Eleven years as a survivor, eleven lessons learned

Eleven years ago today, I started my life as a cancer survivor. My official diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia would come in a few days. The diagnosis brought huge challenges and triumphs and embedded within those experiences were some of the most important lessons I have ever learned. Here they are.

11. “Life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while you could miss it.” — Ferris Bueller

Steve Webster, a young adult survivor buddy of mine, stated the following at the 2009 Survivor Conference: “When you are just beginning your life and you are forced to face the end of your life it affects your whole life.” Having faced the potential end of my life it now helps me stop and look.

10. The system serves itself. if you get in the way, bonus.

The combination of my small business upbringing, my customer-service mindset, my own impatience, and type A personality lead to many and a variety of conflicts with the healthcare system. Putting my personal faults aside, I have come to learn that far too many processes and systems within the healthcare system are created with the system in mind with little or mostly no consultation or input from the patient’s perspective.

At this point in my life I fully believe the sole reason for this lack of patient focus is the fact that I can’t walk across the street to hospital X and have my blood taken.  Without taking on a “privatization of healthcare” debate, I will say that competition most often results in better service for the customer, or in this case, the patient.

9. Support is HUGE.

Family and friends make a huge difference when facing challenge in life. Their support is a major reason I’m still here.

8. 1-ply toilet paper is no way to save cash. Bring your own!

What do you get when you have a 38-day stay in hospital, that starts with seven days of chemo flowing 24 hours a day, and an unlimited supply of one-ply toilet paper? You do the math.

7. Bald is beautiful.

It is both beautiful and more hygienic. And I’m not just saying that ’cause I am bald.

6.  Peers make a difference.

Hanging with others who “get it” is healing, powerful, and life-changing.

5. Cinderella said it best (the band, not the princess) “don’t know what you got, ’til it’s gone.”

My experience has shown me that some things are hard to fully appreciate until you return to them after an extended and forced absence. Hockey was like that for me: something I always loved but didn’t fully understand until I couldn’t and didn’t play for seven years.

4. Stop to smell the diapers.

Roses are one thing but when you can appreciate the blessing of changing a dirty rotten stinkin’ diaper, then you have found a value perspective on life. Hold it forever.

3. Whoever said “he who dies with the most toys wins” was an idiot.

I recognize the humour but feel for those who live this philosophy, if you can call it that. It’s not about stuff, in fact the stuff is mostly meaningless, what matters is the experiences you have while you are here. When you are preparing to go to the other side they will matter, most everything else won’t.

2. You can make a difference.

I never liked the terms “winning” and “losing” when it came to cancer. For me, it was always about using whatever time I have left to make a positive impact on another person’s life. I’m confident my connection to that purpose is a major reason why I’m still here.

1. Hope will change your life.

There have been times of great hope and times of no hope, times when I could give it and times when I needed it, times when I could feel it and times when I couldn’t.  Having lived with and without hope I can say when present it will change your life. It has changed mine.

Always..
Live life. Love life.

Geoff

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