A cancer survivor looks at both sides of a dark disease.
I don't expect that any of us with cancer are likely to invite it in to our lives like an old friend. After all, cancer is never a welcomed guest.
But how each one of us deals with our cancer diagnosis may be dependent on how we've dealt with life before our diagnosis.
Our personalities, our beliefs, our spirituality, our faith, our fear, our convictions and on and on are the elements that create how we perceive our lives, and our own personal form of cancer.
The "glass half empty or half full" analogy is a good example of how we might see the world in different ways on different days. As a guy who spent his life in entertainment and working as a Laughter Yoga teacher, I've always been what some refer to as a "light chaser." We tend to be optimistic and always on the lookout for the next adventure and cycle of fun.
At first glance, that might seem like a good way to live. But life has an equal amount of darkness to consider, and having cancer is part of that equation.
And so, I've learned that I have to come to terms with both sides of my cancer. What I've discovered is that if we push our struggles away or mask them with distractions, our healing may be slowed, or in the worst case, stalled.
Many years ago, I attended a three-day workshop with author and life coach Debbie Ford. She was a colleague of Oprah Winfrey and wrote the book "The Dark Side of the Light Chasers."
In that gathering, we learned to look at our "shadows” — all the parts of ourselves that we hide, deny, suppress and don't see. They include both the positive and the negative. As the Swiss psychologist C.G. Jung said, "Our shadow is the person we would rather not be."
I never wanted to be a cancer survivor. More importantly, I never wanted a "dark side" to my life. But having cancer is exactly that. And like it or not, I've been obliged to look at it.
There simply is no good news in a fresh diagnosis. But before long the bleak circumstances of our disease softens greatly, revealing a new set of guidelines for living and surviving. At first, we might refuse and rebel and revolt.
But in time — though it's different for each of us – we might reflect, renew and regroup. After all, healing is much more than just chemotherapy or clinical trials or complimentary treatments. Healing, it seems to me, is an all-encompassing, systemic approach to wellness, and that includes accepting the entire spectrum of our disease.
There are cancer survivors who are devastated by their diagnosis and others who see it as a mere bump in the road to be acknowledged, accepted and then cast aside. In my case, I can say I've been on both ends of the journey. And like it or not, I've been compelled to look at that "dark side" in order to find a realistic balance in my expedition through male breast cancer.
The American Cancer Society offers the following suggestions of the different ways we might work our way through cancer:
Learn as much as you can about your cancer and its treatment. Express your feelings. Take care of yourself. Exercise. Reach out to others. Try to focus on what you can control, not what you can't.
So, what's the upside of breast cancer for me?
For starters, I'm now more aware of every hour in my day and I have some distinct long-term goals and projects that pull me forward. I've learned to prioritize my activities, just in case my time runs out sooner than I would like.
I've developed a deep respect and connection with nature and the magic therein. I've learned to be amazed by the simple things in my day: petting my cats; riding my bike; looking out the window by my desk; sitting in quiet meditation; sharing a meal with my wife.
I don't like having this disease. But I like how it has compelled me to look around and notice things I might not have seen before, and to understand that no matter how many down days I may have on my calendar, there is always a way out and there is often a way up.