A Look at Mindset, Optimism in Life After Cancer

As I recover from the traumatic effects of cancer, I’m realizing that success has much to do with mindset and optimism.

In my last post, I wrote about being inspired by Morgan Housel’s book, “The Psychology of Money: Timeless Lessons on Wealth, Greed, and Happiness,” and found much of the content relatable as I chip away at figuring out life after cancer.

I discussed the idea of how success (both in investing and life after cancer) will be determined by how you respond to punctuated moments of terror as opposed to the years spent on cruise control; recognizing that capitalism is a pro at generating feelings of envy and the importance of appreciating what you have (especially after a life threatening disease like cancer); and finally the reminder to stay focused on your own situation and not be manipulated by all the noise from people whose interests and concerns don’t align with your own goals and objectives.

Housel also raised points that resonated with me on venturing out and making forward progress. The biggest challenge with this area for me personally has been overcoming the crippling effects of trauma.

As discussed, I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in 2016 and it eventually spread from my right femur to both lungs (multiple times) and then my left hip. After basically living in survival mode for five straight years, I just wanted to be left alone — no more poking and prodding; no more exploring the world because putting myself out there added risk for more bad things to happen. This was just how my mind began to work, I had lost trust in the universe.

Fortunately, with the help of a great therapist and support system, I’m working through these issues. And I enjoyed Morgan Housel’s following quotes from “The Psychology of Money,”and applying them to my own situation:

“The trick is to accept the reality of changing our minds. Sunk costs make our future selves prisoners to our past.”

This quote reminded me to stay light on my feet as I make decisions rebuilding my life. I’m a different person after cancer, living a different lifestyle.

In a way, that’s invigorating, but mostly I feel pressure since I’m working with more limited financial resources and less time (I was diagnosed at 30 and am now closer to 40, crucial years of building and setting the tone for one’s adult life). I feel rushed to figure everything out and start making progress, but I’m still dealing with emotional blockage and it’s not always clear to me what I even want at this point. And I’m afraid to make the wrong choice because for much of this decade, life was so fragile that a mistake could lead to death.

Thankfully, as my health situation has improved, that’s no longer the case. And while I don’t have all the answers or perfect clarity at this stage, it takes some pressure off to remember that I can make adjustments along the way. If I take a shot at something and it doesn’t work out, I can always pivot and try something else — it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Most of the time in life it takes a good amount of trial or error to find the right fit.

“That’s the only way to properly deal with volatility and uncertainty—not just putting up with it but realizing that it’s an admission fee worth paying. There’s no guarantee that it will be. Sometimes it rains at Disneyland. But if you view the admission fee as a fine, you’ll never enjoy the magic. Find the price, then pay it.”

Rebuilding my trust in the universe has been a process. After being beaten down over the years, most of my time has been spent at home where I focus almost exclusively on cultivating a healing environment. I’ve made sure to see friends and family, but it’s usually fallen on my terms; venturing out of my comfort zone can feel like it’s just not worth it after so much has been taken and I’m clinging to every last resource, feeling highly anxious and super risk averse.

These concerns have eased more recently, but for years after cancer, I had been looking at the uncertainty or cost of “living” as a fine instead of the admission fee to enjoy the magic. I almost felt like the world was out to get me.

Thankfully, my wife has pushed me to reframe that perspective and re-embrace exploration and adventure, and she’s usually right; it’s led to much happier days and cherished moments.

Now, after enough times of being reminded that the extra cost (in terms of effort, price, risk, whatever) can be well worth it, I’m finding renewed motivation and regaining my zest for life beyond safety and survival.

“Optimism is the belief that the odds of a good outcome are in your favor over time, even when there will be setbacks along the way.”

This quote was one of my favorites. I’d never heard optimism described that way— the part of acknowledging that bad things can happen, at least. I always thought optimism meant you saw the glass half full no matter what and basically turned a blind eye to negativity, which could be hard for a cancer fighter like myself to wrap their head around while trying to justify why they just suffered such extreme devastation seemingly for no reason.

But when looking at the idea of optimism more as a numbers game — almost like playing the casino and in this version you’rethe house — that’s a notion I can get behind. I want to be happy and expect good things, and I want to attract positive energy in my life.

As I continue my focus on self-improvement, I've been working to maintain that upbeat outlook in a way that doesn’t get so rattled when bad things happen and to keep pressing and reminding myself that the odds of better fortune are more likely just ahead. Not only does thinking this way make life more fun, but I truly buy into this mindset as being necessary to instill real confidence for rebuilding a healthy, successful and abundant life, which is exactly what I'm going after.

For more news on cancer updates, research and education, don’t forget to subscribe to CURE®’s newsletters here.