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  • Writer's pictureBrad Thiessen

5 Things Cancer Makes Us Accept

Cancer makes us accept a lot of things we'd

rather put aside. Photo by Michelle Leman

I think one of the hardest things about cancer is feeling like you’re at its mercy and there’s nothing you can do. There’s so much you have to just accept, whether you like it or not.


When that happens, it can feel unfair. You might ask, “Why is this happening to me?” or “What have I done to deserve this?” If you believe in God you might ask, “Why is God letting this happen to me?”


If you want to be resilient, to me the absolute one place you have to start is acceptance. And I think this can begin from the moment we're first diagnosed.


So what do we have to accept, exactly?



Well first off, we have to accept that it's happened. We got cancer. And things are never going to be the same. Saying it’s no big deal, or pretending it’s just going to go away, isn’t going to help. 


For the first 6 months or so of my first cancer treatment, I never said I had cancer. I used the word tumor. The day I finally recognized the thing I had was, yes, cancer, and let that word into my life was pretty dramatic and almost as hard to swallow as the first chemo pill.



And once treatment's over, we need to accept that cancer is still in our lives, and cancer will probably always be in our lives. For a lot of us, this can be a big one, especially since we don’t see it coming.


If we’ve been given a clean bill of health, we thought everything was going to go back to normal, and that would have the strength to move on quickly.


If we are given and open return date, we have to figure out how to live in that in-between state, life on one side and death reaching out on the other.


If we’re given a hard end date, we need to figure how to somehow make meaning out of the time we have left.


A couple of months after the end of my first cancer treatment, I came to the realization that I wasn’t just sad – I was stuck. Immobilized. Maybe clinically depressed. I went to see a therapist. It was just for a single visit, but just recognizing the problem and doing something about it seem to turn things around enough for me to keep going. Truthfully, it probably wouldn’t have hurt for me to go a while longer.



We need to accept that this burden we're going to carry the rest of our life isn't unfair. The sad truth of it is that everyone gets hit by hard stuff of one kind or another. No one gets a free pass. It's just part of being alive on this planet. Our life’s burden just happens to be cancer.


I think this is a tough one for us in the Western world to accept, where we’re conditioned to think that good things happen to good people and bad people get what they deserve and I got where I am today through my own grit and determination and hard work. Cancer strips down that belief and shows us just how empty – and damaging – it can be.



I think as time goes on, if the effects of the disease and treatment keep piling up, we also need to accept the likelihood that we're going to have more loss, more things we have to give up. 


In my case, I have some pretty major challenges in terms of mental energy and memory and problem-solving abilities from all the brain injuries. They make it hard to work more than a few hours a day.



But that's just the starting point. As we accept these difficult things that we can't change, we need to pick them up and put them to the side and say "okay, and..." "Okay, maybe that's the case, maybe all these things are true and I can't change them. And life is still beautiful. I can keep moving forward and doing meaningful things." 


If we don't accept those things, we can't put them out of our way. And they're going to push us sideways every time we want to move forward. 


Marsha Linehan created DBT, a therapy model that works well for facing life after treatment, even if you aren’t having mental health issues. She talks about radical acceptance, which boils down to embracing the reality of the tough situations of our lives. She says,


“Acceptance may lead to sadness, but deep calmness usually follows.”

– Marsha Linehan


Viktor Frankl  was a psychotherapist who was sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. He observed afterward that the people who survived all had one thing in common. They had a sense of meaning and purpose in their lives and a reason to get through. Here's what he said:


“Everything can be taken from a (person) but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstance, to choose one’s own way.”

- Viktor Frankl


We have the power to look at our situation apart from ourselves and deal with it. We have the inner strength to rise above the difficulty of our life situation and make something good and beautiful with this moment. And it all starts with acceptance. 


So what are the things you have to accept daily, the things that keep you from moving forward and building a new and meaning-filled life? And what’s one change to your way of looking at things that can get you one step forward?

*To learn more about Viktor Frankl and his ideas, watch the video Man's Search for Meaning By Viktor Frankl: Animated Summary.


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