We are tuned into our body and are constantly, consciously attempting to monitor what it’s telling us accurately.
The problem is the body doesn’t just come right out and say that pain you’re feeling in your chest is due to a lack of oxygen to a portion of your heart and you’re in the first stages of a cardiac infarct. You wonder if soon you will begin to feel an ache in your left shoulder and uncomfortableness in the front of your neck and jaw. Is that nausea that’s beginning to creep in around the edges of your perception?
What a relief when you finally break wind. You’re not having a heart attack after all, you just needed to fart. The anxiety and other symptoms melt away and you’re able to concentrate on the task at hand.
An even bigger problem is the way we interpret our capabilities and the events unfolding around us. If we think we can’t, we’re probably right. If we think we can, we’re also right if we combine that conviction with hard work and keep at it long enough. A little luck helps, but luck without hard work and determination amounts to little. Luck is what happens when you set yourself up to take advantage of the events unfolding around you and quit concentrating on the negative.
After all, we inevitably get better at what we practice at. As we perform a task time after time, the neural pathways are strengthened and the action becomes automatic. We’re able to perform those tasks with hardly a conscious thought. We call that habit. Habits are so ingrained we’re unaware of all the things we do that are controlled by habit; be it backing out of our driveway while we choose a radio station or the way we brush our teeth, or the order in which we dress, or the way in which we pick up on subtle clues our bodies send us and imagine the worst possible outcome.
These automatic actions help free our brains to concentrate on other things that may be more important. The problem is when we hold onto habits, be it physical actions or ways of thinking, which create anxiety keeping us from reaching our full potential.
Often the things we fear unnecessarily become true, not because they’re inevitable, but because we believe them.
If I don’t exercise because I’m afraid I’ll have a heart attack, the chances of having a heart attack increase exponentially. If I believe I can’t do math and become frustrated when I make a mistake I probably won’t practice math. So then how am I ever going to get better at math? The same with all the other perceptions we have of ourselves; our self-talk, our looks, our athletic prowess or more than likely our lack of it; all the things we consciously and subconsciously limit ourselves with.
I was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer five years ago. I went into remission after initially receiving chemo – Carboplatin, Taxol, and Avastin. After remission I immediately began to receive Opdivo, a form of immunotherapy. I came off Opdivo and went on a different drug regime after the last recurrence when I was treated with Carboplatin, Alimta, and Keytruda. I went into remission again and the last several PET Scans have not indicated cancer.
When I was first diagnosed in 2016 only 4 people out of 100 were surviving 5 years with stage IV lung cancer. Now the statistics have improved almost double, with 7 out of 100 surviving 5 years, although 7% vs 4% still doesn’t provide much peace of mind.
I attempted to go back to work as soon as I went into remission back at the first of the year in 2017. If I didn’t go back, I was fairly certain the owners would close the plant I had managed the last 13 years and move the jobs back to the home base in Orlando. All those jobs and relationships forged through the difficult times of the great recession would be lost.
I also thought my health would continue to improve as time passed. And it did to a point… but chemo and cancer had taken its toll. I have a dead space in the bottom of my lungs, my kidneys were affected, I have neuropathy, and constant fatigue. Running the plant had always been stressful, but I wonder what I was thinking when I went back to work.
When my Oncologist told me if I wanted to spend time with my boys, I better do it now, I talked to my boss, who is co-owner of the company, about retiring. He encouraged me to do so.
To start with, my biggest concern was enjoying life while I still had a modicum of health, finally feeling free to spend the money I’d saved through my working years.
If there is one thing I’ve learned for sure, it’s that worrying about dying is no way to live. Yes, you need to face the brutal facts – but never, ever lose hope.
My first wife had passed away a couple months before I was diagnosed with lung cancer, so it was just me and my boys on the trip out West to several national parks. And then I went to a friend’s daughter’s wedding in Brazil with my oldest son Zach, who was in the wedding party, with a side trip to a beach resort and a couple nights in Rio de Janeiro. While in Brazil, I got a call from my former employer and was informed they were sending me and a group of my choosing to the Bahamas on the company jet for a week’s stay at a villa with the use of one of our luxury performance boats. Great times, living like I was dying! It makes life intense. Everyone should have the opportunity to live like that at least once in their lives.
