It's come time for me to say publicly something I've been saying since the beginning of my cancer case 26 months ago. It has to do with the power of our attitude, how we choose to view our circumstances.
Reality is what it is,In my community of other kidney cancer e-patients on ACOR, people are repeatedly faced with news they never wanted to hear, uncertainty, circumstances they were not raised to deal with. I know what that feels like, and no matter what your circumstances are today, chances are good that you too will face this – for yourself, a parent, a child, a loved family member, a loved friend.
whether we know it or not,
and regardless of what we think.
Reality is what it is, whether we know it or not. For instance, as I'm fond of saying, "Oxygen was real and was doing its thing, long before Joseph Priestley figured out how it works." Among other things, this realization helps understand that we may have access to all kinds of things that science hasn't discovered yet. It also highlights that disempowering thoughts are useless, so why bother?
The other day in my ACOR community a woman named Sally (not her real name) wrote a note titled "Question for caregivers whose loved ones have passed," wondering about the decisions she and her husband are facing along the way. Here's my response.
Sally, I feel for you. I well remember those days in my case, knowing that what we had to do was educate ourselves and assess our choices. There was no way to know how it was going to turn out. It felt desperate at times. I'll never forget reading those words on the web pages for my disease: "Outlook is bleak." "Prognosis is grim."
I think everyone deals with this differently. After the initial shock I found myself saying "reality is what it is, whether we know it or not. I had cancer before the diagnosis; I have cancer after the diagnosis. The main difference is that now I know it. This is scary, but it also means I have much better ability to deal with it. What are my choices?"
With that approach, I had the experience that knowing I have cancer is empowering and enabling, MUCH better than not realizing it.
(I should note that for years I've taken courses from Landmark Education, a personal growth company that among other things teaches us to be clear about the difference between how things are and our thoughts about them.)
As I say, everyone's different. I personally have a strong gut feel that attitude makes a big difference, and the relatively new field of psycho-neuro-immunology supports this: they're studying how mood/attitude (psych) affects the nervous system (neuro) which ties to the immune system. There's real evidence now that attitude can boost the immune system. So I want my attitude to be strong, action-oriented, rather than victim-oriented.
Some might rightly say I'm a "victim" of cancer but for me there's no use in that.
We know that thousands of years ago the function of our anxiety was to help us be alert when a tiger might be about to pounce, so we could take action. Today, when we learn we have cancer, we get anxious and we take action. Beyond that moment, the anxiety has outlived its usefulness. So sometimes I'd remind myself "Yes, this stinks. Thank you for the alarm, Mr. Anxiety. Now, what are my options?"
All the while, I knew these really might be my end days. But there was no use for any other attitude than "what are my options?" With the attitude I chose, I became better able to fully experience life if it DID turn out to be my end days.
I also found that being in touch with my community (family, online CaringBridge journal, etc) about my status, thoughts, and feelings would help clear my mind. From them, I got back messages of support and encouragement. And some of them said "I can't believe you're being this way about it. You're amazing." And that left me feeling "Huh, maybe I can beat this thing, regardless of the odds."
Think about this,too: none of us knows how long we'll live, and patients with a fatal diagnosis have (oddly enough) the advantage of knowing that it's time to wake up and pay attention now. No sudden death for us, nosirree; we have advance notice.
My advice to patients everywhere, regardless of circumstance: Use your mind as an asset, not a liability.
No matter where you are in your journey, choose to be present in the moment, clear about your choices, and the master of your attitude.
Or, as my wonderful sister says about the game of life:
"Must be present to win."