Last lecture: Man gives powerful final message

RICHMOND, VA - What would you do if you only had a week left to live?

Recently, students at a North Carolina college were asked to select an inspiring professor to give a last lecture. They knew just the person -- a man with a powerful message for them and for you.

What song sets the stage for the story of your life? What would you wear, if given the opportunity to make a first -- and likely last -- impression in front of an audience?

"This is who I am, I'm not the man in the suit or the superman t-shirt," the man said.

This is the last time, that doctor Joe Lakatos will see these students face-to-face. This is his last lecture of the year, on business law.

And this is his last lecture on life.

"This is your assignment. What is it going to take for you to act like you've got cancer?" he said during his lecture.

Only someone like Professor Lakatos genuinely knows the answer. He knows how fast 42 years can go by. When cancer starts the countdown clock "bring back the is too damn short," he said.

And he is already on borrowed time.

In 2004, just a year into his dream job teaching at UNC-Pembroke, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 follicular lymphoma. He started full-body radiation.

Then, intensive chemotherapy and then he started class again. This time broadcasting by computer, sometimes from home in Wilmington, sometimes from the hospital.

"Everyone would say, 'aw, its Joe, it's going to be OK.' I didn't feel that...I tried to get everyone to understand, I'm not Superman," he said.

This is lesson number one of his last lecture, and it's nearly impossible to teach.

"Why does it take tragedy for us to wake up?" he asked.

It took cancer, his kryptonite, for him to stop trying to be the super-powered employee or the super-strength son, father, and husband.  Instead he found all the superhero glory he his 8-year old sidekick.

"What I fear is leaving my son because of the love that I have for him...I don't want to leave that yet," he said.

Lesson number two: time is never on your side. Stop sweating the small stuff.

"If you were on your death bed, would it matter?" he asked.

A former risk manager, he treats time like a stock trade. He barters for more years for the price of much more pain.

"I'm told I will most likely end up a cripple," he said.

But he doesn't want his audience to see a patient, just the person. In hopes they'll make their own last lecture, a reflection on life that doesn't wait until the last minute.

After the last lecture and on the last day of class, he finally got the feedback that his message was coming across, loud and clear.

"To do what we really want to do instead of what will make someone else happy. Make your life extraordinary...thank you," he said.

Now it's your turn. NBC12 wants to hear from you. What would you say if you could give a last lecture? Tell us on facebook!

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