Recently, a good friend of mine wrote me, wanting to introduce me to an esteemed colleague, and friend, who has cancer. She wanted me to meet him, and felt I would have a lot to share with him. She spoke to him about me as well. She shared this blog, and my history.
And yesterday I met him for the first time.
I'm always a little nervous before I meet someone I don't know regarding something as personal and life changing as cancer.
But we instantly bonded, and the conversation was easy and flowed naturally. At first our discussion revolved around his particular case, and the decisions he would have to make for his treatment path, moving forward. Not an easy feat, to say the least.
As it is with all cancer patients, and survivors, we compared our individual experiences. Many of them are similar, with, perhaps, slightly different outcomes. For example, those who have had this disease have all gone through the inevitable natural selection of friends. In my case, one of my best friends of more than twenty years disappeared after my cancer diagnosis. On the other hand, some mere acquaintances; people I hardly knew, were there for me at every turn.
Following our discussion, I reflected on a few things. I have since accepted some of, what I perceived at the time, as "deceptions" from friends gone by, who were unable to handle the sad fact I was struck with the disease. Some people are just not equipped to handle the intense feelings and heartbreak of seeing a loved one who is sick. Others were of the absurd, yet completely real to them, impression that they could actually "catch" cancer from me. In any case, the people that surround me now, are the true souls who were there when I needed them. My life, as it is now, was simply meant to reflect the internal changes I went through on this truly remarkable journey.
It is these subtle, yet transformative changes in a cancer survivor that gives us our strength. People naturally resist and fear change. We are human beings that are just comfortable in what we know, and how we feel; no matter how toxic those feelings or situations may be. Lissa Rankin's Daily "Your Inner Pilot Light" spoke about change in today's edition: "We try to protect ourselves from change by clinging to what we cannot make unchangeable, then we mourn it....even when what we lost really didn't make us happy in the first place.
She concluded with " Change is inevitable. Suffering is optional."
This struck a cord in me, as a cancer survivor. Anyone who has had cancer, and anyone who has been with a cancer survivor through their journey, can attest to the fact that the disease is life transforming. It changes you.
I, as many of us, was afraid of change. I was scared, more than words can describe, the day I heard the words "you have cancer". In fact I went into immediate denial.
I'm too young.....I still have so much of my life to live......So much to do...What will my young children do without their mother?.....
I scratched, clawed and resisted any way I could. I cried. I wanted to cling to my old life; the healthier and carefree me.
Many of the survivors I know went though this as well.
However, what isn't always the same with every cancer survivor, is that I didn't really suffer. Yes I lost my hair to chemotherapy. I went through the terrible depression of coming down from the steroids I needed to take with every chemotherapy treatment. I had a severe allergic reaction to one of my chemotherapy treatments, and would have died, if not for the watchful eye of my mother, who had accompanied me that particular day. I went through a ten and a half hour operation, and four blood transfusions, to remove my breasts and have them reconstructed with skin from my abdomen. I saw the sorry looks from a thousand people; some who knew what to say, others who didn't. I had four subsequent operations following the first two....some that I couldn't anticipate or prepare for.
But through it all, I made a choice. I chose not to suffer. I chose to survive. I believed I'd be well.
So Lissa's wise words can be applied to us as well. We cannot change the fact that we got cancer. But we can decide whether we suffer. The mind is a very powerful tool in the art of overcoming a disease.
And suffering IS optional.