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Cancer Is Trying To Teach Me Patience


It is difficult to be patient, but cancer is a powerful teacher.

Impatience was my worst trait growing up. I was constantly reminded how low my patience level was. I remember my mother repeatedly telling me over and over again, “You need to be patient.” Now that she is gone, my older sister has reminded me a time or two about this. I laugh ironically at the old adage, “God, please give me patience — and I need it NOW!”

I have always been a driven person. Anyone with a severe hearing loss who has achieved three advanced degrees has to have some drive. For a long time, I did not have patience with other people and had a quick temper as a child. I learned slowly to control it most of the time. As I matured, I developed more patience with others and usually try to give people a break. I had a very smart friend with two deaf children ask me one time if maybe the hearing loss caused some of this, and I think she was right. I am more tolerant of other people than myself. My therapist pointed this out to me several times, because I am extremely hard on myself.

When I was getting my doctorate, one of my wise faculty teachers said something I would never forget. She said my biggest fault, which would affect me as a counselor and teacher, was that I would try to make things happen rather than let things happen. On my first counseling job, I was calling myself a failure after a client left abruptly. The more experienced counselors told me the person wasn’t ready and it was the client and not me. They explained the person would come back when she was ready and they were right!

So, what does this long diatribe have to do with cancer?

William S. Burroughs said, “Your mind will answer most questions if you learn to relax and wait for the answer.”

I think every one of us has so many questions when first diagnosed. What will the treatments be? Will they hurt? How long will I be on them? How will I pay for them? Will the treatments be successful? Will I be able to work? How long will I live? Will I ever feel normal again? And on and on and on!

I never anticipated the long road to many of these answers. I didn’t know that I would be undergoing treatments for the rest of my life. I had to make tough decisions along the way such as to quit first one part time job, then the other. It is nine years later and I still do not know how long I will live. I am no longer able to take the two chemotherapies I have been on but will probably be on a new chemo within the next year.

Life never returned to normal and never will. Many bad — and good – things happened. I ended up writing and publishing books and articles and love the idea that I am teaching people outside of a classroom. I have friend and family support I never dreamed of.

Once in a while I go back to the impatient former-self. I start driving myself crazy asking these questions I mentioned when first diagnosed. But Burroughs is right. If I relax, the answers will come. I didn’t decide all the answers overnight and still will not. I have learned to be on the Procrit shots now and to trust my oncologist for the next step. Giving up control and trusting the doctors is in alignment with being patient. Let things happen — do not try to force them!

“Relax” as Burroughs advises is a difficult concept for me. However, it is important for all of us. Relax and trust — we cancer survivors have no other choice unless we want to be miserable and worried all the time. Cancer is a nasty teacher, but it certainly is a powerful one!

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