“Cancer didn’t bring me to my knees, it brought me to my feet.”
Michael Douglas, actor
“…as if I don’t care about him like I used to…!”
“Agnes was 45 years old. She had been married to Earl for the last 20 years. She worked in government and he was an electrician with his own small company. They had one child, a son, Billy, aged 18. She said Earl told her, “to go talk to someone” because she was acting “weird.”
Agnes was a tall, handsome woman with short, thick, black hair…but it was very thin on top as if she had been taking chemo or had some other medical condition. Because of her hair’s dark colour, her pale scalp seemed more pronounced than perhaps it really was, if her hair was a lighter colour.
I asked her what Earl meant by “weird?”
She replied, “I’m really not sure, Ken…but he says I’ve been treating him different lately…as if I don’t care about him like I used to…”
“Would you be more specific, Agnes? Different…in what way?”
“Well…he said, I used to be more suspicious, more jealous…more afraid of losing him than before. Now, he says, I act as if I don’t care about that stuff anymore…I think it kind of scares him…like maybe I don’t love him anymore.”
“And, what do you think, Agnes?”
“Actually, I think the opposite…I think I love him more!” she replied.
“How long has this been going on for Earl?”
“He says, ever since I developed breast cancer two years ago!” she replied.
“And, what do you say?” I asked.
“Do you mean there is no cure for cancer?”
“Well, I can’t deny developing cancer changed me a lot…but, I still don’t think I love him any less…I think I love him differently, and…better!” she replied, with a slight choke of feeling, in her voice.
“It has been my experience most people know very little about cancer, Agnes. Have you been able to expand your knowledge of it since your diagnosis?”
“Probably, the only thing that has expanded about it, is my fear of it! It’s terrible!” she said.
“Agnes, if you’re a reader, you might find Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee, an Indian-born American physician and oncologist’s book interesting. It’s called,The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer.”
“I’ve never even heard of it, Ken!” she said.
“It was described, by TIME magazine, as one of the 100 most influential books of the last 100 years and by The New York Times magazine as among the 100 best works of nonfiction.” I said.
“Really, wow! I’ll order it online when I get home!” she replied.
“Agnes, do you believe there is a cure for cancer?” I asked her.
“Oh yea! Isn’t that what all the fundraising is about?” she said with enthusiasm.
“That fundraising is about raising research money for a few of the most common types of cancer. There are currently over 200 types of cancer that we know of, and more being found regularly. So, running for a cure is more about decreasing people’s fear and increasing research funds than about the truth, Agnes.”
“Do you mean there is no cure for cancer?” she asked in surprise.
“Cancer can take away all of my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart, and it cannot touch my soul.” – Jim Valvano, coach
“…the truth is we manage cancer, we don’t cure it!”
“They are finding better treatments for some kinds quite regularly, but…there is unlikely to ever being a cure for cancer because, cancer, which is rapid cell mutation, is really a natural process of nature.” I said, and waited for her to digest all this startling information.
Then, I added one more piece of information, to see if she was ready for the truth of her situation. I said, “Agnes, what if cancer, in all of its’ forms, has a benefit for mankind…a benefit for our species?”
She looked at me aghast!
“Agnes, research has found many new ways to treat individual cancers. They can chemo some, radiate others, cut some out…and stem cells are now also being used to eliminate some cancers. But, stem cells also cause new types of cancer. So, the truth is we manage cancer, we don’t cure it!”
“Does that mean we will never eliminate cancer?”
“Cancer is one of nature’s tools for keeping populations of mammals within the limits of our planet’s capacity. Cancer removes or recycles over 7 million people annually and millions of other mammals including dogs, cats, horses, cows, chickens, etc. It is a balancing process of natural systems. For us as humans, it is not a bad thing or a good thing, it’s BOTH…it is part of our nature and helps keep our planet’s populations stable.”
“But what about all those people who have cancer…how can that be OK?” she asked, slowly processing the truth of this information.
I replied, “That’s a great question, Agnes. And, you’re the only one who can answer that for you. Do you want to explore that a bit?”
“… to appreciate what they have, instead of what they want.”
“I think I need to because I suspect it’s related to what Earl is talking about…I really am different somehow, since developing cancer.” she said.
“I think I’m more certain now!” she replied.
“More certain about what?”
“Oh…so many things, really!”
“How about a few examples?” I asked.
Agnes spent the next half hour detailing how developing, and dealing with cancer, evolved her in various ways from raising her self awareness to appreciating her life. When she was done I said,
“Agnes, may I summarize what, I think, you just told me.”
“Sure…I have never really been asked to tally up the impact of cancer on my life, but I know a lot of stuff shifted for me.” she replied smiling.
“Agnes, it sounds like your cancer has helped you like yourself more, your cancer has helped motivate you to find a more fulfilling job, your cancer has helped you learn to manage your money and especially your debts more carefully, your cancer has helped you identify and appreciate your four true friends, your cancer has driven you to rebuild your relationship with a disconnected brother, and your cancer has helped you learn to take care of your own health first. Is that fairly accurate?” I asked.
“Ken, as I hear your summary I realize it gave me a whole new lease of my life!” she said, her eyes glistening with gratitude.
“I met a man who told me he defined cancer as nature’s last ditch effort to get a person to appreciate what they have, instead of what they want. It kind of fits doesn’t it?” I said.
“Yes, it really does!” Agnes replied.
“Cancer has taught me a lot of things. Maybe it is the best thing that has happened to me.”
– Yuvraj Singh, athlete
“… I wouldn’t give up what I have gained…”
“I have one more question for you Agnes.” I said.
“I realize your cancer experience was fearful and painful. But Agnes,…would you give up all those benefits you have achieved, not to have experienced your cancer?”
I have a window in my office over my right shoulder. Agnes looked over to it. She fixed her gaze outside the room, and our conversation, projecting a quiet, thoughtful air. Some time passed, probably only a minute or so, but it seemed much longer. Then, she turned back to me and said in this calm, collected voice,
“No Ken, I wouldn’t give up what I have gained. It was a stiff price to pay, but for me…it was well worth it…it was a fair trade. I have no regrets about it.”
“I have had the privilege in my work of meeting several people who have said that about their life threatening health challenge. And, now I can add you!”
Then I added, “So, how does this connect to Earl’s concern, Agnes?”
“That’s what so interesting! He thinks I care less about him because I don’t query him about his whereabouts any more. Since my cancer, I have learned to appreciate him even more, and the time we have together. I don’t waste time scrutinizing his every move…now, I just love him…and he is finding that really confusing.”
“Do you know what you need to do to address his concerns now?”
“Yes, I do! We need to have a chat about the new form of my love for him. I’m already thinking about how I will approach it.” she said, with a knowing smile.
“I’m sure you will handle it well!” I replied, returning her smile.
“Above all, cancer is a spiritual practice that teaches me about faith and resilience.”
– Kris Carr, author
Until Next time…
Now you know cancer is here to stay. Now you know it’s OK not to be afraid of cancer. Now you know cancer helps people learn to appreciate themselves, their relationships and their life. Now, you can decide how you can use this knowledge in your life in a way that honours you and your future.
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Our next seminar is entitled, “How to Bring balance to Life and Purpose to Work!” It will be on Saturday, June 3rd, 2016. Details are available at ww.kenpiercepsychologist.com
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Namaste, (I salute the grandly organized design of the universe, manifested in you!)
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