Then, my biggest worry was not that I would die, but that the money would run out before I did. Hey, a lot people live like that even without the specter of the death angel hovering over them.
The sad truth is I wouldn’t have lived that way without the blessing of Cancer.
Blessing? Yes, blessing.
During the time of my first wife’s illness I learned how to love unconditionally, exuberantly, expecting nothing in return. Oh, to love that way again! But then, after my diagnosis, I thought I’d missed the window to love that way.
My Oncologist didn’t think I’d last as long as I have, either. He’s brought in med students to look at my scans and then to meet me in person to prove that someone with stage IV lung cancer the way I had it could survive – even thrive.
Perhaps the biggest miracle in my life was not surviving cancer but meeting Mary. Well, not just meeting Mary, but us falling in love and the relationship we have. She needed someone who could love her unconditionally, exuberantly, holding nothing back after what she had been through. And I needed someone to love like that.
Of course, I was hesitant and didn’t want to drag her into a relationship where she would be forced to suffer through my demise, be it swift of slow. You never know with cancer.
But she is convinced that I’ve been healed. She said God told her so. To this day she doesn’t understand why I don’t have the faith to just accept the fact that I’ve been healed.
But after going through my first wife’s battle with brain cancer and the way we prayed, I came to figure if you were looking for a sign, the fact you had been diagnosed with a terminal disease, well, that was it.
I don’t doubt that God can heal. I’ve always known that God can heal me. I just don’t understand why He would heal me, of all people.
Looking at scripture, I find solace in the fact that it wasn’t the Centurion’s servant’s faith that healed the servant, but the faith of the Centurion. Likewise, perhaps it’s not my faith, but Mary’s faith that heals me.
I had Mary meet a counselor at the Cancer Center and my doctor alone in hopes that she would get the real story without them trying to paint a rosier picture because of my presence. Surprise, surprise, they encouraged us to pursue our relationship.
Even though I’ve had a couple of minor recurrences since Mary and I met, all my scans have been clear since 2018.
I came off immunotherapy six months ago, so the last couple of PET Scans I’ve been more than just a little leery waiting for the results. Sure I have neuropathy, fatigue, etc. etc. But those things are not my focus. My focus is on what I can do. I still have a very good quality of life.
And I have Mary! God, indeed, is good all the time.
The overwhelming sense I have is not of the pain and heart ache I’ve suffered through from the time my first wife became ill until now, but of the love and blessings since then. In a very real sense, just when I thought life was ending, in reality, it was just beginning.
It could have been different in so many ways. There have been times when I was fearful, listening to what my body was telling me, interpreting what in reality was everyday aches and pains into the beginning of cancer raising its ugly head again. That’s a habit I fight each time a PET scan approaches. I could fret about what could have been instead of focusing on the blessing at hand.
Not everything is honky dory. I wish I had the money for a boat to fish far offshore. I wish I could afford a new vacation home on a river where I could walk out the front door and fish. I could go on with wishes.
But we do have a canoe that Mary and I can enjoy float trips in, and even if we didn’t, if I was sick and couldn’t get out, I’d be wishing we could fish off the bank of the Greenbrier just one more time. A person always wants a little more, but truth is there is so much Mary and I can do to enjoy life with the resources at hand. The real mystery is to enjoy and be grateful for what we do have now. The greatest tragedy would be not to enjoy our blessing because of the things we wish we had.
In so many ways Mary and I are living the dream. Cancer has shown me, like the song says, to live like I was dying. Back in 2012 when my first wife was diagnosed I dared not dream of the blessing in the making.
In 2016 an angel could have visited me and said, “Oh, you who are highly favored, you have been blessed with stage IV lung cancer” and I would have said, “What!”
Sometimes it’s hard to understand without the perspective of hindsight. But I have lived it and I can confidently say that, yes, God is good all the time!