I am a cancer survivor. In 1992 a stage IV osteo sarcoma was found in my right femur. After a radical cadaverous allograph (bone transplant), seven months of chemotherapy , eight more surgeries and numerous medical and emotional struggles, I was on the road to recovery and, to this day, am cancer-free.
Not long ago, someone asked me to detail the impact of cancer on my life. I think they were soliciting cautionary words of advice for those facing similar trials, perhaps tips on how to better navigate a life-altering journey. I don't think I provided the fearful "be on guard" context they were looking for but, jumping at the chance to share my thoughts, this is what I came up with:
One thing cancer did for me was show the potential for strength in my life. But it was not simply my inner strength that grew. I got to see the potential for strength in others. My wife who, when a local paper did an article on my family, said, "I'm excited to see how much we can handle." My five-year old daughter who, on the first day I came home bald and asked her what she thought, said, "Well, you look different. But you sound the same." With words like that, not only did I get to see how much people could love, but I saw how much people could stand up to a brutal change in life. Every smile I saw while battling cancer was a sign of strength.
What cancer did -- while living in a world that encourages me to acquire things, to "be" somebody, to play games, manipulate and be single-minded, a world that says there is always more -- was show clearly that I've already got it all. I have faith. I have the ability to share laughter. I have a genuine love of life. Not love for what life can be or what I get to do, but for mere existence. I have true respect for every turn, twist and step of life.
In a world that says I am all that matters, cancer told me that life is all that matters.
Perhaps all cancer has done is allow me to be human. Before cancer, while watching TV, reading the paper or getting caught up in the hype of anything, it was easy to think I was supposed to be something more than human. Supposedly there was something greater out there. My struggle was to tap into some intangible, obscure goal that somehow would satisfy my inner being.
Yet cancer made it simple. It allowed me to struggle for something completely pure -- Life. And that struggle put to shame every other struggle I've ever had. My struggle, now, isn't to pay off a car, impress a client or stroke my ego -- it is to fully embrace each moment. And I don't mean a Leo Buscaglia, Hands-Across-America, stop and smell the roses moment. In theory, it could be an I-love-the-smell-of-Napalm-in-the-morning moment. It can be any moment -- I only have to recognize it as one.
Cancer made me re-evaluate my life's accomplishments. It is easier to see that there can be equal joy in all things, almost as if there are no degrees of joy. There is only knowing what it is to be full in the heart and that is it. So, while winning a national juggling championship and selling a TV script were exciting, higher profile moments, in sheer fulfillment of spirit, they are only on par with a wonderful conversation with my dad.
And opportunities to share myself are infinitely greater than the opportunities for grand achievement. Rather than a self-glorifying, Nike ad accomplishment telling me I have that power and glory inside me, I realize I can have it every day, every time I express the depth of my soul. Every moment I laugh. Every moment I breathe.
So, while cancer is something I never would have asked for, wanted or planned, it has been an incredible, eye-opening journey. All the knowledge in the world doesn't lessen the pain and suffering it caused, but that suffering and pain bore fruit. And, for that, I feel blessed.
So perhaps this is a cautionary tale. Perhaps it is words of advice to others who will go through similar trials -- or have yet to go through trials.
Since we all go down the same path of existence, we're all left with a simple question. In a world that seduces us into glamour and into thinking we are greater than life itself, do you recognize a gracious life? Do you accept the pure and simple gift of life? Or do you need cancer or some other horrible beast to explain it to you?