50 something. Now my body aches and I’m not young and invincible.


Now the margin for error is much smaller.

Again, I reach for my faith and my family and sports. I go back to the lessons I was taught by mom & dad growing up – don’t whine, don’t complain, you are not a victim, you are a fighter, COMPETE. FIGURE OUT A SOLUTION. FIND A WAY TO WIN. KEEP YOUR MIND STRONG & POSITIVE & HOPEFUL.

After considering all of my options, I decide on the tracheotomy surgery to insert the trach to keep the paralyzed vocal chords from totally closing and shutting down my airway.

Next, I want to eat normal food again. Cooking is such a big deal in our family and EVERYTHING revolves around a family dinner with unbelievable food. The doctors warn that if I persist into trying to swallow food, that the continued risk of aspiration into my lungs will result in serious medical issues. Of course, I am adamant and am willing to take the risks.

I apply for entry into the M.D. Anderson “swallow therapy program” and am denied because they seem to think because of the extensive damage that I will never be able to swallow again without aspirating and that the risk is too great.

So, I head back to Lafayette and find the most wonderful speech therapist/swallow expert nurse and we devise OUR OWN SWALLOW THERAPY PROGRAM. For the next 5 months, I learn how to first swallow again. Then we have to get the swallow muscles stronger and coordinated in sequence. Then we have to figure out how to get the food down the right “small, narrow hole” that leads to my stomach while restricting and cutting off access to the bigger hole that leads to my lungs.

At first, lemon swabs stuck down my throat 50 times per session that gag me over and over again. An exercise protocol to strengthen muscles and tissue that have been inactive for over 8 months while on the feeding tube.

Swallowing this “god-awful” gunk while being monitored by the MRI machine to see which way it ended up: stomach or lungs. Finally, the food started going down the right hole – we figured out a system that worked: chew each bite for 4/5 minutes each and broken down into tiny pieces, add in a little fluid and chew for 2/3 more minutes, then cover my trach and pinch my nose and swallow. Got it.

Fast forward a couple more years, testing revealed that I had necrosis of the left larynx. Another telltale sign that maybe it was time for the laryngectomy. But again, the risks were too great.

I started hyperbaric chamber treatments – 2 hours per session of pure oxygen to try to get blood flow to the dying tissues. After 3 months of hyperbaric treatments, my body responded again. Not only did the blood flow return but my body created a fistula on the left side of my neck to release some of the “gunk”.

There will come a day when I can no longer swallow food, but for now, “what’s for supper” is one of my favorite decisions everyday. And I do not take for granted not one swallow ever; I’m very grateful and blessed. SWALLOWING MY OWN SPIT gives meaning & purpose to my journey against cancer.

My latest updated medical diagnosis shows that the left larynx is totally nonfunctional, the larynx on the right is barely functional, and my voice box is totally inflamed. The gift of radiation & the effects of cancer are 4EVER. More suggestions from the doctors & experts of a feeding tube and discontinuing swallowing altogether. SWALLOWING GIVES ME MEANING! My mind wants to continue to battle the giant. Stay tuned.


People who suffer with meaning and purpose have courage and mental toughness — swallowing your own spit matters.

People ask me all the time, HOW DO YOU DEFINE TOUGHNESS? One of my favorite lines to my players was ”YOU DO NOT HAVE TO HAVE CANCER TO BE MENTALLY TOUGH”.

TOUGHNESS TO ME IS a 3 part answer:

  • (1) your character and how you deal with the concerns of others (Good Samaritan);
  • (2) how you COMPETE and deal with being an underdog and facing BULLIES (David versus Goliath); and
  • (3) your perspective on how you find meaning and purpose in your suffering.


  • seeing a wrong and trying to right it;
  • seeing others suffering and trying to heal it or comfort them;
  • seeing despair and misery and bringing hope;
  • LEANING IN over indifference;
  • sowing seeds to achieve greatness and pursue excellence in others;
  • caring about the well-being of those around us versus only worrying about me;
  • sending forth tiny ripples of HOPE by your actions and deeds that inspire others. 
  • setting high goals & seeing them through;
  • striving valiantly and daring greatly;
  • STANDING UP to bullies rather than backing down;
  • honoring your commitments;
  • having a growth mindset that says “WIN THIS PITCH RIGHT NOW” and if not, then get better and figure out how to win the next one;
  • seeing the impossible and singing BETCHA CAN;
  • dreaming of things that have never been and asking WHY NOT;
  • seeing endless possibilities and opportunities at every door;
  • choosing action over being timid and passive;
  • picking adventure rather than a life of ease and comfort;
  • taking risks rather than playing it safe;
  • accepting responsibility rather than being a victim;
  • having a determined mindset that enables you to overcome any and all odds;
  • embracing the UNDERDOG LABEL;
  • committing to the CLIMB up the mountain – THE WHOLE WAY – to the long term JOURNEY rather than just worrying about short cuts or the easy way out;
  • becoming an irresistible force that truly believes YOU can accomplish everything and overcome ANYTHING. 


  • standing up for good ideas and beliefs that are just;
  • living your life by a standard of EXCELLENCE;
  • working hard day by day by day to get better versus accepting the status quo;
  • caring for our sisters and brothers and help her/him to become the best version of themselves;
  • showing empathy by teaching others how to COMPETE & be self-reliant;
  • showing moral courage when you see an injustice;
  • speaking truth to power no matter the personal consequences or anticipated retaliation;
  • searching for meaning and purpose in our lives versus just seeking out our pleasures or just doing what feels good at the moment;
  • becoming a part of a TEAM; part of a sisterhood or brotherhood or both -being a part of a community.

