It had been nearly a month before Ms. J. called. Truthfully, having been ticked off that none of the key people I told of my tumor had reached out to me in more than a month, I became frustrated and purposely hadn’t answered her repeated calls for several days. And I get it. Cancer is a word no one wants to hear, especially when it’s so personal.
For those I’ve told, I’m positive my tumor diagnosis created some ripple effect—including my brother, close friends, and business associates. As a result, each will attempt to come to terms with the diagnosis, determine how they’ll interact. Still, even though a tumor entered my life, I presumed I remained the same person as before. Of course there was ‘me‘ before cancer. And surely, there’s the ‘me‘ post tumor. Yet, I kind of thought both were one and the same.
Finally answering the phone, and after some small talk, Ms. J. came to the point.
“You’re too cynical about this. You’re too pessimistic.”
Ms. J.’s comment stuck with me for the past week.
All of my life, people have cried on my shoulder about ‘this,’ ‘that,’ other ‘another.’ I accepted it all. Listened and labored. Inspite of it all, my body will continue to have bad days, but the ‘me‘ inside, refuses. I keep chugging along. I’ve neither called to cry, vent nor endlessly whine of life’s travails. Instead, like thousands of others diagnosed with critical illnesses, I live, work, and continue to do the things that bring joy.
And herein lay the lesson. I’ve learned that nothing happens overnight. The process I am moving through, powers me into self-appreciation, self-knowledge and self-love, and shifts my self-awareness to empowerment. From a Buddhist persepctive, maybe Ms. J. failed to understand my strength. A quote from the television series Kung Fu explains it this way.
The body’s outer strength is self-evident: it fades with age and succumbs to sickness. Then there is personal ch’i, the inner strength. Everyone possesses it. But it is much more difficult to develop. Inner strength will last through every trial and tribulation; through every season; through old age and beyond.
Elaine Howley wrote that our culture reveres positive thinking. But for patients undergoing cancer treatment, the pressure to always look on the bright side can be isolating. Having worked and lived within the medical community for the past decade, I know positive thoughts have little to do with neither survival nor outcome.
So, screw the bright side. When a person’s life took a hard left turn, maybe…just maybe…they want someone to acknowledge them, while simultaneously acknowledging that their body does indeed have shitty days.
Like many in life, maybe we all need to listen more. Several months ago, I told four of my closest friends some horrifying news about my health. Yeah, it’s crappy. But what else was I saying? Am I blunt and painfully realistic? Am I too cheerful and downplaying the seriousness? Am I avoiding giving details?
If you’re a friend to someone in need, follow your friend’s lead. If that person is optimistic, be optimistic. Should that person be down, console. Do not propose one look solely on the bright side. I will not positively embrace the tumor in my neck. I will, however, embrace life.
And that attitude comes from ch’i—my ch’i.
Categories: Life Lessons