Realignment: Why Are you Here?
In the last 5 to 10 years as I saw new patients after I met everyone in the room and verified some of the main facts about their cancer and health issues, I surprised them with one final question. I asked them: “Why are they here on earth or what is their purpose or why do they want to fix this cancer, and what is their goal when they're well?” Many times patients reacted with surprise and answered: “of course, I want to live!” I would then ask “why do you want to live?"
I would remind them that; “going through this treatment may cause some temporary pain, time spent seeing physicians, financial burdens, so why is it worth going through all that?” Ultimately though these questions, when the onion got peeled back a few layers, I would frequently notice that they would rediscover their deep personal mission. Sometimes it was under a few layers, and they haven't thought about it in a while or maybe this moment in the room was the first time they connected the dots to determine what “one thing they’re willing to fight for."
Generally, the answers to these existential questions followed a typical pattern; “ I want to be there for my wife, children or grandchildren or serve in some generous way." Rarely, did people’s “one thing” ever include another vacation, great meal, new car, or some material good. Once they clearly stated their deep inner purpose, I would remind them that it is good to revisit that because when things get tough, they've got to know why they're pursuing this treatment course and to keep that front and center. Sometimes in this deep discussion, they might realize that the struggle is the purpose. Their demonstration showing courage, continued humility and generosity during treatment for cancer may be the best lesson they can teach their children and grandchildren. In the end, I look them in the eye and thank them for sharing that with me. I now know what is important to them, and I want what they want, and we can pursue it together.
Frequently we will revisit these personal missions and existential goals during difficult times in the treatment. After the patient shared their purpose, they now knew they weren't alone in the “foxhole," and their load would seem to lighten visibly. Frequently I would remind our team that going through a life threatening diagnosis and treatment was a potentially transformative opportunity. In life, nothing important generally happens when things are going smoothly. Our most significant growth periods occur during our greatest challenges and we caregivers need to be ready to catalyze this opportunity towards the best of all possible outcomes.
The cancer diagnosis can trigger:
Life style changes (better exercise and nutrition)
Initiate fixing emotional wounds in families
Reboot intellectual goals
Foster urgency towards spiritual inquiry and commitment
I would remind patients, the cancer tsunami wave is about to hit you, one can either let it swamp you, or you can get up on it, get a new vantage point, and have the ride of your life. When suffering has meaning and purpose, there is a hidden reservoir of strength and remarkable things can happen (Victor Frankel M.D. Man's Search For Meaning).
After completion of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or immumotherapy it is critical important espeically for hte first year to double down on good anticancer strategies. Remember the scans or blood test generally on pick up larger volume deposits of cancer and post treatment is the time to enable your immune stystem and lifestyle choice to finsih the job. commit to a year of disaplined work similar to waht is dicussed in the Big six. Generally after a year these lifestlye habits will be engrained and become permanent.