Youthful or experienced, fortunate or tragic, patient or caregiver, uncomplicated or implausible, concealed or observable; no matter which, these are the opposing and wide-spanning bookends that hold together the individual stories in my next book project in which I chronicle people’s emotional journeys with cancer. The events of these journeys vary widely from book subject to book subject, but there are a few similarities bounded by the different Cycle of Lives stories. The sameness is not because the people or their experiences are comparable – the stories I’ve chosen are very unique – but rather, because all of the stories explore the core of the human experience, and in doing so, reveal the truths that are in each of us. The people I am working with bring a full spectrum of experience, perspective, and insight to the process of exploring the emotional issues related to cancer, and as a result, touch on the connecting fibers that bind us all. One particularly recognizable thread is the one that seems to appear as a result of severe trauma: that strand leads to the question of meaning.
One particular book subject, like many of us, spent his life focused mostly on his next achievement, his next measurable attainment, and his next conquest. He didn’t care about meaningful connections to people, but rather, he sought professional connections that furthered his career and personal connections that fed his desire to prove his manhood. He was content to wade in a shallow pool. But the medals of his victories would come to shine like rusted pennies in an abandoned wishing well.
His first encounter with cancer did not traumatize him; nor did his second. His cancer was not common, and even being a board study, he did not stop to contemplate the reality of his situation. These bouts with cancer were only obstacles to overcome along the way. He was a world-class body builder and a successful businessman. He owned lots of blue ribbons and gold medals. He was strong and capable and unwavering in his ability to conquer and press forward; the cancer was only something he needed to deal with to get back on his path. Cancer’s emotional effects on him were inconsequential. Pursuit and obtainment were the goals, not meaning or understanding.
Things changed for him, though. And when they did, he found himself in the deep end, unable to swim – unable to even tread – and the world around him quickly began to blur away. Trauma in his personal life manifested once the realization that he could not father children became more important to his then wife than he was. Watching his father succumb to bladder cancer traumatized him in ways he was unprepared to deal with, especially since he had previously so fully denied cancer’s impact on his own life. So to, was being forced to answer the dentist’s pre-x-ray question about if he had been exposed to radiation. Answering honestly revealed a traumatizing truth to someone who had so easily rejected the reality of his own experiences.
There is much to this story and we will explore it all in a way that will help you or someone you know deal with the trauma of cancer. In this particular story, you will be inspired by how the book subject learns to swim, how he teaches others to do the same through his devotion to an organization that focuses on providing support and advocacy to young adults with cancer, how he has transformed himself and given purpose to his actions, and how he now enjoys seeing the gold coins of emotion floating by as he deftly navigates the deeper waters of a more meaningful and fulfilled life.