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Abundant Living with Cancer

Abundant Thinking with Cancer

Introduction

I thought I was doing everything the ‘right way’, as far as my health was concerned. I would soon learn that there are some things beyond our practices of clean and healthy living.

Abundant Thinking with Cancer

Something is Wrong

The PSA test I had taken annually had been at the same level of 4.0 forever. Not 4.1 or 3.9, but 4.0. So, when the test result came back at 8.0, my doctor was concerned. My levels had always been very consistent. So, he referred me to a urologist.

The urologist looked over my chart and thought that the situation was most likely an inflamed prostate and prescribed a 30-day course of antibiotics. After the 30-day course, my PSA was now at 12.9. Which is clearly going in the wrong direction. Houston, something is really wrong!

The urologist was a very nice person. He performed the biopsy, and to say that it was not pleasurable would be an understatement. However, the results were negative.

My next PSA was worse yet. Somethings not right here. The urologist ordered an MRI. I wrote about my experience with the MRI in An MRI/Mindfulness Experience. The MRI revealed a few suspected spots to investigate further via a second biopsy.

Upon returning to the urologist’s office, he conducted a second biopsy. By this time, I had done some additional research that indicated that men of African descent have a different location and a more intense version of Prostate cancer. For men of African descent, prostate cancer occurs in the opposite hemisphere of the prostate from men of European descent. 

Expecting the Worst

Leaving the office of the urologist, my mind processed the range of possibilities. I’d already had two biopsies. Surely this one would be positive. But, how positive. Would there be Gleason 2’s with some 3’s or would it be worse Gleason 4’s or 5’s. 

Later that day, I received a notice on my phone that my medical chart had been updated. Not being a physician, it took a bit of googling and cross-checking to understand the inevitable. I had cancer. But how much and where?

Returning to the doctor’s office, I would find that this time the results were positive and not in a good way. The samples revealed that there was cancer. In fact, 80 of the samples were cancerous, with most of them at Gleason 5’s and a few at Gleason 4’s. The doctor gave me a few handouts and booklets to read and wrote a referral to a surgeon.

I walked to the car, stunned, and could barely remember where my car was. When I got there, I broke down in tears. I told myself that I would let the floodgates go for a couple of minutes and then that would be the end of me feeling sorry for myself. 

Sharing the News

Telling my wife was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. She was actually pulling out of the driveway as I approached the house. However, she did a U-turn and came back to hear the news. I told her what I knew, and there were more tears.

Telling the kids, my dad, and the people at work was next on the agenda. I had to figure out an order that made sense and wrote the order down on a piece of paper and crossed them off as I went. Still more tears.

Accepting Reality

Learning to deal with the truth is not easy, especially when it is a hard truth. After a few days of fuzzy thinking, I had my first session with a therapist. I had noticed that I was getting more and more irritable and short and figured I’d better talk to someone, or I might say or do something I regret.

I was blessed to find a Christian counselor who was 6 months removed from having had surgery for his prostate. That is where I learned about radical acceptance. He explained the concept to me, and I promptly downloaded Tara Brach’s book and listened to it on my morning walks.  You can learn more about this wonderful tool in Radical Acceptance – What is It?

Thinking Abundantly with Cancer - 2

Stabilizing Life

So, where is the abundance in all of this dire news? Where is the positivity in life-threatening disease? For me, it came from vowing to stay positive. From vowing to learn something that I might be able to teach others. From viewing my situation as a season that I’m going through that might help others. So, if you are reading this, know that “You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” (Winnie the Pooh)

I have an active prayer life, but now prayer would take on a new dimension. It would become more real. More visceral. More urgent. Moments of meditation during my prayer practice would become more intense and meaningful. More abundant.

I began to recognize the obvious and prioritize my activities a little differently. I decided to establish a better morning routine. After listening to The Miracle Morning, I was inspired. I had heard about the book and was not disappointed by his story.

I began implementing aspects of his system immediately. I then listened to the book a second time and designed my own system using guidance from the book. Read more about this tool in My Miracle Morning Routine

Enjoying Each Day

With these lynchpin practices in place, I had a new perspective on life. One that recognized again the importance of abundance. The concept of abundance was one that I had been exposed to while researching best practices in schools over a decade ago.

I had loosely incorporated the concept into my view of working with organizations and working with people. Now, I would incorporate it while working with myself.

Staying focused has been a gift to me. I can become almost too focused and have become selective about what kinds of activities I get involved in because of that ‘gift’. With my new perspective, I found out how much I truly valued the ability to focus. 

Making a Plan

One of the great lessons I learned from my therapist is that worrying is work. It is not planning. It is not productive at all. Somehow our minds convince us that we are doing something productive by worrying. We are not. So, I was introduced to something called the Worry Tree. Google it. It is a great tool to help you separate what you can do something about and what you should just let go of. Read more about this approach in 6 Strategies to Keep a Positive Mindset.

For me, It allowed me to clear away the fuzzy thinking and all but eliminate the worrying. I could focus on what I could and actually should be doing something about. That was liberating and empowering. I was now on the offensive!

Another gift of my new perspective was to realize that I was, and sometimes I am still guilty of planning for busyness and not planning for accomplishment. This is just as counterproductive as worrying. I am still working on it, but my eyes have been opened to planning for outcomes (what will move the needle) versus planning for busyness (what other people tell me I should be doing).

It was never intentional, but somehow I had allowed myself to plan activities that kept me busy, which was a distraction from thinking about cancer. Now, I was free and further empowered to think differently.

By the same token, I’ve learned to be more graceful with outcomes. Things will turn out or they won’t. Trying to make things turn out perfect is a fool’s errand. Since I am a recovering perfectionist, I recognize this tendency and work to avoid it. However, I have expectations that I need to adjust.

Even though my outlook is positive, my physical abilities are just not what they were as recently as six months ago. So, I’ve had to learn to be gentle and graceful with myself when I don’t meet my self-imposed outcomes. If this is something you find yourself dealing with, check out my review of Four Thousand Weeks.

Receiving Support

The most striking aspect of this new abundance is the support I’ve received from the most unlikely people. Since I have been fairly open about my situation, I’ve received flowers from my neighbors (twice). I’ve also received wonderful gifts from my children that I will cherish forever. 

I’ve also received support from work associates who have gone out of their way to track down my home address and send me cards and even prayer cloth with a cross knitted into it. These were unanticipated gifts that, even now, are just a few feet from me.

The Gift of Finality

Now I’m not dying yet. However, when faced with serious illness, you can clearer prioritize what is important, what things you want to focus on, and why you want to live life a certain way.

You start to realize that there will be a final day and that you are closer to your final days than your starting days. And that’s OK. If you are a person of faith, you are blessed with the opportunity to exercise that faith. The opportunity to dig in and appreciate the value of having a faith life and to lean into your faith.

Conclusion

This story is far from over. In fact, it is really just beginning in some ways. It is a gift to have crystal clarity over what is important and what is not.

Choose to live abundantly in all aspects of your life. You never know what new challenges are just around the corner.

Let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. Peace.

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