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.
This is the third in my series of lessons learned from nearly 13 years of living with cancer. The first, Guilt Is Good
, focused on "negative motivation" to encourage folks to get checkups, hoping for early discovery and intervention. The second, From Feeling Guilt To Feeling Good
, talks about some ways to ease into a healthier lifestyle. In this episode of Better Living Through Kevin, we address the subject of joy. And happiness. And why they aren't the same.
Just a quick recap of The Life of Kevin: I'm the victim of a rare cancer called mantle cell lymphoma. I'm now past my third round of it, after two bone marrow transplants, and nearly a dozen other types of treatment. Thanks to receiving the best medical care in the world, backed by top-notch benefits, keeping right on the edge of medical science, I'm in remission for the third time, feel great, am exercising, working and completely enjoying life.
In my first offering, I addressed friends and family that don't
have cancer. In the second, and in this third missive, I speak towards all people, whether they've been diagnosed or not. Here I'm going to paint a picture of how someone facing darkness can find the light through seeking joy.
It's hard to argue that chemo rooms are one of the most depressing places on earth. Chemo rooms are also the most joyful places on earth. If you come share any of my hours-long sessions, you will see beat up, physically broken, sick people. There will be noises and smells and groans. There will be laughter, jokes, personal questions, personal answers, courage in 55-gallon drums, incredibly nice people and you will see that you don't have a clue what joy is. They do.
The key question: What's the difference between happiness and joy?
This is up to you to answer. I will, however, give a few examples about what gives me joy. Now that I know how to spot the signs, I find new ones every so often. I just added #4 a few months ago.
I love them. Always have. Why? Well, first off, at critical times in my life, like when my father died, and during major cancer milestones, one always "happens" to appear. My kids, knowing how much I love them, run and get me, or call me, when they see one. I am “the Rainbow Guy.” Second, rainbows have no reason. None. Look, I'm a science nerd. I know the mechanics. Every other item of beauty in nature, whether you believe in evolution or creation or both, has an ecological function assisted by the beauty. Rainbows have none. They are just pure beauty as a byproduct of physics.
Can't tell you why. I mean, their beauty does have a function. But to me, they are just moving flowers. I never pass one by. The minutes I stand and watch one flutter by is exactly the same, and totally different, than rainbow-watching.
Salted Caramel Ice Cream Sundaes.
They’re proof that God loves us. The perfect mix of flavors. Despite my healthy eating rant in the last post, this is part of the balance of life. I'll eat an extra bowl of blueberries, OK? As part of my advice to new cancer patients, and to everyone seeking a lifestyle change, I prescribe that three times a month, planned but spontaneously, you sit by yourself and eat a sundae. Take yourself on a date. Patients who've taken this seriously have told me it was the best advice they got. Sometimes it's a root beer float, or a banana split. But McDonalds has a perfectly fine caramel sundae, cheap and on the way home from chemo.
My latest addition. They’re meticulously planned, very common, socially acceptable, extremely temporary beauty. They have a crowd gathered together to waste thousands of dollars on just looking at pretty stuff blow up. Fireworks are joy.
So that's it. Use guilt for good, eat healthy, seek joy. Having cancer stinks. But your life doesn't have to!
Drawing by Andrea Suarez