Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Things Cancer Teaches Us

My new dear friend Miki Chambers said something in her share of my last post this week. She said, "The things cancer teaches us..." That hit home with me. Cancer has taught me many things, and it continues to do so. Or should I say, I'm learning things because of cancer. I don't necessarily think that cancer is the teacher. For me, God is the teacher. Life is the teacher. But it took cancer to get me to listen.

I threw this question out today to the online support group that I mention so often. I asked what cancer has taught them. I could relate to pretty much every answer they gave. The uniformity of responses was amazing.

One said that cancer showed him that life can change in a single moment. Truer words were never spoken. I know that my life changed forever when I got that phone call from my urologist. That's when I got hit by God's 2 By 4, and nothing has been the same since.

Then he said something that was echoed by others. While cancer is a terrible thing, and it's certainly nothing that any of us would want for ourselves or a loved one, it can be a blessing. It has been in my life. If you've been reading this blog, you've had a front row seat for that. I am more abundantly blessed now than I've ever been in my life.

Another said that his faith in humanity has been restored. I can relate to that too. The basic goodness and generosity of people has been shown to me over and over.

Another common response is that different people react in different ways when they find out that you have cancer. Many are right there, supporting us from day one. Some back away, not knowing how to react. It's easy to see this as abandonment when you're the patient. But there are those who really do care, they just don't know what to say. And there are those who really don't care. That was the point of my last post. The one that inspired Miki's words. Some stop to help, and some pass by on the other side of the road.

One wise man that I've learned a lot from in this journey said that it taught him to remove all of the B.S. from his life. Only he used the actual word. Boy, is that one true! That's the clarity that Robert Cannady talks about. The way I've been putting it in this blog, cancer woke me up to what's really important, and what isn't. When you have cancer, your B.S. meter gets turned up full blast. And that's a very good thing. We can all use less of that in our lives. Especially in an election year!

When I posted the question today, one thing I said that I've learned is that I'm not in control. Others echoed that one. That's a sobering realization for many. It was for me. But that's where joy and peace are found, at least in my case. I suspect I'm not alone in that. For my whole life, I wanted control, and never had joy or peace. It's when I realized that I don't have control that joy and peace came flooding in.

What Pete Axson said is so good, I have to quote it word for word. "This journey taught me how to look forward to each day with awe and wonder - like we did as kids. It taught me how to live in the moment again. It taught me how to be kind to others - and to give them the opportunity to be kind to me. In short, it taught me how to live again. I have thought about this a lot. None of us ever wanted this, but if I was given the opportunity to do a rewind and give it all back - and lose all I have gained in the process, I don't think I would. Sounds crazy, I know." Wow. Exactly. I've been saying words to that effect from the beginning in this blog, but he said it better in one paragraph. Thanks for that, Pete.

Two people - both women, not surprisingly - said that they've learned to do their own research. Very important! Doctors don't know everything. They may not be up on all of the current treatments and clinical trials. They may have a financial interest in recommending certain treatments.

That leads into a related topic. It's our choice, as the patient, to pursue whatever treatment we want, or refuse any treatment that we don't want. Not the doctors, nor anyone else. We must be our own best advocate. Doctors work for us.

Some said that they learned that they are not alone. That rings true for me too. I've never felt less alone in my life.

Others said (and I've heard this many times) that prostate cancer is a couple's disease. That is so true. If you have it, or your spouse does, you're going through it together. That's true of all cancers, probably all disease. But prostate cancer in particular affects every aspect of a relationship. Intimacy is often a casualty of prostate cancer for many reasons, not all of them physical. Many men withdraw from their wives when they have this disease, and vice versa. It takes two to overcome that.

But the one who had the most to say about it was Miki herself. She echoed my last post regarding those who say they care, but don't show it. She was one who stressed the importance of research. Here are some other salient points she made.

She learned to find a support system. I have an amazing one, and I'm so happy that she's part of it.

She and others pointed out that every man with prostate cancer is different. That's certainly true of me! I'm more different than most. Every man reacts differently to treatment. Some with more aggressive cancer live a long time with it, and others with a lower grade cancer struggle. I know that my reaction to Lupron, for all of my complaints about it in this blog, has been mild compared to many. No two patients react the same way. Prostate cancer is a strange animal. Treating it is a shot in the dark, in many cases.

She also said she's learned to use cancer as an opportunity to educate. I like to think I'm doing that with this blog, in some small way.

But her last two points really spoke to me. She talked about learning to love people she's never met. I'd say been there, done that, but I'm there now, and doing it now. She's one of those people for me. Connections. Reconnections. The relationships are the best part of this, hands down.

Finally, she said that she's learned to become a better person. I can relate to that too. When you wake up to what's really important, that's what happens. Things come into focus. You learn not to sweat the small stuff. Contrary to the popular expression, it's not all small stuff. Cancer is not small. It's huge. But the clarity that it brings helps us to recognize the small stuff when we see it.

In addition to realizing that I don't have control, (and many other things) I learned a couple of other truths that I'd like to close with. First, as I've said many times before in this blog, and I'll continue to say, cancer taught me that I am loved. Before I went public with my diagnosis, I had no idea how much love there was out there for me. I wouldn't trade that knowledge now for anything.

And finally, because of cancer, I learned that God is real. I always believed that, and felt it at times, but cancer brought it home in an incredible way. Now I feel God's presence all the time, no matter what I'm doing. It's amazing. That makes it all worth it.

I could go on forever, and I almost did, as usual. But those are a few things that cancer teaches us. I wish it hadn't taken a cancer diagnosis to learn all of this, but as Pete said, if I was given the opportunity to do a rewind and give it all back - and lose all I have gained in the process, I don't think I would. #waroncancer

1 comment:

  1. With this note, I want people to understand that I'm not talking about the ravages of a disease or the treatments, but of the transformation of your personal outlook...and I'll be the first to say: It isn't easy, but you have a choice to make: which road will you take?, which path will you work to accomplish. I'm still a work in process!

    As you have written, as others have said, as all of us know, is that there is more in our lives to cherish, and even more to jettison from our garbage pan!
    No time for the drama that in the end results in nothing but lost time.

    We both know that there are actually are blessings that go along with this, or any other traumatic event.
    You learn who your friends are
    You learn that you can love more
    You learn that you can walk away or stop doing something, and the world really doesn't stop!

    We learn, what we've always known, that our time is finite, regardless, and those people or things that are precious are even more so.

    If you're listening!

    If you're not:
    then you have the potential of being really, really miserable.