“When we are no longer able to change a situation – just think of an incurable disease such as an inoperable cancer – we are challenged to change ourselves.” – Viktor E. Frankl, psychologist
“… my baby is dying!”
Prudence was forty three years of age and worked as an accounts manager in a graphic design company. She had been married to Pierre, a plumber, for over twenty years. They had a son Paden, 18 years old and daughter Pearle, 15 years old.
Prudence had arrived in my office dressed to the nines, reflecting an efficient and organized person who knew exactly what her day would entail and was well prepared for it. She had dark black hair that offset nicely the deep green theme of her wardrobe.
But Prudence was soon sitting in my office crying, quietly, her head fixed on her folded hands in her lap. This had been her response since I had asked her how I could serve her. She finally gained her composure, wiped her eyes, blew her nose loudly and sat back in the chair. Then, she looked up at me, saying,
“Ken, my baby is dying!”
“… I can’t do a damn thing about it…and that’s killing me!”
“Tell me about your baby, Prudence.”
She hesitated, tears flooding her eyes briefly again before she regained her control and then continued,
“He’s not really a baby, Ken. He is eighteen years old. He is really an adult…but he has always been my baby…my first born! His name is Paden.”
“Tell me why you think your son, Paden, is dying, Prudence?”
“Paden has a disease that is slowly killing him…and, I can’t do a damn thing about it…and that’s killing me!” she said, her tears resurfacing yet again.
“What disease does he have?” I asked, my mind considering everything from an addiction such as alcoholism to some form of cancer.
“He has leukaemia! And, he has not been responding to the treatments he’s been taking.”
“How long has he had it, Prudence?”
“Since he was five years old. But before he responded well to the chemo…but not this time.”
“ I need to understand how to cope, how to be there for him…”
“It must be a great challenge to you and your entire family.” I said.
“Yes, it has been devastating to us and also his close friends and ours as well. I think what makes it even harder sometimes is watching how hard he tries to play it down…to not let it interfere with his life. He’s very aware and pretends he isn’t scared…but I know he is…it just breaks my heart sometimes!”
“How can I assist you in this challenge, Prudence?”
She paused to wipe her eyes, then said,
“There is so much I can’t control, I feel so helpless, so often. I need to understand how to cope, how to be there for him…and I don’t know how to do that!”
“Prudence, I think you are displaying excellent insight already by noticing there is little you control in the situation. In fact, I would suggest you only control one thing…your perception of this challenge and how you want to meet it.” I said, wondering if she was ready to move past her fear and frustration.
“But, how can I get a handle on my perception of Paden’s disease and maybe even his death?” she asked, her eyes glistening with pain.
“Cancer didn’t bring me to my knees, it brought me to my feet.” – Michael Douglas, actor
“… we are part of a bigger system of laws which run us and our existence…”
“Well, Prudence, all we know for sure, all we are certain about, is that the laws of nature keep happening…the sun rises and sets, the tides go in and out, and so on.”
“Why is that so important for me to notice, Ken?”
“Two reasons: first because, it reminds us we are part of a bigger system of laws which run us and our existence which means, candidly, we all get a short ride in a long hearse…each of our lives will run its course following these laws.”
Then I went on,
“And second, the only way to manage any stress in life, and especially one as important as this, is to seek and find how it fits in the schema of you and your nature- based life.”
“I can understand that, but Paden is so young, he is just a kid!”
“Prudence, did you know that every year seven million people of all ages die just from some form of cancer alone? And, there are over 200 types and the list is growing. And, while there are advances in the treatments of various kinds, there is no cure for all cancers…and there never will be!” I said, wondering if she was ready for the truth of biology and nature itself.
“But, why does it pick on humans…on children?” she said her frustration resurfacing again.
“… It is this truthful perception of how nature operates which will enable you to deal with the challenge…”
“It doesn’t, millions of other mammals also contract cancer including pets, farm animals and those in the wild. Prudence, cancer is one of nature’s ways to limit the number of mammals on our planet. It’s one of the ways the planet stays healthy and balanced.”
“Are you saying there is no cure for all cancers and we need cancer to keep the planet healthy…even Paden’s?” she asked as the idea slowly settled in her mind.
“it is pure biology, pure science. So, cancer is good for the planet and bad for Paden, you, your family and your friends. It is this truthful perception of how nature operates which will enable you to deal with the challenge you and your family face today. It isn’t easy but it is the truth of your life and everyone around you.”
“So, basically, you mean cancer is good for the planet but bad for the human population. But what about each of these people who develop cancer…what about them? Why doesn’t this good and bad law of nature apply to them?” she said exasperated.
“Prudence, it does! It does apply to them, too! And, I bet you’ve seen the evidence of it in Paden.”
“When you have cancer, it’s like you enter a new time zone: the Cancer Zone. Everything in the Tropic of Cancer revolves around your health or your sickness. I didn’t want my whole life to revolve around cancer. Life came first; cancer came second. Regina Brett, journalist
“I bet Paden displays a wisdom…”
“What are you talking about? Are you crazy? Are you saying there is a good aspect to my 18 year old son having cancer…to my 18 year old son possibly dying of cancer?” she said, her long simmering anger at her situation finally finding a safe target for expression.
“Can I offer you my best guess about Paden and how he deals with his world today?”
“What do you mean, Ken?” she said calming herself.
“From my personal and professional experience, I bet Paden is a ‘wise guy!’ I bet Paden displays a wisdom…an appreciation for you, his family and his friends, way beyond his age. I bet Paden displays a sense of gratitude for many of the things the rest of us take for granted and I bet he has been doing it for a long time! Has that been your experience, Prudence?”
Prudence looked down at her hands again, sat back in her chair and in a soft voice with tears again, said,
“He’s the one who keeps everyone grounded about all this. He sounds sometimes like my Grandfather when he talks…even looks like him in a certain way.”
“I think cancer is a hard battle to fight alone or with another person at your side, but I will say having someone to pick you up when you fall, stand by your side through every appointment and delivery of bad news, is priceless.” – Jenna Morasca, model
“… Paden, and his disease, have played a vital role…”
“My other guess is that his medical condition has been keeping your family not just close to him, but also close to each other. And, I bet you have many memories and stories of how this has been playing out in your family since the time he developed the cancer many years ago. Does that have a ring of truth to it, Prudence?”
”Yes, it does Ken! My husband, Pierre, and I brought colourful family histories to our marriage. We have always placed a priority on keeping our family close at all costs. And, Paden, and his disease, have played a vital role in that endeavour.” she said in a quiet way.
“You need to uncover all the other ways Paden’s disease serves you in your life. It won’t protect you from the pain but it will enable you to understand its role in your life. It will help you appreciate how his disease is serving not just you, but also those around you and, even Paden, too!”
“I really need to do that, don’t I?” she said, not needing a response.
“Can you help me with that, Ken?”
“It would be my privilege and honour to do so, Prudence. And, I think you will be pleasantly surprised how quick it happens and its impact on you and your life.” I replied.
“Then, let’s get to it!” she said.
“There is a saying I heard somewhere about illness and this natural law of balance, ‘Every disease of the body is countered by an ease of the mind!’ Let’s go find it shall we Prudence?”
“Let’s!” she said with a cautious half smile.
“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
Until Next time…
Now you know, disease isn’t just about pain, it is equally about learning vital things for our future and those we love. The only thing we ever control is our perception of a situation, our self being in it and its impact on our life. We all know we will die so all diseases drive us to learn, usually more quickly, to value ourselves and those around us. It is nature’s ‘kick in the pants’ to motivate us. Ignore it at your own peril. Honour it and evolve!
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Be well…balanced! Ken
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