Hubby and I were cancer students together. In AP courses. The lessons were too hard and we failed too many tests. Eventually, we started retaining what we were supposed to be learning. Some of us are slower than others.
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Here are 6 lessons cancer taught us during our ten-year course:
1. Cancer is a bully, and bullies can be shut down. The “C” word is a scary word. And even though great strides are being made in this arena, cancer still has the ability to push you down, beat you up, take your wallet and leave you for dead. Many don’t survive the mugging. But many do. A June 2014 report by the American Cancer Society estimates “there are almost 14.5 million cancer survivors alive in the US today.” Fourteen-point-five million people living with and beyond cancer. I love this word, survivor.
2. Live while you have life. This should go without saying. But I suspect too many of us aren’t so much living our lives now as we are working toward living our lives someday. The only (huge) problem with that scenario is, so many don’t make it to someday. Cancer prodded Hubby and me to take more road trips. Walk along the Pacific waves. Lace up hiking boots, strap on snow-shoes and head for the mountains. Eat al fresco meals overlooking the river that flows through the middle of our town. While we could.
Author Mark Batterson shares this wisdom:
Don’t accumulate possessions; accumulate experiences.
3. Refocus your gaze. Go ahead. Cry. Yell. Take a long bike ride. Journal. Eat chocolate. However you deal with bad news. But instead of keeping your focus there, lift your gaze. I don’t mean this in a Pollyanna-ish way, but rather in a hard, face-the-facts way. If there’s absolutely nothing you can do about your losses, then why not focus on what’s left after the dust settles? In the last year of Hubby’s life, cancer spread further. Large mass in bladder. Nephrostomy tubes inserted. Kidney infections. Hospital stays. Cancer in bones. Cancer in liver.
A not-insignificant series of setbacks to deal with over the course of a year.
But we processed each hard piece of news. And we intentionally made note of what we still had. One more day together. This marriage. These children and grandchildren. These family and friends who have surrounded us with love. Our five senses intact. The beauty of this central Oregon.
A not-insignificant amount of blessing.
4. Get good at saying yes. Practice with me: “Yes, thank you.” I read an online article about a reverse gift list. Here’s what you do: Make two columns on a piece of paper. Entitle the first column “People I trust” and the second “Things they can do.” List all the people who have offered to help and then draft a list of simple tasks. “Bring dinner once a month.” “Pick up groceries twice a month.” “Come over and sit with (husband, parent, child) while I take a long, hot bath.” Then match the task to the person. Your family and friends really do want to contribute in a meaningful way.
5. Death can be a sacred experience. The most horrible way to lose a loved one, I would think, would be without warning. Hubby and I were given warning. And then the gift of time. It was a sacred experience standing watch as he slowly lost his energy, his appetite, became childlike and eventually took his last breath. Peace invaded our lives, our home, our Hospice House room. And we had done and said everything that needed doing and saying.
6. People are our most valuable assets. After all is said and done, it is the people in our lives—-and not the things—-that add the most value. Cherish people. Stay in touch. Cultivate new friendships. And when it’s time for them to receive unwanted news, then you can show love and encouragement in the same way others loved and encouraged you.
I would never wish cancer on anyone. But I will always be grateful for this hard school because of what I learned; because this class schedule connected me to classmates I would not have otherwise known; because this harsh teacher pushed me deeper into love with my husband.
How about you? What lessons are yours because of adversity?
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