Several years ago his world was rocked by those three dreaded words that so many of us live in fear of hearing.
These same three words are echoed around the world millions of times each year and every single time the heart of the recipient of those words is instantly gripped with terror.
“You have cancer.”
The oncologist had spoken those words dispassionately – almost as if by relaying this information in a seemingly neutral way it would minimize the impact of the seriousness of the situation.
The doctor had explained that his particular type of cancer has a 12 monnth survival rate of around 5%. Not a particularly encouraging prognosis.
He was 38.
Last week, while chatting over a cup of coffee he filled me in on what his life has been like since that day.
He said when he first heard those three words he had felt as if he had been shot.
He had felt an unfamiliar tightness in his chest and remembered struggling to catch his breath.
He told me his first inclination was to tell the doctor that his diagnosis was wrong and that he should go back and recheck all the test results. But he hadn’t done that, instead he had nodded his head as if his body fully understood what was being said to him while at the back of his mind a little voice was screaming, “No, no, no, no, no.”
He had dragged himself out of the doctor’s office, down an elevator and into his car all the time feeling crushed devastated, disbelieving and somewhat in shock.
Even though his brain was no longer functioning in any rational manner he was somehow able to start the car and find his way to the hospital where his wife was recovering from surgery.
Just as he finally found a spot in the hospital’s overcrowded parking lot a semblance of normalcy returned.
He remembered an expression that he had heard many times before. It just popped into his head and instantly transformed the way he was feeling.
As he thought of that expression a feeling of calmness gently nudged its way through his entire body.
The expression was five simple words, “It is what it is” and its impact on him was profound.
He told me that he sat in the car for some 35 minutes constantly saying to himself, “I have cancer – it is what it is. I have cancer – it is what it is.”
What those words mean to him was simple. “It is what it is” was no more than an acknowledgment of the undeniable fact – his present reality.
He told me that he remembered that what that expression really meant was that the undeniable truth of the situation, the part of the truth that was irrefutably factual, the part over which he had no control today was the fact that he has cancer.
But what impacted him even more was the second part. The silent part of the statement that reminded him that while he may have no control over the cancer itself today he had absolute control over what this diagnosis meant to him and how he would be impacted by it.
And then he told me something fascinating. He said that as he sat in the car thinking about what he was going to say to his wife he felt a surge of excitement course through his body.
He said that instantly the terror he had felt was replaced by a feeling he could only describe as excited challenge – a feeling that for the first time in his life he was truly in control.
And he made a decision. Actually, he made two decisions. The first was that he was going to beat this. The second was that he was going to dedicate every waking moment of his life to convincing himself of the first. That he was going to do whatever it took to truly and absolutely believe unequivocally that he was strong and healthy and becoming more so each and every day.
He said that he felt inspired to become a role model for how to deal with adversity and that no matter how sick his body would feel in the future, his mind would sing with the joy of knowing that he and he alone was the owner and controller of his feelings and beliefs. He would use his sickest moments to celebrate his gratitude for life.
At that point he got out of the car, went in to the hospital and up to his wife’s room. She was sitting up in bed reading a magazine and as he entered the room she looked up at him with a worried expression and asked, “What did the doctor say?”
As soon as he heard his wife’s question he felt his face break out in a huge grin, his arms spread wide apart as ours tend to do when experiencing great joy and he heard words come out of his mouth that surely one should not use in the same sentence.
He said this, “Honey I have wonderful news. I have cancer.”
He told me the next few seconds passed by in extremely slow motion and he can vividly remember the strange look on his wife’s face as she tried to reconcile the words that came out of his mouth with the manner in which he delivered them.
He told me his wife, with the most confused look on her face he’d ever seen, smiled widely back but seemed unable to find any words.
He repeated to her all the thoughts he’d had while sitting in the parking lot and she promised him that she would be with him all the way.
And she remained true to her word.
The next few years were filled with ups and downs as he underwent various treatments.
True to the promise he made himself he learned to separate his mind from his body and even on those days when he was at hissickest he refused to allow any thoughts of sadness, despair or anguish to enter his mind.
He told me that each time he felt really ill he forced himself to sing with as much joy in his voice as he could muster and would make himself sit up in bed and move his upper body in dance until he started to feel better.
He introduced massive changes to his life. He did no research on cancer treatments, instead he spend vast amounts of time researching healthy living. He changed his eating habits, his physical activity habits, and even, with sadness, changed some of his friends who with all good intention, tried to introduce what he termed “negative thinking” into their conversations.
He replaced those friends who cautioned him about becoming overconfident in his belief that he was beating the illness with friends who shared his belief that the only things impossible are those we believe to be so.
He confided in me that while he had no way of knowing whether this type of thinking would, in fact, contribute to him regaining his health there was one thing he absolutely believed with all of his heart. “It sure as hell can’t hurt.”
And what about that wonderful expression, “It is what it is?”
Well that became his constant companion. On the days when he was at his sickest he would say to himself, “It is what it is. Let’s dance.” Or, “It is what it is. Who can I call who knows a few jokes?”
That was four years ago and today is my friend is the epitome of great health.
He will tell you that this is been the most wonderful adventure his life and how thankful he is for an illness without which he may never have discovered one of the greatest truths of all: that joy and happiness resides within us at all times, regardless of what else is going on in our lives, and is ours to experience if we simply choose to do so.
In this blog I have shared with you remarkable stories of amazing people who have inspired me with their tales of courage and determination in overcoming the severest of adversities.
The story did more than that. His story taught me that I absolute must add one vitally important topic to my prayers.
It is that I live each day with joy in my heart and soul, regardless of what is happening in my life.
I don’t know if this helps but “It sure as hell can’t hurt.”
Will you do the same?
Till we read again.
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1 thought on “163. If it isn’t what it is, then what is it?”
Even if your friend had not survived, he would have had a wonderful last year!