#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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I’m single…no dates please.

I have been single for well over three years now.  As much as it has been a good chapter of self-discovery and an opportunity to recuperate from the damage of my divorce and the ongoing draining battle for access to my girls, there have been many times when I’ve craved intimacy, companionship and togetherness.  Particularly since cancer came uninvited into my life.

At times I have loved the freedom and have revelled in my own space, I’ve been selfish with the time spent with my girls, and have even been accused of being reclusive – a title I cannot avoid owning.

But fighting for survival over the past two years completely on my own has been brutal in so many ways, and looking back now I realise just how much I desperately needed that special person over that period. It has left its own deep scars.

The harsh reality though, is that I was not in any shape to be in a relationship. For a lot of that time I was still clinging to a past relationship. Convinced that somehow, she would be back, the woman I still adored and longed to share my life with. That she couldn’t be the person I needed her to be especially after contracting cancer hurt in ways that are hard to describe.

However, it had been a toxic and emotionally abusive relationship, and perhaps you can relate, those are by far the hardest to let go of and close the door on. Regardless of the fact that intellectually you are well aware that it’s the healthy and wise choice.

Her ongoing rejection particularly in the light of a terminal prognosis left me questioning the belief that I could actually be loved as I am.

The timing could unfortunately not have been worse. Cancer robbed me of so much confidence, it rocked me to my core and stripped away much of my self-worth, it seized all of my energy, and at times plunged me into deep consuming depression.

Childhood traumas played themselves out in this narrative too, deep seated fears about being loved, accepted, and understood. I worked extremely hard to peel back the layers and expose those fears, to deal with them and heal. It’s a long and painful process, notwithstanding the additional trauma of trying to survive brain cancer.

A couple of truly remarkable women entered my life over that time, but I was hamstrung by my own self-destructive insecurities, the deep relationship hurt and damage I had yet to heal from, and the effects of the cancer combined with its debilitating treatment.

I was no good to anyone, and if anything, I was more likely to hurt somebody else.

And so, I retracted, closing myself off every time anybody got close. It hurt though, because I wished it could be different. It made me feel that I was incapable of finding love and that special person.  I tried to be as vulnerable, authentic and honest as I could be, attempting to protect both myself and anybody who got close.

 

It’s nigh impossible to truly give when you’re protecting yourself at the same time.  The outcome is also almost always going to leave you a little more broken than before.

 

A number of months back I finally managed to free myself emotionally from the past, and felt for the first time in ages a beautiful sense of new energy. Letting go of something that had plagued me and negatively consumed so much of my emotional and mental energy was a tangible release.

The fact that I still had a Glioblastoma in my brain remained a worry. How could a woman reconcile a massive health risk and a damaged man with the risk of love?

I didn’t, and still don’t ever want to be somebodies rescue project. I don’t want pity, and I certainly don’t want somebody to attempt to heal me.

Yet I now find myself trapped. I am cancer free and I don’t subscribe to the supposedly high chance of it returning. Intellectually I finally think I might be ready, I comprehend all of the dynamics, and I have evolved enough to understand the pathology of my previous choice of partners. I have owned my substantial part in the demise of each long-term relationship. I have grown a massive amount.

But the more I consider not being single, the more I realise that the damage from my battle with cancer runs far deeper than I ever thought.  Emotionally and spiritually I am still in tatters. I feel like a negative drain on those close to me, and am extremely intense. Light and carefree are concepts that have become foreign, and I have less internal confidence than ever before. I have retracted in certain ways that lead me to feel that I can never come back.

I feel as though I am living in a vacuum in certain aspects of my life. I cannot be the person I was before the cancer, and yet I do not know who I am now. How is it then possible to give of myself to another person…what am I giving? Who am I giving?

A fresh journey of self-rediscovery should be one taken alone I’m sure.  But the uncertainty of self leaves me feeling so terribly vulnerable and exposed. Hyper sensitive to how people perceive the post cancer Richard. Questioning whether people can see how fragile I am, in so many facets a shadow of what I was before.

I cannot pretend to be anything I am not. Cancer has taught me that there is little point in any pretence. The façade is so easily stripped away, and the world as you knew it turned irrevocably upside-down, revealing true character.

Yet that character is sometimes foreign. It will be a while before I regain confidence in who I am, I’m learning a new language of self.

I survived cancer once, only to have another cancer return, and having survived again its practically impossible to live without a fear of the future. I try to live my life in the present, living each day as if it could be my last with an intimate knowledge of what the value of life is. My greatest concern is for my girls, and therefore they get every bit of energy and commitment I can give.

Happiness is a state of mind, and not a destination nor possession … I know what makes me truly happy.

I have learned that my responsibility is not to make someone else happy, we each own that responsibility for ourselves, But I don’t want to disappoint someone else, and I know that right now I am going to disappoint a prospective partner over and over again.  I’m just not ready.

My eldest daughter Mackinnon spent some time over the December holidays compiling an interview questionnaire for prospective dates for her dad. And this fun and innocent endeavour actually forced me to confront my current reality, hence this blog.

I don’t believe that I am good for anyone, nor do I have what it takes to make somebody feel loved and wanted. I am insecure and broken, and unable to truly give. I am defensive, and have so many walls.  I am just not relationship material right now…no matter how much I crave that special person.

And that’s ok. It has to be ok. And besides, I have two loves of my life I am lucky enough to share my world with.

I know that I need to heal myself, I need time, I need to figure out how to love myself, with all the damage, with all the brokenness. How to accept who I have become, to be gentle with me. Until that time I will continue to fall into the trap of protective insecurity, and I will land up hurting somebody else.

I know what that feels like as it happened to me, and nobody deserves that.

There is a part of me that feels that I might need to be single for a very long time yet.  Maybe that’s just what my journey is, and maybe I will never again find that love. I don’t know, but for now I’ve removed ‘single’ from my status, and I’m not open to dating.

And that’s a good thing.