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With Cancer, There Is Always Hope


A cancer survivor talks about the importance of hope, inspired by her reading of Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning, which analyzes the psychological strength of Holocaust survivors.

One of my favorite books is “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl. This heart-wrenching story is about a psychiatrist who was imprisoned in four terrible Nazi camps during the war. He used his time there to observe the other prisoners, and what he found surprised him.

As the world knows, over six million Jews died in World War II. Many of them did not die from being gassed and shot, but from diseases, starvation and the filthy conditions of the camps.

What intrigued Frankl was the fact the survivors were not always the fittest or strongest. He realized the people who survived had only one thing in common. Each survivor he talked to had some kind of purpose in life and a reason to live. The purpose was different for each prisoner. It may be a living relative, a home to return to or a career that the person loved. Frankl's own purpose was clear to him. He decided to write a book when the war was over. He came close to giving up when the Nazis stole his notes. He wrestled with how he could go on until he realized the Nazis could not take away his mind. He had the book in his head. The author wrote the book in nine days after he was released from the camps!

A quote that Frankl uses in his book was by the famous philosopher Nietzsche. “He who has a ‘why’ to live for can bear with almost any ‘how.’”

Think about this. Hope and a reason for being were the sole factors in people surviving the worse torture, starvation and humiliation the Nazis could inflict. Translate this to a cancer survivor. Hope is the one emotion we can control when a cancer is terminal. There is always hope for a new clinical trial, a new chemo or a new immune booster. And if one is really ill and ready to let go, hope remains for relief in the next unknown step.

It is hope and the “why” that keeps us going. More than any medicine, radiation or chemo one thing is even more important — a reason for being, for staying alive, for loving life can be miraculous. This love can be for a family member, a close friend, a pet or a cause.

In my depressive moods, which hit with a vengeance, the ray of hope to get me through is usually a small but important gesture, like a phone call from a friend, a card from a family member, my dog putting her face in my lap, or my cat crawling into bed with me. All these things make me feel good. Grab this gesture, seize the day and never give up hope. Try to do the same for others. If one has the why, the how will happen. Never forget that.

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