I guess this is going to be one of those “How cancer made me a better person” posts, but bear with me, because this is really is an illustration of how you can learn something positive from an intensely negative situation. Once you’ve lived a while, you begin to understand that humans don’t really show their true colors until they are faced with hardship. This seems kind of obvious, but the problem is, in a comfortable first world country like the U.S. most people aren’t subjected to extreme hardship, much less life and death situations. So, as a result, they don’t really know what they’re made of. The more thoughtful ones are aware of this, and probably sometimes privately wonder how they would react in such a crisis – this was me before I was diagnosed. I already thought of myself as a strong-willed survivor, but that’s not quite the same thing.
The question is – what happens when you are suddenly faced with death? Do you go into denial, or face it head on? Do you remain clear-headed, or “lose your shit?” Do you make an active plan for how you will deal with it, or passively let “fate” (or god) take over? Can you face reality, or do you retreat into fantasy? Do you self-medicate yourself numb, or keep your drug/alcohol consumption under control?
Can you make hard decisions after thoughtful research, or are you paralyzed with fear? Do you feel sorry for yourself and think “Why me?, or do you just grimly get on with whatever you have to do? And even as you are learning what you are really made of, how long can you keep this up before you hit the inevitable “wall?” How long before you break?
Well, I know the answers to all of these questions because I was tested. I was diagnosed with a lethal cancer at the age of 54, and because it was caught in time and I had an excellent oncologist and surgeon, I survived and I’m cancer free at 60. The treatment removed parts of my body and left me with deficits that I had to deal with – but deal with it I did. I am now exactly the same person I was before cancer, with one added benefit.
I know who I really am.