Sunday, December 7, 2014

On Courage and Cancer

There has been a lot of discussion about courage lately, in the context of protests and policing. One thing that is apparent to me is that police consider themselves to be courageous, and that citizens, whose jobs are perceived to be safe, are not courageous. This is a narrow view.

Ordinary people encounter disease, difficulties, death and loss that require courage and perseverance to survive. Many people display courage every day just getting out of bed and facing their own problems. I have cancer. This has caused me intense pain for long periods of time, along with other dysfunctions. It can be hard to face, and knowing that it is supposed to kill me doesn't help.

Everyone who gets cancer faces a choice. How are they going to handle the disease psychologically? There are two choices. The first choice, and it is probably nearly everyone's approach initially, is to fight the disease. Maintain a positive attitude, search for a cure, believe that you will get better and everything will return to normal. Continue to work as long as possible. Try very hard for things to stay the same, to be the same person.

If you survive, this may be a good choice. If you are likely to be cured, it may also seem a reasonable choice. But, if you do not survive, this choice can lead to a lot of psychological trauma and even a lack of planning. This affects the sick, but also the caregivers and loved ones, who may find themselves unprepared for the event and the changes they will have to make afterwards. I have known people who made this choice and the consequences at the end can be brutal.

The second choice is to accept that you are going to die. This doesn't necessarily mean that you are resigned that the disease is going to kill you, after all, we are all going to die. Acceptance is not easy. Acceptance means a lot more than just telling everyone that you are going to die, it means knowing it completely and deeply. In order to know this on a deep subconscious level, we have to face our fear of death. Fear of death is a part of all of us, and removing it inevitably changes our personality, our outlook, it informs all of our decision making, it will change how you interact with everyone. If you survive, these will be with you the rest of your life, which will then be fully realized

Confronting your fear of death, transcending it and accepting it is the most freeing and empowering thing a person can do. It is also the most courageous thing a person can do. We don't all get the opportunity to make this choice. You may die suddenly or you may make the choice too late. I've been blessed to make this change and to have had the opportunity.

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