#fuckcancer Friday. Don’t pity me!

Today is #fuckcancer Friday. Why, because I choose it to be, and because your fucks given to my cancer are largely misguided. We need to chat about that. Also, I am writing about how I feel about you pitying me and feeling sorry for me.

I have cancer. The first time it entered uninvited there was a massive swell of support along with offers of food, companionship, lifts, and even my boss offering to come and sleep in my house if needed. Everybody responded by saying ‘#fuckcancer’.  I did too.

I’d have stood on the rooftops yelling it if I could. I was angry and hated cancer. I said it with a vicious undertone. But it undermined my own fight to give cancer that power. I let myself feel death by cancer for far too long. I did not like that.

The weight we give cancer is dangerously high. Immediate responses are dramatic, and it is an automatically assumed death sentence. Because it is cancer…for that reason alone.

Even if that were true – in some cases it is – placing such a heavy emphasis on the actual word ‘cancer’ is perilous. It does absolutely nothing to help the hapless victim.

The second time cancer appeared the offers were fewer and the response muted. I totally get that. And the third…well the third was virtually a non-event. The way that it should be. Besides, how do you respond? All your responses are used up. Disbelief would be appropriate, but yet it isn’t…

Scroll up to the cancer is a death sentence part.

Death is expected, it is just a matter of how long. Doctors speak of remission as if it’s the interval in a Machiavellian play. It isn’t gone, keep an eye over your shoulder please.

Save your fucks for cancer. In fact, if you feel so strongly about it, and the suffering of those close to you who have it, actually DO something about it in your own life first.

Sort yourself out. Find out if your family has dodgy genes, and if you might be predisposed. Stop smoking, stop eating crap, start exercising, lose weight, leave your stress filled job, see a therapist and confront your demons, turn off your TV, get tested regularly, and above all… start living your own life! I can promise you that your life ends. Pretty soon. Between then and now, is a very precious time.

That…is giving one of your precious fucks to something worth giving it to.

Don’t get me wrong, the love, support, compassion, and beautiful sense of community that I am incredibly grateful to receive is an inspiring and uplifting energy. I value it immensely.

What isn’t uplifting, is the pity. Being seen as a victim of cancer, and worse, being treated as one.  That’s giving a fuck to something that doesn’t deserve it. Give a fuck for the person and their psychological demeanour, not the disease.

It is hard enough as a cancer victim to get to the point where I am no longer a victim although I still have cancer. That’s an empowering and essential moment, and it costs continuous energy to stay in that state. Every day. Conscious thought is vital and necessary to achieve that state. Controlling my thoughts and allowing only those thoughts into my brain that serve my purpose.

As you well know, it’s often easier said than done.

It’s a place where cancer doesn’t steal any of my fucks nor wrench them out of my grasp. They are saved for living my life, squeezing every bit of happiness out of every day. Believe it or not, that is an amazing gift that cancer brings with it if you’ll let it.

When others take pity on me and feel sorry for me it does two things; it either frustrates me and angers me whilst making me feel misunderstood in my intentions to share my journey, or it allows me to re-enter that world of self-pity – the one I have to work so hard at controlling.

I don’t hate cancer, I might hate what it has done to my body, but I love and value what it has done to my mind. Because of cancer I have learned about so much that healthy people just don’t give a damn about. I have made a study of people struggling to stay alive. What it means to be a survivor, and that doesn’t necessarily mean surviving!

I have learnt what it means to live.

Cancer will show you what you’re made of. It will change you and it will strip away anything that isn’t truly authentic.

I have the Latin words tattooed on my right shoulder, ‘Amor Fati’ which translated means ‘love your fate, or embrace your fate.’

Nietzsche played extensively with the concept that your fate is in fact your life, and to fight against it is defeatist. When we can accept and embrace all that is in fact our lives, we free ourselves up to start living. You need to pick and choose what actually matters to you, it’s a skill worth learning.

Like any skill, it’s one that needs to be practised and honed.

