The doctors' job was to save Gina Therwanger's body. Erik Therwanger's mission was to save his wife's spirit.
The former U.S. Marine took her "orders" seriously but he struggled.
Gina, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma at age 27, barely stirred at her husband's affection and humor.
Desperate to reach her, Therwanger said, "You know what'll be great. When you're feeling better, we're going to buy a house.
"I put it out there and I saw the spark in her eyes," Therwanger said.
The couple obsessed over every aspect of their future house. Erik said he set and accomplished a series of smaller goals including saving money, improving their credit scores, finding a Realtor to keep their big-picture dream in sight. Three years later, the couple walked into their first Southern California home and Gina's cancer was in remission.
Therwanger, who now lives in Prior Lake, is sharing his strategy with members of the military, their families and the business community. He's to speak to the Prior Lake Chamber of Commerce next month.
His self-published book, "The Goal Formula: Completing the Big Picture of Your Life," is being tucked into care packages for soldiers on active duty and handed to soldiers returning to civilian life. Marine and Air National Guard units in Iowa and California have invited him to speak to soldiers about his "Goal Formula."
"You've cried. You've prayed. Now what? Step three is up to you," said Therwanger, 42. "You can succumb to your circumstance or you can embrace your opportunity."
This fall, Therwanger launched Operation Goal Formula at www.thinkgreat90.com, where individuals and businesses can purchase copies of his book to be included in soldier care packages.
The author and motivational speaker combines his experience in the Marines, in the business world and caring for his wife to create his own brand called "Think GREAT." GREAT is an acronym for Goals, Reasons, Expectations, Actions and Tracking. He's written three books.
"The mission is to help people accomplish goals personally and professionally no matter what circumstances they face," Therwanger explained.
Therwanger compares his goal program with a puzzle. Identify the big picture and then systematically fill in the pieces by completing smaller goals. Therwanger said he believes his message helps military families tackle the challenges of high unemployment as well as spiking divorce and suicide rates.
"My goal is to get our troops focusing on a positive future in the hopes it would reduce the suicide and divorce rates." Therwanger said.
"Goal Formula" is receiving attention from the highest ranks of the military.
Maj. Gen. Kelly McKeague and Therwanger both spoke to Air National Guard soldiers at a Yellow Ribbon reintegration event in Anaheim, Calif., last June.
McKeague, assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for National Guard Matters at the Pentagon, said Therwanger is a powerful speaker whose experience as a Marine carried a lot of weight with his military audience.
"For us, this has been a long, long war. In many cases individuals are repeat deployers ... It causes a strain on family and a strain on finances, especially for guardsmen and reservists," McKeague said.
"Advancing yourself, venturing down a different path or overcoming a challenge, this is a very systematic and practical way of overcoming those hurdles."
In January, Therwanger will speak to about 100 business professionals at the Prior Lake Area Chamber of Commerce annual meeting.
"It's the beginning of the year. We thought goals and goal-setting for a business would be a great meeting topic," said Sandi Fleck, executive director of the Prior Lake Area Chamber of Commerce.
Fleck said she's read Therwanger's book.
"It's very easy to understand," Fleck said. "I thought it was very well-written."
The Chamber has donated to Operation Goal Formula so Therwanger's books will be included in more soldier care packages.
Therwanger, his wife and their 5-year-old daughter moved from California to Prior Lake this year to be closer to family. After serving in the Marines, Therwanger attended the University of Southern California's film school. He is now the director of business development for the Minneapolis-based post-production film company Crash+Sues.
Gina Therwanger said she's proud of her husband's efforts. She said goal-setting changed her life even as she has battled four diagnoses of cancer.
"It definitely helped me see the light at the end of the tunnel and a brighter future," she said.
Shannon Prather is a Roseville freelance writer.