by Dean Witherspoon   Dean's profile on LinkedIn  

Bill Baun — a wellness consultant with Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center (MDACC) is a tireless advocate and industry ambassador. Bill was diagnosed in 2007 with aggressive prostate cancer and is now a stage IV cancer survivor participating in a clinical study. In 2012 Bill’s wife, MaryBeth, was diagnosed with breast cancer, and he became a caregiver. He shares insights on his incredible wellness journey.

What’s your role at MDACC?

As an internal and external wellness consultant working at the individual, group, and organizational levels, my teams plan and implement programs/activities to coach patients and caregivers. I serve on various survivor committees; MaryBeth and I are both on the Patient and Family Advisory Council focused on improving the patient and family experience. These roles let us provide MDACC teams designing process or system changes the voice of patients and caregivers. Other roles include wellness and survivorship support for:


  • Designing MDACC’s electronic health record system
  • Partner hospitals and companies using our knowledge base to provide evidence-based and best practice cancer diagnosis, treatment, and prevention efforts.

Your list of wellness publications, speaking engagements, volunteer activities, and leadership roles is exhaustive. Of all these accomplishments, what’s your proudest moment?

Like most, my career journey has had many twists and turns. As I look back to the mid-’70s and my life as a University of North Texas graduate student, I’m grateful for peers and professors who didn’t just guide my studies, early research, and writing, but have remained friends. It’s through these individuals and collaborations along the way that my wellness career has blossomed. And early in life, my parents, coaches, scout masters, and teachers impressed on me the importance of passing life lessons on as a way to maximize my own efforts, while expanding the impact of others. So I feel very proud of the individuals I have mentored over the years. They’ve become presidents of hospital systems, physicians, professors, leaders of wellness and fitness companies, and thought leaders in our industry today. I am so proud of all of us!

You write a popular blog that offers readers a daily shot of inspiration. How did that come about and what does it do for you?

My mother gave me the love for poetry and writing, and when she passed from cancer, my dad gave me a box she’d saved filled with my early writing — from preschool through letters to her when I was in the Army. When my cancer journey was getting tougher, I happened to pull out the box; it reminded me of where I’d been and started me thinking about what I’d learned in life. 

So I started to write each day about my experiences and lessons. At first I didn’t share them, except as stories in my teaching, but after some prodding started to put them on an internal blog site at work called Yammer. Soon after my first grandson was born, and I realized he and I would probably not get too many years together. How could I share the awesomeness of life with him? I began posting my blog onto multiple sites, for family, friends, and other cancer survivors. Now 2 more grandsons have arrived, and I write each morning knowing when they’re older and facing life challenges, they’ll have grandpa’s musings about these experiences.

Where does our industry need to concentrate for the most value and sustainability?

Decision makers today recognize the importance of prevention and being well. What’s made this field rock — and grow — have been intrapreneurs and extrapreneurs who mix good science with a willingness to fail as well as to share what works/what doesn’t.

Sustainability of our future value rests in continuing to be a field that sets audacious goals. It’s through this meticulous analysis that we’re discovering and understanding behavior and culture change processes. And from this has come the sharing of best practices. I love that we have moved away from ROI being the Gold Standard, and are exploring it instead as “Return on Involvement,” which focuses our attention on engagement and actions that translate into the opportunity for awesome life journeys.

Your writing conveys eternal optimism, but is there anything that brings you down or causes you to be pessimistic about the future of workplace wellness?

In the last decade our field has experienced some real fights about our science, how we do our business, how we recognize best programs, and what really works. At times, these fights have been hard to explain to outsiders or the leaders of companies who invest in our visions. Good science is based on hypotheses, theories, and facts, which are all open to scientific inquiry. When the fights get personal, it loses the sense of being good science, and unfortunately can diminish our value. We need our science to be good science and not to become dirty fights.

If you could recommend only 1 book to aspiring wellness leaders, what would it be?

We need more aspiring leaders to be confident in themselves and their practices… to be more people focused and not afraid to fail or let others fail. Several years ago I had the privilege to do a keynote the day before Marshall Goldsmith (thank goodness I did not follow him). I’d read him over the years, but hearing him and being with him over several days made me a convert. A good short read for any aspiring wellness leader would be What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful. Because wellness leaders must shine in innovation and entrepreneurship, I’d recommend Kim Chandler McDonald’s Innovation: How Innovators Think, Act, and Change Our World as well as Christopher Gergen and Gregg Vanourek’s Life Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives.    

You’ve been very open about your cancer journey the last few years. Has it affected the way you approach your work or other aspects of life?

These experiences have challenged me to weave together various wellness practices to strengthen and sustain my body-mind-spirit connections and mindfulness. This has let me realize that I am more than a cancer survivor; I’m a cancer thriver. I coach too many survivors where cancer has taken over their lives and they have forgotten about living. Being a thriver is about living each day as if it were your last, ensuring that you are present for each moment, and always looking for ways to pass the awesomeness of life on to others.


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