March 25, 2011

Cancer survivors "living beyond limits"

Following is a guest posting by my good pal Loene on how she and others stay positive while fighting cancer. It’s another example of the resiliency of the human spirit.

John, I'm remembering what you said in an earlier posting about people meeting disruptive challenges with courage and, more often than not, a smile on their faces. How we “regular folk” arrive at such a positive place is one of the questions I'm exploring in my memoir, which focuses on the last five years, which have been full of cancer diagnoses and treatment. I've been asking the same question of participants in my “Living Beyond Limits” support group for women with recurrent and metastatic cancer. I’m amazed at how they maintain such positive attitudes when many of them have been fighting this disease for seven, ten, and even more years.

I was stunned when two of them said that the cancer itself is what makes them positive. They said it freed them from duties and obligations that used to weigh on them. If they don't want to do something these days, they simply say no. Instead, they feel able to do what appeals to them in the moment, even if that's simply watching TV or reading a novel. They experience no guilt. They have stopped listening to inner censors. They don’t need to do good works or keep a neat house or do anything else they don’t want to do. The point is to enjoy the lives they have now, in the best way that joy comes to them. For some, that includes an opportunity for the first time to make art or write or otherwise be creative.

I know this may be more of a female than a male thing, but I was struck by the freedom these women now feel to be themselves. They no longer have to try to live up to someone else's idea of whom they should be. This freedom makes it possible for them to enjoy every day they have, doing what most makes them feel good, and so they are able to be positive in the face of diagnoses that would otherwise seem likely to bring on depression and thoughts of suicide. We meet for 90 minutes a week, which usually extends another 15-20 minutes because there’s so much to say to each other, and there's a lot of laughter as well as information sharing and advocacy.

Women in my cancer support group have learned to live one day at a time. They may become anxious when another test is due or an old chemo agent loses its efficacy, but by and large they don't spend their days worrying about tomorrow. Rather, they've learned to live in the present and enjoy everything that makes their lives worth living today.
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