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All-time highs, complicated cancer(s?), and gunfights.

By: Devan Robinson

"You don't have to be brilliant.  Only a little bit wiser than the other guys, on average, for a long-time."  -Charlie Munger

All-time highs and what to do about them

I love markets.

After a rollercoaster 2020, patient investors are receiving their paychecks in 2021.

Source: Bespoke Investment Group. Past performance may not be indicative of future results. Indexes are not available for direct investment.

It's been an impressive rally out of the depths of a closed economy and recession.  What happens now?  That's a great question.

Have markets run too far too fast?  The truth is I have no idea.  I've been doing this long enough to know that much with certainty. 

What I do know is if you want the long-term return of global markets, this is what it looks like.  It's lumpy.  Markets move in spurts and sputters.  Sometimes they're down.  Sometimes they're flat.  Sometimes they rally.  If you want to try to time it, best of luck to you.  I don't know many investors that had a rallying stock market, a housing shortage, and 5% unemployment on their March 2020 COVID-predictions list.

The stock market never shows its hand; that's one of the things I love about it.  In the short-run it's a front-row seat to the whole-spectrum of human emotion, spanning fear-to-greed.  In the long-run you get the results of capitalism.  You don't get one without the other.

If you're looking for a tidy and predictable 0.5%/year you can talk to your bank.  If you want the 8-10%/year American business provides over the long-haul you have to make peace with that lumpiness.  Returns arrive when they arrive; not when you want them to or think they should.

Given all of that: we haven't had any sort of meaningful pullback in nearly a year.  It's normal to have 3-4 pullbacks (-5%) and 1-2 corrections (-10%) in a year.  Will there be a correction between now and the end of the year?  I'd imagine so, but maybe not (how's that for a useful forecast?).

I like to remind investors that corrections are a normal and healthy feature of markets.  If you're an investor you should always be expecting 10% corrections.  They can happen for any number of reasons, or for no reason at all.  It's simply part of the lumpiness.  Sometimes you get big rallies and sometimes you get corrections.  If you can accept both you will probably do pretty well as an investor.

Someone once asked legendary banker J.P. Morgan what he thought the stock market would do.  I love his answer:

"It will fluctuate."

Markets, as always, will be lumpy in the short-term.  In the long-run the American lion will continue to roar.

Complicated cancer(s?)

Most great tales have a plot-twist or two.  That's what keeps the story intriguing after all.

I hoped to keep this brief but the story is getting complicated!  The results of my mid-treatment scans arrived and were, uh...mixed.  Some great news, some lackluster news, and some bad news.  My team is battling it out with cancer on three fronts: a mass on my pancreas, lymphoma in my guts, and lymphoma in my bones.

The great news is the mass on my pancreas is steadily shrinking.  Most of my early complications were due to the mass; it kinked my stomach closed like a garden hose.  As a result, I couldn't eat or drink anything which really mucked up the battlefield.  That led to the J-Tube because I was losing weight too rapidly.  

Thankfully that mean-sucker is finally retreating which means I can eat once again.  It only takes one quick glance to notice I clearly enjoy food; you can imagine the quality-of-life upgrade for Mr. Devan!  Feeding tube meals shipped straight to the small-intestine just aren't the same.

The lackluster news is the lymphoma throughout my guts isn't shrinking as we would've hoped.  It shrunk slightly but not to an extent the team was pleased with.  

The bad news is the cancer in my bones actually grew in size...that's the plot twist.  

So what is happening?  In short: the cancer in my guts is not acting like the cancer in my bones.  The bones seem to be acting like a myeloma and yet my guts are acting like a tough-lymphoma.  

Is one mimicking the other?  Do I have two different cancers at the same time?  Is this something new?  It's turning into quite the medical mystery around these halls.

I wrote last time that we were teetering on the edge of the unknown a bit.  Well, this is what the edge looks like.

I'll leave it to the words of my hematologist: "you have one of the most difficult pathologies you could have and one of the most complex I've ever seen."  

I'm strangely proud of this for some reason.  I don't know what that says about my brain.  

With all of that said: I have this sense if anyone will vanquish this, it's going to be me.  I might even be able to leave a roadmap for the next traveler teetering out on this edge?  Good, time to saddle up.


When I met my hematologist for the first time he asked for my thoughts.  I told him two things:

  1. Hit me with everything you've got.  I can take it.
  2. I will never complain.

In his words he's now hitting me with missiles; a quote the meathead in me is relishing.  My boys are going to be so sick of hearing about the missiles I ate the summer Dad was bald.

If you find yourself pinned down in a gunfight, what do you do?  You lay down fire and move to a better position to fight from.  That's exactly what we're doing.  Our new game plan is another 1-3 cycles of a stronger chemotherapy followed by a full stem-cell/bone-marrow transplant.  

In other words: we are going to airstrike the living-hell out of this cancer and send the Marine Corps hunting through the devastation.

I'm currently working through my second chemotherapy-missile.  The first missile lived up to the doctor's hype but it's nothing I can't handle.  You learn pretty quickly how lucky you are when you spend time in a cancer hospital.

So how am I doing lately?  Honestly, I'm doing just fine.  I didn't react to the bad news the way I thought I should, I'm still trying to sort it out in my head.  I simply have this overwhelming sense I am going to win despite any obstacles.  I can't shake the feeling.

Was I disappointed at the bad news?  Sure, I was unsettled for a few minutes but it didn't bother me for long.  Too much of my Dad in me?  Too much Stockdale & Epictetus?  Faulty-wiring in my brain?  All three?  I have no idea...I'm unshaken regardless.

I've felt this way for awhile now.  Once the initial shock of the diagnosis & complications wore off I've felt unconquerable since.  I can't drop the feeling I know how this story ends.

Life is your movie

I've always felt there is a way to win in any situation.  Life, business, money, sports, relationships...you may not know the answer right that moment but it's out there somewhere.  There's a plot twist in my cancer fight?  That's fine - underdog movies happen to be my favorite genre.

Your life is your movie after all.  It's easy to forget at times.  Sure, of course events happen out of your control.  That's part of the human-experience and none of us get to escape it.  But for the most part you get to write, direct, cast, and be the hero of your movie.  It's a tremendous gift.

At the end of this movie I will have scrapped my way out of this situation.  I'm not sure how I'll do it but I will find a way to win because I am the master of my fate and the captain of my soul.

Thanks for reading,

P.S.  I lied when I said I wasn't disappointed at the bad news...I am not allowed to lift anything heavier than 25 pounds.  As a strongman and powerlifter this was a tragic turn-of-events.  Apparently my cancer-ridden bones don't have the structural integrity they used to.  I understand the doctors are trying to save me from crumbling into dust beneath a heavy squat - but it's a tragedy nonetheless!

That's okay, I suspect I'm going to love lifting even more when this saga is complete.

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