There Is an Upside to Cancer

Cancer made me realize that there is more to life than just work.

I think most, including me, tend to dwell on cancer’s horrific downsides, like the surgery to extract our tumor, and maybe the months of chemo and radiation, after which our doctor tells us, “I’m sorry we’ve done all we can.”

Or we enter years of follow-ups hoping never to hear, “I’m sorry but … ” meaning our cancer is back. So, where’s the upside in this?

For me, the upside has been gaining a new perspective on life. Being male, most of my life has been centered around what I do rather than who I am. (By the way, this malady isn’t exclusive to males, but we seem to have a terminal case of it.)

Post cancer, pancreatic to be exact, I am more aware that working isn’t living. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my job as a project manager, managing multimillion-dollar projects, but between the 24/7 hours and the over-the-top stress, I found my life consumed with everything but living.

Cancer forced me to set this aside and shift to teaching and writing, both of which I have found profound joy in. When I am lecturing, I found I have an innate ability to connect with my students, many from affluent families, who are getting ready to launch out on their own. With their mom and dad scholarships coming to an end, or worse, having tens of thousands of dollars of student debt looming over them, they need to hear from somebody further up the mountain that everything will be OK. Often all they see is a straight-up crag hanging over them with its peak buried in foreboding clouds.

Close behind teaching has been my writing. I won’t (and can’t) say I know everything because I don’t, but I do know a lot.I’ve gained wisdom from years of hard-won experiences. For me, writing about my cancer journey has helped me heal from everything it has put me through.

My deep hope is that others will benefit from some of what I have learned and perhaps use it on their journeys. Truly this is my purpose in writing for CURE. I simply want to ease my fellow sojourners’ journeys in any way I can.

Fearing you won’t make it, cancer represents an awake nightmare even for the most stoic among us. When I found out about the bleak survival stats for pancreatic cancer where only five people out of 100 can expect to see five years, I abandoned hope, updated my will and put my affairs in order.

Now at almost 10 years into this, while I breathe a little easier, I have no idea how or why I’ve made it this far. Having lost more than a few good friends to garden variety cancers, much less lethal than pancreatic, I am beyond thankful.

For many, getting hit with cancer forces us to reflect on our legacy. How do we want to be remembered? Do we want to be remembered as a taskmaster or a thoughtful person? A curmudgeon or a caring person?

One of my favorite stories is Charles Dickens’, “A Christmas Carol,” where Ebeneezer Scrooge is visited by his long-dead former business partner, Jacob Marley, on an icy Christmas Eve. Marley is bound in heavy chains of greed and selfishness and tells Scrooge he will suffer the same fate unless he changes. He goes on to tell him he will be visited by three spirits: the Ghost of Christmas Past; the Ghost of Christmas Present; and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Be.

Scrooge awakens Christmas morning, transformed. For me, cancer has been much like the three spirits who visited Scrooge, it changed me for the better.

We have a choice to look at our cancer as the end or the beginning of our life. I have chosen to look at it as the beginning, a true upside.

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