School of life


Everything we experience in life, prepares us for the next event, or, what I like to call, ‘level’. When we are young, school is our life. School prepares us for the next level of life: Adulthood. After our schooling we enter the level of starting a career, finding a partner and perhaps starting a family. Our life becomes about first houses and marriage, First child and experiencing all the joys and struggles along the way as we carve our niche in the world. As this ‘level’ approaches the next, we find ourselves going to weddings as our nieces and nephews start their next level. Peppered among these celebrations of love and fresh starts are the funerals for Grandparents or sudden tragic untimely deaths of friends or relatives. There may be events that have us scratching our heads wondering ‘why’ or ‘how’, but ultimately, they are pieces of a bigger puzzle; Preparation for the next ‘level’ as no level is meant to be permanent.

When I tell people that Cancer was a gift, they look at me like I’ve lost all sense of reality. The word ‘Cancer’ strikes fear in hearts and minds of the lives it touches either directly or indirectly. June 16, 2015 I felt that fear as the doctor told me my diagnosis. All of the air was suddenly sucked out of the room and my ears strained to hear anything else over the buzzing sound. Like listening to a flat, static riddled AM radio station I heard his voice but couldn’t comprehend anything he was saying. With great concentration and effort, I managed to form a question or two and hoped the answers would punch through the static.

I will be the first to admit: Cancer destroys lives. If you want to focus on the negative effects, there’s plenty associated with cancer. I wasn’t able to look past much of that for a while. After all, it was only about 3 months -time since I lost my brother to cancer. His box of ashes sat in my house next to a candle we lit every night! There I was pondering the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of it all. To have been diagnosed with cancer was bad enough but to be diagnosed with the same cancer that took my brother was the most devastating news I could have received!

One thing I have learned in recent years is that even in our most difficult or devastating mental, emotional or spiritual times, there is always something good to come from it. The proverbial ‘silver lining’ is real. Personal growth never happens when we’re nice and comfy. Just when we are feeling comfy and happy with our lives is usually when the train comes off the tracks. June 16, 2015 is when my train derailed. 5 months after marrying my soulmate and experiencing one of the happiest times in my life and 3 short months after she held me up (sometimes literally) as I grieved the loss of my brother. Seeing a pattern yet? Pieces of the puzzle coming together…

Nothing is coincidental. Every interaction we have with others is beneficial for one or both parties. I have often pondered out loud with my wife how different things would probably be had we not met and married. How would I have handled my brother’s death? How would I have coped with my cancer? Would I have even gotten the routine checkup that caught it? These are all pieces of the puzzle that, separately, don’t make a whole lot of sense, but together make a bigger picture in focus.

Keeping this in mind, I approached cancer with my focus on the silver lining and looking for the lessons to prepare me for the next level. Assuming that level is the final level, aside from ‘getting our affairs in order’, we don’t need any training. Death is a natural occurrence that we will all experience. Coping with losing someone close cannot be ‘self-taught’ through our own death, so the lesson can’t be about death. As shocking as it may sound, cancer isn’t about death; it’s about LIFE!

Let me say that again: Cancer teaches us about life! Talk to anyone who has had a near death experience and I’m sure they will agree that their focus drastically changed. The list of priorities in life was definitely rearranged and shortened. Talk to cancer survivors or even those fighting cancer and they will say the same thing. My approach to fighting cancer is one of maximizing what I can learn about life from such an ugly enemy. After all, this is preparation for the next level and I want to be ready!