Surviving With Purpose

April 26, 2020
Mike Verano
Mike Verano

Mike Verano is a licensed professional counselor, licensed marriage and family therapist and thymic cancer survivor with over 30 years experience in the mental health field. Mike has had articles published in national and international magazines and is the author of The Zen of Cancer: A Mindful Journey From Illness to Wellness. In addition, he maintains the blog, Confessions of a Pacifist in the War on Cancer. He and his wife, Kathy, live in Lanexa, Virginia.

Purpose directs the energy outward, and when tied to a beneficent cause, the experience is that of being connected to a deeper source— worry for self becomes compassion for others.

As many of the CURE contributors have mentioned, these COVID-19 days are very reminiscent of cancer treatment. The concerns about depleted immune systems, the avoidance of all things possibly contaminated, the fears, both rational and irrational and the overriding question of whether life would ever return to normal. All flooded back as news about coronavirus spread.

I have purposely tried to keep in the front of my mind the lessons learned from survivorship— the understanding that fears grow the more we attend them, that not every twinge, ache and pain means the beast returned. I have returned to breathing techniques meant to calm an over-active amygdala and the distracting effects of concentrating on tasks at hand. However, in the back of my mind, the dark recesses where I placed the more troublesome aspects of cancer and its treatments, there rises the occasional whisper of doubt, "did I survive cancer only to succumb to what will surely become the new "C" word? Does my reduction in lung capacity due to surgery and radiation put me on the shortlist for who COVID-19 is stalking?"

However, cancer taught me that wrestling with these dark thoughts is useless. While living ill, as a patient, only makes wellness seem like a mirage. The antidote was and still is living with a purpose. Not a divine calling - although if you've heard that voice, God bless - but pointing oneself toward something meaningful beyond the small needs of the ego.

"Choose purpose, not panic," is how I heard it described recently.

In all my years of psycho-therapeutic practice, nothing has seemed so meaningful, useful and even necessary. The skeptic would point out that choosing not to panic is just not an option right now— panic happens. While it's true that panic is a byproduct of uncertainty, threats to self and others and dire forecasts, the good news is that the two are mutually exclusive. Purpose turns panic back to its original source as simply energy— with panic the energy lodges in the body and disturbs its equilibrium. Purpose directs the energy outward and when tied to a beneficent cause, the experience is that of being connected to a deeper source as worry for self becomes compassion for others.

Like a cancer diagnosis, the pandemic scare touches everyone in some way. Perhaps, those of us who entered survivorship through the cancer door can assist those who are currently seeking comfort, understanding and support as this current crisis unfolds. While the mechanics of cancer and COVID-19 are dissimilar, the human reaction remains the same. As does the call to alleviate suffering in ourselves and others.

Who better to point the way than those of us who have walked that road?

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