Cancer Helps Me Separate the Wheat from the Chaff


Cancer taught me not to worry about the little things.

cartoon drawing of blogger and MDS survivor, Jane Biehl

There are many disadvantages to having cancer including physical, emotional, financial and mental distress. However, cancer also has taught me one good thing. It was a hard lesson to learn, but a worthwhile one. I only wish I had learned it much earlier.

All my life, I have been super sensitive and a chronic worrier. I was often criticized by my family for being too tender and hearted. On the other hand, my father was a school administrator and active in the community. I was constantly being reminded that I could not blemish his good name and should always be concerned about what other people thought. Talk about mixed signals!

Consequently, I would go out with a group of friends and come home ruminating over our conversations. Did I say anything wrong? Did I offend someone? Did I smear my father’s reputation? It did not matter whether it was eating dinner, playing a game or just having an honest talk. I would play what was said in my mindand go over the conversations again and again. I never asked myself if this was a waste of time.

Cancer changed that. I have been told by doctors how fortunate I am to have lived longer than anyone ever anticipated. I have been battling this ridiculous blood cancer for 13 years! About midway through my cancer journey, I had a true revelation: none of us know when we are going to pass, and we will all die sometime. Those of us with cancer or other potentially fatal diseases are just reminded of this more often. Some of us have been given timelines and told our cancer is not curable.

So, what has happened is when I start worrying about what someone has said to me or has hurt my feelings, I no longer ruminate over it. Instead, I tell myself this: “For the last half hour, you have wasted time and energy worrying about something insignificant. You have accomplished nothing. Worse than that you have worn yourself out and stolen energy that could have been used doing something positive like listening to your favorite song, reading a book, or writing an article.”

And I stop myself cold.

I am only sorry I did not learn this lesson decades ago and regret all those years of needless worry. If it is a serious situation and I have hurt someone or done something wrong, I need to address that. Otherwise, I need to change my negative thoughts to positive ones.

A lot of life consists of separating the wheat from the chaff or the important from the unimportant stuff. And cancer can teach us that if we only listen!

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