Receiving a pancreatic cancer diagnosis has caused me to reexamine my spirituality, which led me to believe that my life is a line, rather than a single dot in time.
Getting smacked with cancer causes us to look deep within ourselves, into that scary abyss of who we are. It forces us to ponder the life we have lived and to mourn the life we will miss. We wonder what’s next, if anything.
This is what I did after getting the news that I had pancreatic cancer — a disease considered a death sentence, as so few survive.
For as far back as I can remember, I have had a sense that there was something beyond me, an all-encompassing force, something I couldn’t see, or touch, let alone taste, or hear. On the rarest of rare days, when I least expected it, this force would envelop me, eclipsing everything around me.
But most days, ordinary life happened — days with too many hours and no downtime let alone playtime. I believed the world would stop if I stopped. I bulldozed my way through life taking little heed to the consequences of my actions.
Feeling empty, I sought to find the unfindable. Religion left me emptier. Churches seemed more interested in helping me feel good about myself rather than connecting me with my spiritual side. Thus, after my head-on collision with cancer, I became a “Done,” someone who no longer attends church, or some call this “spiritual but not religious,” SBNR for short.
Today outside of the artificial constructs of organized religion, I continue to focus on the spiritual aspects of my life, where I ask a lot of mind-bending questions rather than seeking in-the-box answers.
One question that has bewildered me is: what’s next, if anything? Is our end the ultimate end, or is there something beyond this? Or do we simply decay back into the trace minerals we are made of?
No one can answer this question with any certainty. But many who have faced cancer may have spent more time than any of us will admit pondering what’s next.
While there is a case for the Judeo-Christian view of what’s next, the Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu views among others are fascinating. But a specific religious view aside, I see my life as a line —a continuum of events, rather than a dot, stuck in the here and now.
This has helped me beyond measure as I slugged it out with something that even today lurks in the shadows standing ready to take me out. After I got the news that I might not be around much longer, focusing on the “line” has helped lessen the bone-crushing strain of it all.
For me, the benefits of seeing my life as a “line" are profound. These include the ability to let go.
Any cancer can cause needless worry. The types of it with horrific survival rates can cause endless worry. This can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more we fret about something, the more we dread it, then if it happens, we feel it is fate. Once this cycle takes hold, it can drain us. It is far better to let go and accept the course of our plight. It was once said, “Can any one of you, by worrying, add a single hour to your life?” Let go.
The linear viewpoint has also provided me with the freedom to live.
Living under the cloud of cancer is much like being imprisoned in our bodies. But once we let go, we have a new freedom to live. This has taken me years to understand and even longer to do. For us survivors, we live with the reality we are only one scan away from needing to restart our treatment. Thus, “scanxiety” is part of our lives. While my scans are still terrifying, with a renewed freedom to live, I find them less daunting.
I have a sense that everything will work out.
For me, fighting the never-ending “what-ifs” is a minute-by-minute effort. One minute I am fine, the next I wonder if it will come back and take me out without warning. When we stop putting unending pressure on ourselves to beat it on our own, we can begin to embrace the idea everything will work out. Perhaps not the way we wish it will work out, but everything will work out the way it is meant to.
I am reminded of an ancient parable of a farmer who found a stray stallion grazing in his pasture. His neighbor told him, “You are so fortunate!” To this, the farmer replied, “Maybe yes, maybe no.” Sometime later while attempting to ride the stallion, his son was thrown from it and broke his leg. A friend told him, “This is so sad.” To which the farmer replied, “Maybe yes, maybe no.” A few weeks later, with the country at war, the army swept through and conscripted all the able-bodied young men but did not take the farmer’s son.
You see all circumstances, no matter how tragic, are part and parcel of our lives. We can fight them or ride them.
I like what the author Craig Groeschel once said, “If you’re not dead, you’re not done.” I am not done, and neither are you.
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