When you are diagnosed with cancer, it is a shocking and scary experience. You begin to wonder what this diagnosis means for your future. Are you going to die? How quickly will you die? How much treatment will you need? Will it be painful? These are just a few of the thoughts that go through your head when you get this news. We all react differently in life-threatening situations like this one. For me, the immediate reaction was one of denial and anger. I could not believe that something like this could happen to me! How could my body betray me like this?! Why would such a cruel disease target someone as kind and selfless as me?! So many questions flooded my mind…
When I was first diagnosed, denial was definitely one of the first reactions I experienced. It was almost as if what someone was telling me was not real. I just could not fathom why this would happen to me. I was a perfectly healthy and active 73-year-old man. I was very busy in my local church, my children’s school, and the community. I was physically fit and healthy. I ate a healthy diet and exercised daily. I drank very little alcohol, I didn’t smoke, and I didn’t use drugs. So, why did this happen to me? Surely, it is someone else’s turn! No, it can’t be me. This isn’t happening.
When denial dissipates, anger replaces it as the second stage of the grieving process. My anger was primarily directed toward my body for betraying me and toward the cancer for coming into my life and stealing my health and vitality. I wasn’t mad at the doctors for giving me the bad news and not knowing how to make it go away quickly. I was mad at the world for treating cancer as an inevitable part of life, and I was mad at God for letting this happen to me. I felt like I had been unfairly targeted and I was mad about it.
When I was unable to control the uncontrollable, I bargained with the powers that be to change my circumstances. I wanted the cancer to just disappear. I wanted to go back in time and be given a clean bill of health. I wanted to be able to go back to the way things used to be. I wanted to be able to go back to having lots of energy to pursue all of the beautiful dreams I had for my life and for my family. I wanted to be able to go back so that I could show others the beauty of love and of self-sacrifice. I wanted to be able to go back so that I could be a better father, a better husband, a better son, and a better friend. I wanted to change my circumstances. But the reality is that we are powerless to change our past.
As the reality of my circumstances set in, I began to enter the fourth stage of grief: depression. During this phase, I felt sad, empty, hopeless, and pessimistic. The world felt like a dark and lonely place. I felt like there was no room for hope in my life. The future looked bleak and I was unable to see past the present darkness. I saw nothing of beauty or worth in this world or in humanity. I felt like I had lost my identity. Who was I without my health and without my dreams? I felt like there was no hope for my future.
After struggling through the previous phases of grief, I began to reach the fifth and final stage: acceptance. Although I was thankful that I had made it through the previous phases, I was very reluctant to accept my situation. I was reluctant to accept my diagnosis, reluctant to accept the amount of treatment I would need, and reluctant to accept what this would mean for my future. But I had no choice. My circumstances were what they were, and I either needed to accept them or let them consume me. With much reluctance, I began to accept my situation and the fact that I now had cancer. I had no choice but to let go of my anger and begin to accept my reality. I had to accept my diagnosis, the amount of treatment I would need, and what this would mean for my future.
Finding Hope And Meaning In The Darkness
As I began to accept my diagnosis and the amount of treatment I would need, I began to see that this tragedy would have a silver lining. I was given a chance to show the world what hope and faith look like. I was given a chance to show the world that pain can be overcome and that darkness can be overcome with love and light. I was given a chance to show the world what it means to be fully alive. I was given a chance to show the world what dying to self and living for others really looks like. I was given a chance to show the world what hope and faith really look like when they are put to the test. I was given a chance to show the world what love really looks like when it is put to the test.
I was able to show the world that we can all overcome pain and darkness with love and light. I was given a chance to live my life with meaning and purpose. When you are given a diagnosis like cancer, you could let it consume you and let it rob you of the life you want to live and the legacy you want to leave behind. Or you could turn this cancer diagnosis into a positive opportunity to leave a legacy of love and hope for others. I learned the word “surrender” and the need to “recalibrate” my moment in time. I realized that today is now and tomorrow was then and I needed to move ahead in my new world with a new passion and to start from where I am, not where I was. Making that change in thought and deed completely changed my life. I accepted my disease, the fact that it is non-curable, and the knowledge that I would have this unwanted friend for the rest of my life. Surrendering to the truth of my disease and recalibrating my place in the world brought me peace and inner strength to face whatever lay ahead. Doing the same can change your life and outlook on the future in an instant. That is if you are willing to take that frightful step into a new future. If I could take that step into the unknown, then you can do likewise. I encourage you to take that step and join me on a new journey, with new goals, and an inner peace that will sustain you through your pathway forward.