Portrait Project


"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"

Austin Johnsen

I have been given a second chance. I plan to use it.

It all began early one morning, two days before my final Thanksgiving as an HBS student. I stood shivering outside Dunkin' Donuts in the cold fall air trying to focus on what the doctor was saying. How could he have the results already? I had only left the health center minutes before.

"Testicular cancer," the doctor repeated.

I forced myself to continue walking. I was going to be late for class.

The months that followed were a blur. Within a week, I underwent surgery. Then, while my friends were ringing in the New Year, I was starting chemotherapy. Nothing prepared me for the endless needle sticks, overwhelming nausea, and debilitating tiredness. I was miserable. But, by the middle of February, I was back in school, with no lingering signs of what I had been through – other than my newly bald head.

There was one thought I couldn't shake, however. If not for modern medicine, my life would be nearing its end, and what did I have to show for it?

Horace Mann once wrote, "Until you have done something for humanity, you should be ashamed to die."

I have continually returned to that quote since I was first diagnosed. In some ways, cancer has made it easier to make hard decisions. I'm going to spend the next year in China working for the World Wildlife Fund instead of returning to finance. After that, who knows where life will take me? I do know though, it won't be the traditional path. I won't waste this gift I've been given. I will make a difference.

I won't die ashamed.

— Austin Johnsen