The Lessons I Learned After Loosing Someone Close To Cancer

“What if after you die God asks you: ‘So, how was heaven?'”– Unknown


What To Say When Someone Finds Out They Have Cancer

I recently received news of a close family friend. She recently went through a series of events that have put me and those around her in a state of worry and fear.

One weekday afternoon after eating lunch she was walking around the house tidying up. All of a sudden she got light-headed and passed out. Luckily she was at home and there were people around her to call emergency services and rush her to the hospital. She quickly recovered and returned home the same day. In the next few days, she went through a series of medical tests to determine if there was a root cause or symptom. The majority of tests came back positive with a clean bill of health. The final, more comprehensive, test revealed some abnormalities in the neck and stomach. More tests need to be done to confirm or deny what these abnormalities are and how to best treat or remove them.

The immediate conclusion by most of the people around me is cancer. We live in a time when this seems to be the first thing our minds jump to when we see abnormalities in the body. Furthermore, this disease has become so rampant and common it seems plausible. I will not speculate on if it is cancer or not. Nor will I speculate on the severity of it and the implications. I choose to focus on the fragility of life and the acceptance of death. For what it’s worth, I do not believe the abnormalities found in this close family friend’s body will lead to death. Nor do I believe it will lead to a shorter life. I have faith and confidence in western medicine and the skilled professionals in the medical field.

Focus On Death

Let’s first focus on death because events like the story of my friend put into perspective how real it is and how quickly it can happen without warning. When we are younger we believe life is about getting rich, finding a good husband or wife and having kids. We each feel and believe we will get a full lifespan to achieve these things. People that die seem distant from us or we convince ourselves it an anomaly. People getting sick, getting hit by a bus, mysteriously dying, getting murdered, dying in an act of terrorism or in an airplane crash are all implausible and movie inspired deaths. “These happen to other people. They do not happen to me or my family”. That is what we subconsciously tell ourselves and repeat as a mantra (affirmation). This is simply not true. We are all going to die and so are those around us. There is no special lottery we have passed allowing us to escape illness,  pain, and death.

Focus On Life

Now let’s focus on life. We have established there is no preventing death. However, there are ways of slowing it down or increasing your chances for a longer and healthier life. This is not a magic way of deterring illness and death for the end of your life. This is a way of stacking the deck in your favor to ensure you decrease the probability of certain causes of death. What may seem like invulnerability is just an outcome based on: genetics, diet, lifestyle, geography, and timing. The name of the game is the probability of survival and each of the above-mentioned factors can either have a positive or negative impact on our probability. In fact, each day, each action, we either increase or decrease the probability for survival. However, this is a very crude way of looking at life. Focusing on the numbers for highest probability will drive you crazy because within each of those factors there are numerous variables we cannot control. For example, we can choose healthier options like Non-GMO and free-range chicken as a healthier option to red meat, however, we may not know that one of those chickens might have been contaminated with some trace amount of radioactivity in the food or farm from which it was raised and slaughtered. The only way to avoid this is to grow up in a lab and monitor everything that goes into our bodies. So rather than build a statistical model to calculate the best possible life choices for the highest probability of survival, I recommend adopting a way of thinking which can help you build a lifestyle around healthy and life-improving choices.

The Way We Think

Before I discuss my new perspective on life let’s look at the current way we think:

  1. I am invincible
  2. The same applies to all of my family, friends, and pets
  3. I have plenty of time left
  4. I will deal with sickness, illness, death, and tragedy when it happens. Not now.

I am invincible

For the most part, this is a good way of thinking. It allows us to suppresses our fears and be confident in our abilities. However, where this becomes dangerous is when this thinking goes beyond self-confidence and abilities and creeps into health. Invulnerability in health is impossible. It is an illusion and a toxic way of thinking because it allows us to throw away good principles as diet, exercise, safety, and caution. It causes us to adopt “gung-ho” attitudes towards our lives and puts care and maintenance into chance rather than things we can control. When we do this we put ourselves in a mindset where we stop listening to voices outside of our head and do as we feel until it catches up with us. And when that happens it is sometimes too late because the compounded impact of neglect due to our own hubris has written a check which our bodies cannot cash.

The same applies to all of my family, friends, and pets

We allow relationships to turn sour and die because we feel the person will always be around or because we are lazy and don’t want to make the effort, we feel the other person should or pride. We take time with loved ones for granted because there will always be another time. We omit actions for providing happiness to loved ones because we believe there will always be another birthday or mother’s day or Christmas opportunity. All of these rationalizations we convince ourselves of which prevent us from maintaining relationships and cherishing and utilizing the time we have with our loved ones are insignificant. They are constructs created in our head that are not governed by any law, rule or common sense. There is nobody keeping score on the number of times you visited your mom vs the times she visited you. There is no judge that will order your brother to start talking with you even though he is the one that started the fight. There is no scale of fairness that will grant you another opportunity to give your dad a wonderful father’s day gift because you were too lazy to get one this year. All we have is the time and opportunities we are given

I have plenty of time left

We allow ourselves to push and put off things. We always believe tomorrow exists and we can deal with it then. Doing this on a continual basis we procrastinate on dreams, passions, goal, meaningful relationships. We limit our potential because we have convinced ourselves there can be a backup plan contingent on “another day” to execute that backup plan

I will deal with sickness, illness, death, and tragedy when it happens. Not now.

