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The Hero Inside Every Cancer Survivor

One of the things I think about is the future. All cancer patients know we have two futures: One where things go well, and one where they don't.
PUBLISHED September 03, 2018

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.

Throughout my 13 years of fighting mantle cell lymphoma, I've had spent lots of time waiting: short-term waiting, while lying on a scan or radiation table; medium-term waiting, those long hours between appointments at the big box cancer megaplex or doing time in hospital beds; long-term waiting, for remissions to come, or remissions to fail. During the waiting times I read, I nap, I stare blankly at the ceiling. Often, though, I just think.

One of the things I think about is the future. All cancer patients know we have two futures: One where things go well, and one where they don't. The good kind are in our heads during the happy days with family and friends, or when treatments are going well. The other kind happen late at night, or when the pain, side effects and prognosis are tearing the hope from our souls.

I've spent a lot of time thinking about and studying techniques of visualizing the future, and how it can truly affect patient's outcomes. This may sound like pop psychology, but it can really help with emotional stability, keeping a positive attitude and even speed up healing. Medical professionals tell us that people can't necessarily will themselves to live, but they surely can will themselves to die. My own experience supports this. I'm alive today because of cutting-edge medical technology, highly professional medical care and an amazing support team. And, to a great degree, because I've been able to visualize a positive future. Through my studies about how human beings think, make decisions and generally move through life, I've developed a way of powering through difficult times. I use it not only with cancer, but with running long races, and in tough work situations and even with home improvement projects.

Here's how it goes. First, imagine the worst. Invite yourself to the pity party we all know we want to have. Tell your story like others might, putting the worst possible interpretation on it. List the ways your situation has diminished your life, your family, your friends. Give yourself permission to mourn the life you could have lived, if it wasn't for the cancer you never asked for, and don't deserve. It's OK to have these thoughts. They are real, they are happening to you, and they affect your life. Then, wrap this story up into a neat, pitiful bundle, put it in a box and then bury it deep in a place you'll never show anyone. Cut yourself loose from this narrative, and even if you've cried a bit, give yourself permission to end the mourning and move on.

Next, imagine the best. Put aside modesty and humbleness. Since you'll never tell this story either, you don't have to worry about what people will think. Go back to your childhood, when you were encouraged to play super hero games. Look at yourself with the admiration others use. Keep score. Count up your infusions, your surgeries, your radiation treatments. Estimate the number of blood draws you've endured. Celebrate the way you've managed to live a good life despite the horror of your illness. Write the documentary film of the inspiration that is you. Allow yourself to see your inner hero. This story, you don't box up. Keep it close to your everyday life.

I'm not saying that you should strut around, praising yourself loudly and thumping your chest. Part of your story needs to include the modesty and humble, gentle attitude that exemplifies true heroism. Make that part of your story, also.

Remember, this is real. The bad times, the good times, and the way you respond to them are happening in real time, in real life. If you see yourself living the good future, influencing the world around you in a positive way, it just might happen. And even if it doesn't, you and your circle of influence will be better off for having tried walking the way of the hero.

Besides the other wonderful blogs on CURE's site, I hope you'll visit my Taking Vienna site. I also encourage readers to visit the Be The Match site to learn about registering as a potential stem cell donor.

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