Being offered the chance to be an inspiration isn't up to you. What you do with it afterwards, is.
When Inspiration Knocks
Kevin Berry is an 13-year mantle cell lymphoma survivor, in his third remission. He works on Human Spaceflight programs, is a freelance writer and editor, and supports newly diagnosed patients through his ministry, Taking Vienna. He lives in Central Florida with his wife and adult children.
Most cancer patients hear this, at one time or another: "You're such an inspiration to me!" It's meant with real heartfelt sincerity and may make you feel flattered, humbled or unworthy. The thing is, you didn't ask to be an inspiration. It was done to
By now, I think my readers have figured out I'm the guy more likely to say what people are thinking, rather than what they might eventually say. So here's Lesson Number One in Kevin Blunt Talk, "How to be an inspiration."
Step 1 - have something horrible happen to you
Step 2 - don't die right away
Step 3 - don't suck at living through it afterwards
That's it! Steps 1& 2 aren't your choice. The cancer comes, the heart fails, the house floods. Done. Now, though, you have a choice.
Clergy and medical professionals will tell you they can predict a person's long-term success pretty well with one early indicator: are they talking about it? Some people, reserved, shy, embarrassed, or self reliant, don't want the attention that comes with a major illness or family trauma. These are the folks who quietly go about their lives, sometimes seeming fine, but often with a much reduced quality of life, and even possibly, worse medical care.
Others, who seek out clergy, counselors, support groups or online information soon find themselves receiving helpful tips, sources for better care, and may live a better quality of life with their disease than they had before. For some, this outspoken approach is part of their nature. For others, like me, not so much. It took a direct Call from God (I claim He bludgeoned me, He says I listened. Either way, a shy nerd rocket engineer now has two international blogs, several books and talks to people about their feelings. You be the judge!).
However it happens, through friends, co workers and neighbors you'll be introduced into a new circle. These are a combination of cancer people, people who know people who had your cancer, and those that want to help you. It's tough to accept help. Having someone do something you used to feels like defeat. Human beings have an innate desire to help others, and feel good when allowed to do so. Letting people help you is, oddly enough, one step to being an Inspiration. The second is speaking out. For me, this happens like this: About once every three weeks, for the last eight years, I'm approached by someone. "My husband just was diagnosed with XYZ cancer. Do you have any advice for him?" And so a conversation starts. Often, I help some and we kind of drift along staying loosely in touch. Many times, I have no idea what happens. Two times, though, these people have become MY inspirations.
Let me introduce you to Super Caleb and Dave Graham.
is a three-year-old neighbor, who was diagnosed in March of 2014 with rhabdomyosarcoma, a type of sarcoma. Sarcoma is cancer of soft tissue (such as muscle), connective tissue (such as tendon or cartilage), or bone. Caleb had a 12 cm tumor removed from his abdomen along with discovery and removal of other abdominal satellite tumors. He was diagnosed with stage 4, group 4 rhabdomyosarcoma and is almost done with a 54 week intense chemotherapy and radiation treatment plan. His two brothers, his parents, grandparents, their schools, and co-workers have rallied behind this gutsy little boy. He's become a rock star with local sports teams, firefighters, businesses, and across the internet. Jesus tells us to approach life with a "child like wonder." Caleb has taught me how to do the same with cancer. Most kids with cancer just break your heart. They don't understand what's happening to them, and we all feel sad for them. Caleb, somehow, is the super hero of cancer kids. He just charges through his treatments, often sick or miserable, but with a spirit that can't be broken. I encourage you to visit his Facebook page.
Here's a picture of Caleb and his Dad, between hospital stays, at his benefit 5K I was privileged to run in.
My second inspiration during this relapse and transplant is a friend I never met, Dave Graham. The internet allows unique friendships. I "met" Dave as one of my writers, for the Combat Robot section I edit for Servo Magazine.
Right after he started writing for me, he came down with lung cancer. I started off mentoring him in how to live with cancer. He wound up mentoring me in how to die from it, if I ever have to. As the relationship changed, we could talk (via email) in a way no other two men could. The in your face reality of one maybe living, one probably dying, brings a frankness that little else can. Dave died in March 2014, after doing cancer (and death) right. Well lived, well planned, well performed, well ended. I have every one of his emails, and they, along with my personal blog, Taking Vienna
, are becoming the sequel, Taking Vienna Again.
The down side of being an inspiration, is that sometimes, well, you aren't. You fail to give good advice, you are cranky to someone who was expecting niceness, you disappoint yourself when you don't follow through with a contact, and sometimes, people die, like my friend Dave did.
Nobody ever said cancer was easy. But if we open up and help each other, we can make it just a little bit better.