A Kind of Loneliness: When Your Cancer Comes Back
I was equanimous yet fearful — if that’s not a contraction
The first time I learnt that I had cancer, about 3 years ago, I burst into dripping sweat and nearly fainted off the chair on which I was sitting.
This time — today, when I found out it had returned — I was equanimous.
I rose from my chair in silence and went to the tap. I looked out of the window as I filled a large glass of water, and drank it. Then I went outside and sat in the sun.
I felt a kind of loneliness, for a while.
Later, by chance, I read this post about Seth Godin and I felt inspired by it.
The Back Story: I had an aggressive prostate cancer removed in December 2012 — about 3 years ago. Six months later my wife and I separated, partially due to the financial pressure of barely being able to pay our bills each month (me selfishly persisting to work in start-ups) and $20,000 of medical expenses. At the time our daughter was 2 1/2. We’d spent 12 years trying to have a baby and that brought its own stress, sometimes severe stress and depression (a miscarriage). An IVF birth was successful except my wife went into postpartum shock and critical condition for 4 1/2 hours before beginning a 6 hour recovery. With a premature baby waiting in the intensive care nursery that whole episode was quite stressful. Now, Living alone, the financial pressure continues with interest on debts chewing up most of my income. In fact my life insurance came up for renewal last month and after 15 years of paying the premiums I did not have enough money to renew it his time. I figured I might live for at least 10 more years and I couldn’t afford to keep paying for 10 years so I’ll let it drop. I searched for money options but I had none. If I die within the next couple of years that means my young daughter missed out on $500,000 — pity. The divorce settlement and the financial consequences of that are not yet complete — in effect hanging over my head because I am procrastinating.
I learnt to be an Explorer
What I find remarkable is my calmness today compared to the first time. I did a lot of self-reflection after the first round of cancer and after my marriage break-down.
You can get into some horrible places, but although many things were caving in on me cancer gave me the opportunity to put those forces in perspective.
It took me about a year but I came out with a new outlook on life and how I perceived life.
One of the lessons I taught myself was to be an Explorer of life (I wrote about it here), to move out of playing movies of the past and the future in your head, and to face your fears and expose your vulnerabilities.
Living in the Present - Explorers, Searchers and Protectors
Inspired and humbled by what I saw others sharing during World Suicide Prevention Day - which encourages people to…
Most people keep playing movies of past problems and creating movies of future problems. This state I called being in Searching mode.
Searchers are trapped by their own endless searching of the past and future and their “present” is shaped by their past and future movies, not by clarity about the present.
I believe that my calm reaction to the bad news this time was shaped by the previous experience of fear, and by my Explorer behaviour over the last 2 years.
In Explorer you face your fears, you expose your vulnerabilities, and you deal with life as it happens in relation to those two things.
You have no option. If you don’t deal with present life then you slip back into being a Searcher, or even worse a Protector when you protect yourself from being in the present by hiding from it.
It’s not easy to follow your own advice
But even our own theories and practices are hard to follow in all circumstances. I slipped into Searcher mode a few times today:
- Perhaps I should have seen the doctor earlier this year when I had pains in my bones?
- Perhaps I should have tried harder to pay my life insurance premium?
- Perhaps I should have kept up the quarterly cancer checks even when the surgeon suggested we make it annual?
- Perhaps the radiation will work?
- How will I pay for any of this treatment?
But overall I snapped myself back into Explorer — a few times — and I’m just dealing with the news for what it is.
What IS the urge to share?
However, I did notice a little loneliness creeping in. I’m not the lonely type.
I’m now living by myself. I like my own company. I enjoy regular doses of self-reflection. I have friends at the gym but I don’t go there to make friends. And ironically if I heard this news when I was among friends and/or family I would want to go home to reflect on it alone.
I went to the gym tonight — boot camp. I felt oddly different. I’m now different from the person they knew from Monday night’s session. I felt an urge to share with one of my closest acquaintances in the class, a woman I only know at the gym.
There is an urge to share, and perhaps that urge is the loneliness expressing itself?
Perhaps the “loneliness” is not loneliness at all, but some self-indulgence or even self-pity. Sure, it’s not a happy day it’s a very bad day. But it is not a lonely day.
I think the loneliness is a kind of fear, and that’s best faced by being in Explorer mode and in experiencing the fear.
I know that because that’s how I’ve been living the last 2 years of my life. Experiencing it will take it from affecting who you are to being something that you observe and manage.
The next time you encounter fear consider yourself one of the lucky ones
Do you run from fear? Do you sense it coming and back off? No one ever tells us to stop running away from fear. No…
Life is what it is. However, learning to deal with its twists and turns takes a bit of practice. I’m putting this “loneliness” out there now — to face it.
What do you think? What is this “loneliness” reaction? How does it relate to fear, or self-indulgence, or self-pity?
If you enjoyed this post then you might also enjoy my Secret purpose of meditation is to help you escape your addiction to neuroticism and Mindful Passion, Poise and Posture and Not Minding Leads to Confidence, Not Caring to Disengagement and Depression and Optimism is important but it is not the choice between it and pessimism that will help you succeed
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I’m Walter. I write articles on fitness, health, and motivation for men and women over 50. However, curiosity is my main distinction. I’ve been lucky enough to have experienced a bolt of lightning hitting me in Korea, crash landing in a 747 (LAX), being sucked into a thundercloud at 4,000m in a sailplane (Australia), jumping freefall from 3,000m on my 1st ever parachute jump (Florida), and two different lethal cancers. In 2000 I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes which sparked my interested in exercise, nutrition, motivation and cognitive fitness. University qualified in mathematical statistics, and computing science (Masters); have a professional diploma in sports nutrition; certified social media strategist. Feel free to message/email me with any comments, questions, or collaboration ideas. Blog: walteradamson.com