Do you want to develop toughness in order to be a leader? You don’t have to have cancer to be tough, just go sit with a cancer patient and hold their hand during their radiation or chemotherapy treatment.

You don’t have to be in a position of power, to go into the inner city and help the youth of the community. Be a BIG BROTHER or BIG SISTER. Volunteer to help and be a tutor after school.

You don’t have to be a former All-American or great athlete to volunteer to coach a recreational team and help teach young players how to compete and be self-reliant.

You don’t have to be a lawyer or a great orator to make a social media post or write a letter to the editor that suggests solutions to a community problem or addresses an injustice or calls out a person in power abusing their power/position.

One of the greatest compliments: my team/fans made this t-shirt when I was going through my struggles during the softball season in 2015.

What makes you “tough” is not how many “big shots” and famous people you know nor the size of your bank account; rather it’s the pureness of your motives and making the least of us feel wanted and valued and significant.

It’s not your G.P.A. or batting average but your DNA to want to make a difference. It’s not a resume nor a checklist of accomplishments and material acquisitions; it’s the quality of your ideas and the pureness of your heart and the passion of your cause.

It’s never about whether you win or lose the battle against cancer because eventually we all die; it’s about whether you embraced the challenge with your whole mind, heart and soul; whether you committed to the battle with the intentions to make a difference in the lives of others and to redeem your own suffering by saving your soul. That’s WINNING THE BATTLE. THAT’S TOUGHNESS.


I SEE the parallels between SPORT & battling CANCER – both are a JOURNEY; a journey of personal growth and spiritual awakening.  

I believe we all have the opportunity to learn to think and act on a deeper level.  I also believe we can GROW, DEVELOP, LEARN how to think and act BETTER.  

Every challenge, every adversity, every struggle, every failure, every experience is a LEARNING & GROWING OPPORTUNITY to adjust and evaluate how we think and act so we all can go from GOOD TO GREAT – from MEDIOCRITY TO EXCELLENCE.

Take responsibility and be accountable for your failures and struggles. OWN IT.

Do you know players who always find an excuse when he/she fails?  When something isn’t going his/her way or when they struggle then he/she whines and starts blaming someone else.  This kind of victim mentality or selfish, immature mindset is destructive to teams.  It is incumbent that those players learn and be empowered to solve their problems. So instead of whining and blaming, when faced with a hitting problem for instance: review the video, think constructively and analytically about what is going on then empower yourself to FIX IT.


THE WINNING MINDSET is HOPE & optimism and confidence but it is also focus, relentlessness, selflessness, toughness, courage, & intensity.  It’s an internal decision that you will grind day after day after day; that you will be committed to do your very best all the time. It means you are relentless especially when things get tough. It means you will never give up.  

When CANCER SHOWS UP, it can make you better and with the right mindset you may even consider it a blessing/opportunity to make you better. OR you can THINK it’s not fair, nobody likes me;  why me.

When an obstacle a.k.a. a BRICK WALL shows up in your life whether it’s failure or struggle or adversity or CANCER, you can recommit to your WHY and show resolve and commitment to keep fighting OR you can make excuses and give up and quit or blame somebody else.

When things don’t go your way, you can either just work harder and seek solutions or you can whine and complain.  


  • How we live and face our fears matters.  
  • How we fight matters.  
  • How we stand up to bullies in our lives matters.
  • How we address injustices and abuse of power matters.  
  • How we treat each other matters.  

The BULLY wins and succeeds ONLY when WE LET IT:

  • when it divides US;
  • when it scares US;
  • when it pits US against each other. 

You see, THE BULLY REALLY IS STUPID; a coward dressed up as a ferocious giant who wants to fight on his terms only. If we are “smarter” like David was versus Goliath, we can win.


Through suffering, when we choose to be closer to JOY and purer in spirit and more connected to others by showing empathy and mercy and seeing each other as “neighbors” then we truly understand that suffering is a gift that makes us “TOUGHER”.

The next time you are about to ”spit”, swallow “it” instead and think about your own struggles and failures and challenges. Take a moment to do an inventory of your ”toughness mindset” and your perspective on suffering. Do you have a GROWTH MINDSET?

Find meaning in your struggle and suffering. Get your priorities in order. Look hard into the mirror and deep down into your soul to search for meaning – “real meaning” – the kind of meaning that can save your soul and enrich your journey with a pure heart and deliberate actions.


About the Author

Mike Lotief coached 17 successful years as either the head softball coach or co-head softball coach with his wife Stefni Whitton Lotief at the University of Louisiana from 2002-2017 with an overall coaching record of 731-176 (80.6 winning percentage). Every season, the Ragin Cajuns softball team advanced to the NCAA tournament and also advanced to three (3) Women’s College World Series (2003, 2008, 2014) and from 2012-2016 advanced to five (5) straight NCAA Super Regionals. Coach Lotief produced over 40 All American selections and his 2017 team lead the nation in scoring and was ranked in the Top 10 in home runs, slugging percentage, on base percentage.

The coach is a cancer survivor (twice) and was the first person in the U.S. to receive the Pro Trach device. Mike and Stefni spearheaded and raised the funding to build the new softball stadium in 2009 and the new softball indoor hitting facility in 2015. They are proud parents to Chelsea, who played softball and graduated from the Univ. of Louisiana in 2018, and Andrew, who is a junior at Louisiana studying Mechanical Engineering.

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