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  • Writer's pictureBrad Thiessen

Want to Really Live? Embrace The Suffering.

If we let fear and pessimism control us, cancer has won.

In the short film The Pleasure and the Pain, we meet Errol “the Rocket” Jones, a 65-year-old ultra runner trying to live with the reality of aging. He’s run thousands of miles over his lifetime but  hasn’t been able to complete a hundred-mile ultra race in over three years. He’s watching the thing he loves most slip away before his eyes.


He says:


(I) truly can’t imagine a time in life when (I’m) not running but (I) know that that time is coming. I’m just going to have to embrace the suffering.


And why, exactly, does he love running these life-draining distances? He answers it this way:


The pleasure, the real joy comes when even if you’re the last person but you crossed the line and you’ve met your demons out there on the trail, because you’ve overcome them.


When I hear Errol talk—sure, I think of my trail running, and wonder whether I’ll ever be able to run another ultramarathon. More than that, I think about celebrating life in the face of its inevitable end.


How often is cancer cured? What are the chances of recurrence?


When I think of going through operations and treatment again (although I probably wouldn’t do chemo – but that’s another story)—I don’t know if I can speak honestly of embracing the suffering.


I’ve been bit by dogs on runs a couple of times over the past decade. After the first time, I carried pepper spray for a while. But I didn’t like happened when I carried the spray. I thought the whole way throughout the run about how I would spray a dog if I was attacked.

After a few weeks, I left the pepper spray at home.


How do I go back to one of my favorite running spots knowing I might encounter that dog and its owners again?


Which ties back to that question: How do I live joyfully, knowing the cancer will almost certainly return?


After I came out of treatment the last time, I decided I needed to live in the moment and not plan any further than the near future. At the beginning, I decided I would that time frame would be no farther than six months out.


Then it turned into not planning more than a year out.


Now, eight years after that third cancer and three years after a near-death experience, I’ve come to a decision.


I need to acknowledge, and even expect, that at some point, out of nowhere, a metaphorical dog will appear on the trail and bite me – whether that’s cancer, or some other disease, or a trauma to a loved-one.


There’s not a damn thing I can do about it


Actually, there is, at least to some degree. I can lower the odds of bad things happening if I stay off trails and avoid places where those metaphorical dogs and inconsiderate owners frequent—in which case I may as well stop running altogether. In other words, hide from life.


That’s not an option, because that would feel like death.


Instead, I need to embrace the fact that it will happen. Just like aggressive dogs, the cancer may return. But if I live in fear, it’s not real living.


So I need to plan that the cancer won’t return. Whether it will or it won’t doesn’t really matter. Saying it won’t return will let me live well for as long as I’m alive.


Pain happens. Loss happens. But as Errol “The Rocket” Jones says,


There’s a saying about pleasure being the child of pain and so that’s what you get when you come out here and you take the kick in the teeth. The pleasure comes in having overcome that.


If I let fear and pessimism control me, cancer has won. If I do that, part of me—the part that really matters—dies a little more each day.


And I’ve worked through too much, and pushed too hard, to let that happen.

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