Similar to “I have time” we have convinced ourselves our medical system and doctors can fix anything. We believe hospitals are places where you go in sick and you come out healed. We do not believe people die in hospitals or hospitals do not have cures or treatments for some illnesses. It is this belief that causes us to live recklessly. We do things that put our lives in danger. We shove off healthy alternatives and habits. We take unnecessary risks because they allow us to multi-task or save some time.

My New Perspective

What has happened to my friend has made me reflect a lot on my own ways of living. After realizing how wrong it was, I adopted a new set of perspectives which embody the fragility of life and the understanding and acceptance of death.

  1. Control the factors that keep the probability of survival as high as possible
  2. Accept the lack control to prevent external and unknown factors from lowering your probability of survival
  3. Accept at some point your probability of survival will go to zero and that you will die
  4. Focus on every moment you are alive

Control the factors that keep the probability of survival as high as possible

Listed below are ways to actualize this rule.

  • Use the 80/20 rule when eating healthy foods. 80% good and healthy. 20% moderately healthy. 0% bad and unhealthy foods.
  • Understand your genetics and history of medical conditions. Understand what they put you at a at higher risk for
  • Get routine check-ups and screenings. Identifying something early can mean the difference between life and death.
  • Pay extra every few years to get a full body scan. A few hundred dollars to detect something early is much better than thousands of dollars, pain or hardship for detecting something when it’s too late. You cannot put a price on your health. You cannot spend any of your wealth when you in a hospital bed
  • Exercise. Countless studies show the strong correlation between exercise and mental and physical benefits.
  • Do not procrastinate. Be ahead of time and do not wait. There is no such thing as opportunity cost when it comes to health and wellbeing
  • Do not multi-task. It is never productive or safe.
  • Get a full night’s rest (at least 7 hours). Studies show lack of sleep can have a negative impact on the brain, heart and respiratory system.
  • Sauna. See all of the gains and benefits from saunas here: 

Accept the lack control to prevent external and unknown factors from lowering your probability of survival

  • Let go of the past and past decisions. There is nothing you can do to reverse the damages of the past. Learn from your mistakes and try to correct them as soon as possible.
  • Learn from your past mistakes and correct them in the future. Past mistakes provide the strongest force and conviction for correct negative habits for the better. Use the pain and stupidity of the past to make sure you never repeat the same mistakes
  • Have faith in consistency and discipline. It is never too late. If you set in motion good habits and you are consistent, the body and mind will recover and get better.

Accept at some point your probability of survival will go to zero and you will die

  • Live each day as if it is your last. Even if you live the healthiest life there are forces outside of our control that could put you at risk of injury or death. Do not live your life with regrets. Amazing things can be accomplished in 24 hours. Here are some examples for inspiration:
  • Convince yourself there is no tomorrow. Similar to the previous point, you have to adopt this mentality so that nothing holds you back from accomplishing your goals and living each day to its fullest.
  • Pick up the hobbies, trips, books, and goals you shelved off because you thought there is plenty of time to do them. Complete them or do as much as possible.
  • Adopt a “Minimum Viable Product” mentality. Everything you touch should be left in a state that someone else can pick it up and be able to do something with it or use it.
  • If you are writing, building, designing or crafting something. Leave it in a state that you can post it or complete. Losing your train of thought happens. Always create a roadmap to trace your thoughts and pick-up where you left off.
  • Each person you interact with; make it meaningful and enjoy the moment. Interactions and conversations can change or impact your life. You just have to be present and listen.
  • Ask yourself: Will this impact my life in 5 minutes, 5 days or 5 months? If the answer is no then do not do it
  • Ask yourself: Do I want to do this? If the answer is not a “Hell Yes” then do not do it.

Focus on every moment you are alive

  • Do the things that make you happy now. Do not save them for later because there might not be a later.
  • Do not save movies, foods, travel, gifts or books for later. Enjoy them now. Trust me, there will be better stuff later.
  • Do not waste time doing things that do not make you happy. The worst thing you can do is kill time for the sake of killing time. These are moments of your life you will never get back.
  • Do not go through the motions. Never do something without learning, enhancing or gaining something.
  • Do not go into things with a close-minded mentality. Embrace the moment and the opportunity and be open to getting something out of it. You will be surprised what you will learn and gain by just giving it a chance.

How Do You Maximize Life?

What I’ve shared above are self-reflection and realizations made over the past few months, however, I know there are better ways of making sense of tragedy and using it as motivation. I would love to hear what tactics or ways of thinking have worked well for you. Feel free to comment below with an example. Please share so we all can learn and possibly incorporate ourselves.

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