The Fraternity No One Wants to Join

Last week, I attended a regional HOPE Summit that was put on by the LUNGevity Foundation. My (nearly) 86-year-old mom attended with me. After spending a full day of learning and camaraderie with all of us lung cancer survivors and caregivers, Mom made a comment that resonated with me. She said, “It’s almost like you are all in a fraternity or a sorority.”

Yes. That is so true. We share a commonality that no one wanted and no one asked for and certainly no one sought. And, yet, that monster no one wanted, lung cancer, has brought us together in a way nothing else ever could. And, I think without exception, we are all thrilled to know one another.

Have you thought of that benefit? Do you go places where you meet others with a similar diagnosis?

In so many ways, it takes another person who has been diagnosed with cancer to understand what it is like. People can imagine or think they know, but only someone who has heard those awful words actually, truly know.

I think meeting other people who are surviving cancer helps bring hope to all of us. Maybe it gives just the push someone needs to climb out of depression and to give life another chance. For sure, it means that we can exchange war stories and know that the person hearing them knows just exactly what we are saying, even if our chemo brains make us forget the right words sometimes.

Living Life

Once we hear those words, “You have cancer,” we all seem to react differently. I personally took on living with a vengeance. People laugh when they see my calendar. I keep it full. If there is an open day, I generally come up with something to fill it up. I want to enjoy every single minute of every single day. And, for the most part, I am hugely successful in that endeavor. If I am not laughing and smiling and having fun, I just might be asleep!

I have many friends who accepted the challenge of cancer and vowed to give it a run for its money!! They are strong warriors and usually spend a lot of time advocating on behalf of themselves and everyone else who has been diagnosed with cancer. They are using the time they have to make a difference in their lives, in the lives of other cancer patients, in the lives of everyone who comes into contact with them.

Thank God for these people! I think a lot of us want to give back when our lives have been extended beyond expectations. I wasn’t supposed to live more than 4 months. Wow! I have a story of hope to tell and tell it I will!

Or not…

I know other people who learn they have cancer and it seems like a dark cloud descends on them. They lose their energy and their zest for life. It appears that all they think about is their cancer. Sometimes, these are people who are diagnosed with early stage and treatable cancer. Long after their cancer has been obliterated, they are still giving it power over them. They moan, groan and complain because cancer came into their lives. They feel sorry for themselves and shorten their lives by worrying constantly about the fact that they had cancer … and that it might come back someday.

I always wonder, why? Why give cancer so much power? I get it if you are so sick from chemo and/or radiation or surgery that you can’t continue living life. I’ve been there. I lost days of my life when I was getting chemo. I could do nothing besides curl up on the bed, completely miserable and wondering if I really wanted to continue. But, those days would pass in a bit and once more, life was worth living … and live it I did!

My own personal perspective is that people who give up the will to live life, who concentrate more on what their new normal means (and what they can no longer do) than on trying to make the best of the time they have, are losing to cancer long before it robs them of life.

Here’s the deal. When we dwell on something, it grows bigger and bigger and bigger. It takes on a life of its own. It can begin to consume you. If you’re dwelling on living life, then joy and passion are what consume you. But if you concentrate on what you lost, no matter how small or significant that might be, you give up your peace and trade it for worry, fear, sadness, and/or anger … or maybe all of those.

Blessings

So, I choose to keep my focus on the blessings of cancer. Yes, the blessings of cancer. I joined a fraternity no one wants to be a part of … but now that I am a member, I am not so sure I would ever want to leave again. What??? Am I crazy????

Well … maybe. But, here are some of the things that have happened to me as a direct result of having stage IV (yep, terminal) lung cancer:

 

  1. As I noted already, I have made friends that I would have never met if it were not for the fact that I have lung cancer. I wouldn’t trade knowing them, not even if it meant I could somehow give away my cancer diagnosis.
  2. I am much stronger than I realized I was. It took cancer to teach me just how much strength I have. Some disease is not going to overpower my thoughts, even if it does try to overpower my body.
  3. I have so much more joy than before I was diagnosed with cancer. I guess when I came face to face with the reality that my life could be over in a matter of months, I began to appreciate what’s really important in life. People, moments, memories, time. God’s handiwork. Every single day, every single hour of every single day, I am thankful for the fact that I am alive and enjoying what God has given me.
  4. One thing cancer has done is rob me of patience. I have no patience with complainers or with people who can’t look past their circumstances to find happiness. I remove myself from their midst and that has helped make my life much happier!
  5. Not only have I made friends with others who share a cancer diagnosis, I learned who my true friends really are: the ones who didn’t just keep on living life without giving me a second thought, but the ones who I know would be there for me the moment I needed them to be. Sadly, for me and for most people who are diagnosed with cancer, I learned that many of the people I thought were good friends really are not. But, the flip side is that I learned who my real friends are. And, that’s a very important lesson.
  6. I learned how to enjoy life. I never was much of a worrier. I sure am not now. Worry is a time thief. I have no time to share with worry.
  7. Chemo brain has even lent a benefit. Thoughts don’t get a very tight handle in my brain. Sometimes, even most of the time, that can be frustrating. But only momentarily. I don’t hold onto hurts or wrongs … I don’t just forgive them, I FORGET them. Totally. So, they don’t interfere with my pursuit of happiness 🙂  I don’t try to forget them, they just don’t stick in my mind!

Challenge

My challenge to anyone who reads this is for you to begin living life like you might not still be here tomorrow. Because, the truth is, you might not be. A cancer diagnosis brings that fact to the forefront of your mind. But, NONE of us is promised tomorrow (or even the next minute). We need to start living like today might be our last day here.
What would be important to you if that was the case? Would you still be mad that someone cut you off in the grocery store line or on the highway? Would which new dress to buy be foremost on your mind or perhaps spending time with loved ones would supersede.
Just think about it. Most of what frustrates us or makes us mad is really small in the grand scheme of this thing we call life. We’re giving up blessings every single time we let something rob us of our happiness. Right? Or do you disagree?

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