I spent far too much time giving too many fucks for my own cancer, to the point that it owned me and became my identity. I allowed that. It was debilitating.  Others allowed it too. I cannot blame them though. I have now learnt to avoid those whose energy doesn’t serve my survival.

Currently what matters instead is what I do with my time, and as much as some of that time is taken up by doing everything possible and necessary to overcoming the cancer, the remaining time is an exponentially greater amount of time, and far more important!

I have to live with not knowing what will happen, which makes me just like you…I am ok with that.

How are you living your life?

I have spent much of my life fighting, fighting the thoughts in my head and the feelings I have about myself, fighting in one way or another to overcome the stuff that limits me. I’ve lived an unconventional life, often on my own terms, and have challenged the status quo although not nearly as much as I’d have liked. I still have time to change that, and I am.

I’m up for the fight. I’m at ease with the discomfort.

I share so much of my journey and life not because I want nor need you to feel sorry for me, on the contrary. I share because I have learned so much, I understand so much better how our minds work and how powerful they are. How most of us live our lives as if our time on this planet is infinite. How we give so much of our precious time and energy to stuff that is inconsequential meaningless crap!

We give a fuck about all the wrong things.

I share as vulnerably and as authentically as I can. If I can just jolt your thinking for a second, offer you a different way to see your life and understand that your everyday struggles are very similar to those of somebody struggling to beat cancer in the mental and neurological way, I can perhaps enable you to make some adjustments. All of us desire change in our own lives, yet rarely make changes. A change in thinking is the best place to start.

I share the victories I experience as an example of your ability to achieve anything you put your mind to, provided that it aligns with your own sense of purpose. I share some dark days too, because it’s real. I have huge challenges, like you, but they don’t have to define me, or you.

I want to challenge your thinking, and help you to understand that you are never a victim, unless you choose to be.

Adversity is not an injustice, people can be assholes, nothing is personal, there is no betrayal of some secret life happiness contract, the universe isn’t messing with your karma, and no god owes you anything – not even when you play by his or her man-made rules. Those are all the lies that we tell ourselves to validate the shitty crap that happens to us.

That is THE most dangerous, disingenuous and disempowering thought you can allow.

The shitty crap, is all just opportunity. It’s fate and life and mess and ugliness. You cannot control any of it, but you certainly can control what you do with it. Stop giving adversity more energy than it deserves. Stop thinking that you are not the sum total of all human traits – those that we consider good, and those we deem to be bad.

We are conditioned to think that adversity is bad and that certain traits are bad. They aren’t. It’s what you do with them that determines that.

Life is so incredibly beautiful…ONLY…because it is so exceedingly hard. Nobody ever said it would be easy, yet we are so shocked when it isn’t. Wanting a life of comfort, ease and indifference isn’t living at all. There is little beauty in that.

Trying to make life as easy as possible for our kids isn’t helping them either.

It is ok for things to totally suck sometimes.

You have a choice about how you see everything that happens to you. You cannot choose your feelings, but you can choose your attitude.

Attitude is the greatest weapon against cancer. No medicine, specialist nor operation can cure somebody who has decided that they are going to die. No matter if they live, they have already died. There was no cure.

I might die from cancer, I really don’t know. Nobody does. But I have a far greater chance of dying from something else. Just after I went into remission the first time, I was held up in my home for several hours by armed robbers. I felt like I was going to die that night. What an irony.

Every time I cross a street, climb onto my bicycle, drive my car, or just fall asleep, there is a chance I might die.

I can live as if I am dying, or I can live as a survivor of everything I have ever faced, knowing that I could die at any time, but determined to live every day in search of every single happy feeling I can find. Giving a fuck about my happiness because it is in me and I am the only one responsible for it.

I say #fuckcancer because I actually don’t give a fuck about cancer. It’s a flippant ‘who cares’, I won’t give it more energy than it deserves. It’s a fuck you, you have no hold over me. No matter what happens.

If cancer takes my life, it will not take my spirit. The essence of me. It doesn’t have that power unless I give it away.

