Look at what you’ve got and make the best of it. It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. ~ Proverb
One Sunday night almost five months ago, my father broke the news that one of my uncles had been diagnosed with stage-three colon cancer. I remember my reaction as being somewhat surprised and not surprised. I was surprised because it was the first time that cancer came this close to our family. Most family-related cancer stories I’ve heard until that point were from second cousins and great-aunts and -uncles. And yet I wasn’t too surprised because my uncle was a heavy smoker and a former heavy drinker. Four days later, my uncle underwent his first chemotherapy session. Some relatives gave us weekly updates about his condition. Dad himself visited the hospital three weeks later and noted how fast he had lost weight. Although still under chemo today, my uncle is strong enough to do most of the things he used to enjoy before his treatment began. What is more notable, however, is his radical change in attitude towards life. Several weeks ago when mom and dad visited him, mom said that my uncle didn’t care about passing soon. “If I die, then I die”, she recalled him as saying. Today, however, that fatalistic attitude seems to have vanished. I’m not sure how the change came about, but he’s very enthusiastic about life now. He smiles a lot and seems to be more concerned about enjoying life with his family. By nature, he’s bossy and arrogant. But even that attitude is now tempered with a bit of brighter thoughtfulness. In my recent visits to his home I simply couldn’t help but be drawn to him. His brand new zesty character is highly contagious to everyone, including me. I want to share with you what I learned from him:
1. Appreciate and Enjoy Food More.
One of the first things that struck me about my uncle is his change in attitude towards food. Although he ate a lot, he actually used to complain habitually. He’d complain about being served too much vegetables; he’d complain about stews having too much broth; he’d complain about desserts being too heavy and cloying. Today, he is now more appreciative and thoughtful. At a recent family lunch, there was one “experimental” pasta dish prepared by one of my aunts that I found really weird-tasting. Not my uncle. He complimented the dish and told my aunt, who was a beginner cook, how he appreciated her trying something new. My aunt reveled in the praise and promised all of us that she’d continue learning how to cook. I think us well folks complain too much about what we eat, just like my uncle used to do. But if we think about it more deeply, eating is not just about food—it’s also a bigger aspect of our culture. It brings families, friends and colleagues together. Whenever we take the time to appreciate food and express it, we invite good vibes at the table. With good vibes follow fun moments, and with fun moments follow stronger bonds and relationships. Now I am an advocate of good food. If something has to be said for the sake of improving the dish or educating the cook, my suggestion is to sandwich constructive criticisms between positive comments. Or even better reserve the criticism for a one-on-one conversation later. Or maybe, just forget about the criticism!
2. Find the Good in Everyone.
My uncle used to talk bad about people from time to time even if they had not done anything that would trigger that kind of tirade. I think it was his inner narcissist expressing itself. He liked to draw attention towards himself by belittling other people. Today, when family conversations turn gossipy, my uncle terminates the topic by injecting a positive alternative reason. He’d say “I don’t know. Maybe the pressure from work just got him. We know how crazy his supervisor is” or “Cut her some slack, everyone. She’s done it many times before. It could have been a simple error!” Sometimes, our own inner narcissists manifest themselves too. We focus on or exaggerate negative stories in order to impress our cliques at the expense of other people. One of these scenario’s possible consequences is that our friends could develop feelings of resentment toward the other people. Before we know it, tensions flare between them. Once the truth comes out, we’ll be exposed as nothing but a fantastic story-teller who’s desperate for attention. For all our sake, I believe that it’s always best to find the good in other people. If we need to speak up in order to prevent damage resulting from someone else’s action, we should simply go directly to that person and talk to them about the consequences of their action.
3. Think Short Term—What Really Matters is Now
To my uncle, every moment became precious when he started chemo. He appreciates simple things now and he’s not too concerned about the future. He cherishes his time with his family, especially his granddaughter. Whenever I hear his wife or one of their daughters talk about a problem, he’d go “that’s not even a problem! You know you can do it.” We all are guilty of worrying too much. We often think that it’s normal, but in truth, it’s nothing more than unnecessary stress which causes us to miss the good things that we have in front of us. Instead of fretting, why don’t we think of solutions? And if there are no solutions, well, let’s just forget the problem and enjoy the moment.
4. Remember That You Can Do Anything.
I want to share my own story. When I was about 14 years old, I did something that my mom told me not to do. That day I went home with a wound on my left hand. My mom, ever the panicky pessimist, angrily machine-gunned me with names of all kinds of fatal diseases that my wound could lead to. That night I had trouble sleeping because I thought that I would die soon. I was afraid I would contract a deadly infection. In the morning, she and I visited a doctor who, in less than five minutes, cleared my case. My mom with a big smile told me, “I told you so! You didn’t have to worry!” I ignored her comment because I was so thankful that I wasn’t going to die. The sun never looked so bright that day and I felt like I was given a new lease in life. I felt that I could do and face anything in the world. Nothing could stop me.
We fear and worry about too many things today: leaving a job, moving to a new town, opening a business we’ve always wanted to open, etc. But I believe we all have it in us to survive and come up with all the ideas and strategies that we need to deal with all these challenges. The thing is, however, all these instincts will only surface when we’re already in the middle of the battle. My uncle thinks that no other challenge in the world is more difficult than dealing with his condition. Today, he is the family’s biggest cheerleader. How do you deal with a loved one who has cancer? How do you think you’d live your life if you found out you had cancer? I would love to hear your stories. Please share them in the comments section below.