My Lesson on Happiness in Spite of Cancer

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Constantly replaying scary cancer situations or drowning in anxiety isn’t only depressing it wastes valuable energy that could be used for healing.

cartoon drawing of blogger and sarcoma survivor, Steve Rubin

There I was, planted on the cushion of my living room couch. Eyes closed, lost in meditation — which wasn’t easy, by the way. I was pushing through life one day at a time, in hope of a miracle to turn around a less-than-10% survival rate with osteosarcoma.

The tension each day was unbearable. Wake up, you feel it. Before bed, you feel it. Again during the middle of the night. The unresolved stress of this life-or-death problem weighed on me constantly.

During the occasional distraction — let’s say a movie or being caught up in music or enjoying quality time with my family or pet dog — I would be reminded what levity might feel like. But only for an instant. Then my mind slammed that door shut.

“Get back to work! You still have cancer, right?”

This appeared to be life for the foreseeable future. And it was exhausting.

Finally, on this day, I had enough. Something inward nudged me to seek advice through meditation.

I focused on breathing and disconnected from my problems. An image formed of my late grandmother, Mamare. She was always so supportive up until the day she passed. Replying to blog posts, checking in with phone calls, leaving me loving and supportive voicemails.

I miss her dearly and during times when I’ve felt especially lost, she’s who I turn to — way up in the stars and clouds — for inner peace.

“OK Mamare,” I began. “I’m so tired. I’m not sure why this happened to me or what to do. I feel entirely lost and there’s so much pressure. I don’t know how to save my life. I feel like I’m on the clock. I’m scared; How am I ever supposed to feel happy again?”

It was at that moment when I heard a voice inside. I’m not sure if it was in my mind or from my heart. But the advice offered was so simple, yet profound.

“Just be happy.”

That’s what I heard. Like it was as easy as that. Nothing more to it.

I’ll never forget it. And for a minute, I shed my aura of misery and re-examined what it might feel like to be happy.

It was warm. Comforting. It felt so natural. Why had I been depriving myself of this for so long?

That moment left an impression on me.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the narrow focus of fighting cancer, especially, when your back is against the wall and you’re feeling pressure to come up with answers. The circumstances can suffocate you.

Unfortunately, constantly replaying scary situations or drowning in anxiety isn’t only depressing it wastes valuable energy that could be used for healing.

I learned that day that I didn’t need external circumstances to justify a feeling. Whether it’s happiness, gratitude or love, accessing these states of being was something I could do just because.

That doesn’t mean it always comes naturally. I just no longer feel defensive about it, like I’m committing some guilty act for wanting feel good moments in spite of everything at stake.

And over time, I’ve learned that higher emotions like love, joy, happiness and gratitude can trigger chemicals from the brain that boost the immune system. So if nothing else, I now embrace these feelings for that reason alone, because happiness isn’t something that has to be delayed until you get a better grip on healing cancer.

Tapping into happiness is healing.


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