Say #fuckcancer in support of those who have it, because its your personal expression and way of showing support for the survival of the person because you understand that cancer cannot own them, and your job is to help them to see that. Your job is to help them in every way possible to turn trauma into power.

But in so doing have cognisance for the fact that you have some degree of control of your own cancer destiny, and give a fuck about that too.

Understand too, that there are many who have not survived, many who had the most incredible tenacity and the best attitudes, who were never victims in their own minds, but yet cancer won the physical struggle. Pity plays no part there either. Admire the struggle and resolve. Recognise and respect the formidable courage and strength. Trust me when I say that cancer never ever stole that, not even at the end. The power of the human spirit was never defeated. Honour that.

That is victory in itself.

That is everything. And that is why it is so vitally important to consciously choose NOT to be a victim!

So please, stop taking pity on people with cancer. It doesn’t help them, especially if they are feeling sorry for themselves. Try not to feed their self-pity.

It is impossible not to have days like that, impossible to avoid depression.  Be strong for them. Be positive for them. Stop excluding them from the circle of ‘everybody without cancer’, because being stuck in the circle of ‘everybody with cancer’ is not cool… I know.

Please stop freely quoting passages and scriptures on their social media pages like they are dying and are receiving a visit from a pastor, sage, lama, shamarpa or any other religious leader. Regardless of what you believe, it isn’t about you nor what you believe. Harsh as that may sound.

It is of no help, unless requested.

Stop the sorrowful memes delivered with the long face, those intended to uplift, but which only sink the mood.

Those platitudes make the giver feel better, not the receiver.

And please…please…don’t take what I have written as a personal affront, it’s not!

Its an opportunity to become what those with cancer truly need.

Everybody responds to cancer differently, we are all unique. Here is my list from my own experience.

  • Allow for sadness when you’re actually present with the person, not on social media.
  • Laugh together. Find positive things to share.
  • Be strong for them.
  • Don’t talk about cancer as if is a death sentence.
  • Do not Google their cancer. Not only will you freak yourself out, you’ll freak them out too.
  • Ask what the person needs or wants. They will tell you. Then respect that.
  • If you don’t know the person well enough to know what their religion or philosophy is, don’t share yours. And never assume.
  • Process your own feelings beforehand.
  • Treat them the same.
  • Do not give cancer a power is doesn’t deserve
  • Do NOT feel the need to tell them about the aunt, friend, colleague, sibling who also has cancer, or the ones that survived or didn’t.
  • Ask if you can recommend a new/old/different/unique treatment or therapy before recommending it. Don’t give unsolicited advice nor help. Ask if the help is wanted or needed first.
  • It’s ok to be honest and say that you don’t know what to say. That is better than just saying something.
  • ‘I’m thinking of you’, or ‘I feel for you’, are just perfect things to say. Along with ‘Hey I’m here’
  • Your job is to contribute positively. Sometimes that’s hard. If you feel that you can’t that’s completely ok too. But then don’t respond at all.
  • Just as there are groups that help those with cancer, there are also groups to assist those who are supporting those with cancer. It’s a great idea.

(I am super keen to speak to groups on this topic or any other relating to overcoming cancer. Please feel free to mail me at richard@richardwright.co.za)

Lastly, do yourself a favour and read Mark Manson’s ‘The subtle art of not giving a fuck’.  As you can probably tell, it resonated with me years ago when I read it, it is a must read.

If the language offends you, perhaps you need to read it even more, there are more important things to give a fuck about 😉

Start living!

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The deadly pre-dawn attack

I woke in a sweat, not sure why. Peering blurrily through one eye I checked the time on my phone, 02:34. As I rolled over, hoping to quickly fall asleep again, I heard the intruder.

The high pitched whine could mean only one thing, I was under attack by the world’s most deadly predator.

I pulled the duvet up over my body until only my head remained exposed to the danger. Lying motionless on my side, my breathing slowed and I listened intently.  A bead of sweat ran from my armpit and over my chest as I waited for the impending assault – nervousness, or the heat of duvet in the muggy Joburg night, I wasn’t sure which.

