CANCER CAN SHORTEN YOUR YEARS
BUT IT CAN ALSO ENHANCE THEIR QUALITY
I’ve heard the statement, “I’m not dying of cancer, I’m learning to live with it” on so many occasions, but I’d like to go one step further. After I was diagnosed with cancer, my mortality became far more of a reality, and that awareness led to other epiphanies. It caused me to realize how much of my life I had wasted. Not physically. Harriet and I have visited every continent, climbed mountains and ancient ruins and slept on the floor of prayer halls in the jungles of New Guinea. We’ve eaten everything from crocodile stew to roasted grub worms, at least I have. But the waste I’m referring to is my not having been far more aware and accepting of who I am and what was going on emotionally inside of me. Sadly, I believe most of you have also wasted a great deal of your lives running from yourselves hiding from your real feelings and denying your mortality. In fact, it is the denial of death inherent in this behavior that I want to address. That’s not to say that someday immortality may not become possible, but currently, I believe a far more pragmatic way to enhance the quality of your life might be to devote your energy to doing the opposite, severely limiting denial and openly accepting death as an inherent part of your life. A part, not to be feared but to be celebrated similar to birth. More primitive cultures do a far better job of this and my thought is that this approach would be tremendously beneficial to the rest of us. It would include immediate membership in a club called “I Am Mortal”, which would provide you with the right to error, to be imperfect and to still be okay. Even more, once you truly accept your mortality, all the energy and effort that you, in the past, directed towards denying death, might then be devoted to enhancing the way you live your life on a daily basis.
The analogy you might consider is that the developing world, particularly the United States, Europe and China, discards or wastes more food on a daily basis than any other countries in the world. Comparatively speaking, they are countries of plenty and most individuals don’t perceive that abundance coming to an end. Consequently, people don’t use leftovers or scraps or peelings to make stocks. They juice an orange and give little thought to how much juice is left after their first few squeezes. They don’t cut up the rinds, mix them with sugar and make candy for their kids or jelly for their toast. Instead, they fill garbage bags to the brim and dispose of leftovers in their disposals.
If you think about it, you’ll realize that most of you live your lives according to the same principal. You live life in accordance with the notion that there’s always going to be more where that came from. However, that’s not the case. Your life span is unpredictable, fragile and terminal. Consequently, you need to live it every day with care, caution and thoughtfulness because it is precious and limited. Indulging in denial, anger, self-pity and depression is a waste of time. It is the same as squandering an inheritance or lottery windfall on meaningless short-lived indulgences. At first, you see it as endless, but one day you turn around and it’s near gone.
It’s exactly the same with your life. You initially believe that you have plenty of time to deal with whatever may arise, so you devote your energy to seeking out immediate gratification and justifying misdeeds by blaming others for your inappropriate behaviors and excessive reactions. In effect, you protect yourself from admitting any shortcomings or weakness. Some of you assume a false sense of joy. Others of you concentrate on tragedy you’ve experienced in the past or that may befall you in the future. In every instance, however, your behavior is designed to blind you to the real problem, yourself. Why, because you’re unable to realize that you are a mortal, human being, i.e. a fragile sensitive, imperfect person who desperately needs acceptance, love and nurturance but can’t ask for it, lest others see you as weak and undeserving of it or worst yet, have convinced yourself that you don’t need or deserve it.
If any of these behaviors apply to you, there are several questions you have to ask yourself:
1) Am I living my life in an honest, introspective fashion?
2) Am I taking advantage of and using the God-given abilities and intelligence I was originally endowed with?
3) Are my efforts and energies successfully directed towards improving my life and consequently, the lives of everyone whose life I touch?”
4) At the end of most every day, am I able to lay my head on my pillow without depression, guilt, resentment or anger, and say “I like me in spite of my past errors and shortcomings”?
If your answer to any one of these is “No”, you are not enhancing your life. You are wasting it and you have to ask yourself “Why?”. The likely answer is because you are a person whose parents, particularly your mother, didn’t teach you that inside you is a person who, despite any shortcomings, is worthy of being loved and nurtured. If that’s the case, you have to learn it now. You have to actualize the positive person who is there inside by becoming the mother you never had. If you don’t, you’ll expect and need validation of you to come from the actions of others. Which, when it’s not forthcoming, will contribute to you constantly trying to earn acceptance from others or angry because you haven’t gotten it and feel you earned it.
The alternative is learning to accept you, scars and all, because your negative feelings won’t ever fully go away. They’re in your hard drive. But when you are able to own your inner worth, you’ll accept them as baggage you can easily carry. Even more, you’ll be able to climb out of bed every morning and think “What is it that I can do today that will leave me content and pleased with myself?” It’s not that it will ensure that you’ll always succeed. But when you do fail, it won’t be by default. You will be able to praise yourself for having had the courage to try, which may, in itself, please you.
Gaining the courage to stop hiding from your mortality and learning to value you instead of having to continuously earn it won’t occur overnight. Your doubts and fears, as I’ve stated earlier, will remain but you will behave in spite of them not because of them. The end result is you begin to like you as you are. My only request is that you not wait for a calamity to occur to start this process because your life is too precious to waste.
Dr. Reitman is a Clinical Psychologist who has been practicing in Houston since 1963. In addition to authoring numerous books, he has been published extensively in medical journals, regional and national magazines and newspapers. If you would like to be on Dr. Reitman’s secure mailing list, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.