Not for the faint of heart, cancer challenges every aspect of our lives.
Cancer entered my life a little over three years ago. It arrived like an explosion on the battlefield, stealthily marching its way into my chest.
I knew early on that my life was about to change forever. I also understood that male breast cancer was destined to be a part of my world from that day forward, regardless of my prognosis.
It soon became clear that my future would be filled with highs and lows, good and bad days and good and bad news.
It’s virtually impossible to catch a clear glimpse of our future when we are first diagnosed. But we can plan for the worst, hope for the best and prepare for the unexpected.
We know instinctively that there is a long road ahead, and it’s an expedition requiring fortitude, endurance and perseverance. And when we stick it out, there is oftentimes a reward in the end. And if we’re fortunate, it may include remission and being no evidence of disease (NED).
When I was a freshman in college, I was a fairly skinny kid. I majored in theater arts, so when I spotted an ad in the paper one November announcing auditions for Santa Clause in the local mall, I jumped at the opportunity.
I got the job, which turned out to be one of the toughest challenges in my working life. Bulging with extra stuffing in my red suit, I was hot and uncomfortable most of the time. Sitting for eight hours with squirming children in your lap, tugging at your beard and often times crying hysterically, is no easy gig. In fact, the job is so notoriously difficult that there was a substantial cash bonus to anyone who completed the 45-day run.
And so, I learned my first real lesson in determination and perseverance. It was an odd mix, making kids (most of them at any rate) happy while feeling the discomfort of hot red velvet and a scratchy beard.
Cancer can be like that. Inside our bodies, we harbor a foreign entity, a bunch of cells gone bad, but we are determined to carry on and push through with some sort of normalcy in our lives. We can see the possibility of a positive outcome in the distance as we count the days, always looking toward that uncertain bonus that awaits us.
Perseverance becomes our mode of operation. And it means more than just sticking with it. It requires a willingness to experience discomfort in order to attain a goal. In the case of cancer, that goal is not always guaranteed, but we keep putting one foot forward knowing that every step brings us closer to the possible positive opportunities.
It seems to me that there are no shortcuts with cancer. Even though my personal choice was to bypass chemotherapy, this was not an attempt to lesson my engagement with my cancer. Indeed, my focus on my health became my obsession and my mission. Without giving up the things that made my life fulfilling, I concentrated on making changes that would aid me physically, mentally and spiritually. I learned to become more aware of my own body and the messages I was constantly receiving through emotional and physical channels. It wasn’t difficult, but it required attention and diligence to get the job done.
Wherever we are in our cancer story, my hope is that we all find it less of a struggle and more of a purposeful relationship as we work our way through a challenging chapter of our lives with resolve, determination and perseverance.