I was well aware that the intruder that had dared to encroach the sanctity of my bedroom is responsible for over 725 000 human deaths every year, Bill Gates said so.  A massive 724 990 deaths more than the monstrous great white shark. They kill more people in four minutes than sharks kill in a year.

Had four minutes gone by?
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The whine grew louder as the creature flew stealthily closer and closer towards the side of my face. Diving in for an exploratory foray of my naked, juicy, blood filled flesh.

The noise from the female beast stopped. A dreadful silence. I felt a feather light touch on my cheek.

With lightning speed my hand whipped out from under the duvet, delivering a blinding slap to my face. I ignored the stinging pain and a twitching eye as I slid my hand over my cheek, desperately hoping to feel a tiny flattened body and an accompanying slimy trail of blood.

An end to the dramatic encounter.

But alas, I felt nothing.

By now I was wide awake, all my senses fully alert, a finely tuned 46 year old insect killer with a throbbing face. Blood coursing through my body, the blood she was after.

I knew that it was only a matter of time before the merciless predator regrouped for another violent attack.

But I wasn’t prepared for what I heard next. Craning my head away from the pillow to make quite sure, I clearly heard two whining sounds. The little monster had called for backup. Women always stick together.

Abandoning all thought of sleep I realised that I was going to have to take the attack to the enemy.

I switched on the bedside light, and reached for my thick, black rimmed glasses, I was prepared to fight one mosquito whilst half blind, but not two.

20161107_164955_1Standing on the bed I reached for my weapon; a polyester, hollow fiber blend pillow.

Gripping the pillow with both hands I stood poised for action in my watermelon sleep shorts.

By now I stood alone, deserted by my cowardly cats. The same cats who had engaged in a ‘sharp claw on aging skin’ contest for duvet supremacy earlier that night. They had won, as usual.

But now they had slunk off into a dark corner of the bedroom, meowing with fear or laughter, I’m not certain which.

As the tiny but deadly predators circled I watched, my eyes attuned to the slightest movement,waiting for one of them to land on a surface. Any surface would do. Except the bedside lamp. Previous battle disasters had taught me that.

Two whines became one. I searched the walls, the cornices, and finally saw nature’s most deadly animal self-confidently poised for attack, upside-down on the ceiling.

Without hesitation I swung the pillow with all the speed and force I could muster. Only to watch as the ensuing wind from my seemingly deadly blow brushed the cunning insect away.

Minutes passed. Silence. And then a more distant drone. Silence again.

The prick to my calf came without warning.mosquito

I whirled around, slapping simultaneously at my leg, one silky smooth, beautiful human movement. I was convinced I had been successful.  Practically celebrating.

As the blood oozed out of my leg at approximately one litre per 236 days, I searched the duvet frantically for a corpse.  I couldn’t find one.

Failure is not my middle name.

It was time to step up the intensity of my attack. I strode purposely down the dark passage to the kitchen, groping in the dark for the light switch.

As my toes felt beneath them a cold, soft object on the floor, I jumped sideways, letting out an inadvertent shout as my spine shuddered.

Curse the damn cats!

A dead, tail-less, lizard-gift lay on the tiles. Thoughtfully left there by either Bart or Bella for me to find as proof of their hunting prowess.  Suffering severe sense of humour failure, and growling through gritted teeth I marched back to the bedroom battle scene, armed with weapons of mass insect destruction to end my own hunt.

I was no longer to be trifled with.

I laid out my arsenal of vastly superior firepower on the bedside table.

Then I plugged the Raid insect repellent into the socket beside my bed. Sprayed every millimetre of my exposed skin with Peaceful Sleep, and standing on the bed again, I covered the room in a thick cloud of Doom.

No matter the wheezing chest, burning eyes, and prevailing stench, I felt deeply satisfied albeit slightly poisoned.

This was not my time. I was no longer under threat to become a statistic, number 725 001.

I had waged a bedroom war against the planet’s most deadly predator. Not one, but two…and had emerged victorious.

03:12 and all is well.

Well not for the 52.4 people that had died somewhere on the planet in those 38 minutes.

Death to mosquitoes.