Finding meaning

When you face a major challenge like cancer it is pretty natural to ask the “why me” question. I know I asked it for a long time, and at some level I’m still asking.

“Why me?”

I looked at the question from two main perspectives that were pretty much solely dependent on my mood that day. From one side I asked the question out of frustration because I was unable to do a lot of the things I used to do, like play hockey and soccer, shoot some ball with my brother, or even just be social and hang out with friends. My treatments for leukemia involved lots of chemotherapy and that really beat me down, both physically and also obviously killed my immune-system. While I was in hospital I was often sick and always pretty disconnected from the world and when I got out of hospital I did what I could but my activity was still significantly reduced as I tried to rebuild a little before going back in for more chemo just to get beaten down again. It seemed like a vicious cycle, but it wasn’t that vicious and it did end!

That was a major adjustment for me, reducing my activity level and disconnecting myself from my social circle. And it did push me to ask the “why me” question out of frustration.

However I also asked that question out of true curiosity. I really wonder, why did this happen to me!?

Why medically, as in what did I do in my life to create this disease inside me, what combination of factors lead to me developing leukemia? That was of interest to me at some level, but not a major concern.

The part of the question I still ask myself is the deeper side, the spiritual side of the question that gets me thinking about the purpose behind my illness. I honestly believe that all of our experiences have purpose, nothing is random, and everything has meaning.

I would say that I still ask myself that question because I feel that I’ve figured out some of the answers, others are there waiting for me to discover them. A lot of people ask me about Young Adult Cancer Canada (YACC) and do I feel I got sick because I was meant to start YACC. Maybe, but I don’t feel that way necessarily.

I like to believe that I would have been doing something that had purpose and was helpful to others whether I got sick or not. That doesn’t mean I’d be running a charity, but there are a lot of ways people can make a contribution to the community and help others. The meaning I’ve found from my cancer diagnosis and the amazing benefits have been more internal than anything.

This internal evolution has created many external changes in my world. Cancer has changed my perspective on life and all things in it, I have an appreciation for things in a way I never knew and I approach my life differently.

Before I got sick I was in a hurry, a mad rush to get there. Where is there? Not sure, but I was trying to get there quick. The reality is I would have never reached my destination for two reasons, I didn’t know what it was (I was a little unfocused we’ll say, and that’s an understatement) and the other reason is because I had little grasp of who I was as a person. I had no clue of my strengths and weaknesses as a person. I lived in fifth gear, rarely ever slowing down to “smell the roses” and evaluate what I was doing and where I was going. It just didn’t happen.

My challenges have pushed me in that reflective direction, which you can tell from reading my articles and emails if you have read others. (If not I’d encourage it, cause I feel I’ve learned some important stuff in the six years, and yes it’s almost six years since my original diagnosis) What has happened in these six years is that due to low energy and stamina I’ve had lots of down time, and while you can fill up your down time with Jerry Springer and Ricky Lake, let’s face it, there’s only so much of that you can take.

So eventually I turned my focus internally, and while I still suck at understanding my feelings (I live my life in my head far too much, but I’m working on it), I made the effort to think about my experiences and think about why I might have been given these challenges. That train of thought took me to what others call “deep” places. I like to think of it as getting rid of all the crap and focusing on what matters most in life.

Love matters. That’s what I discovered. It’s not necessarily cool and definitely not a tough guy thing to talk about, but I’ve never been worried about being cool or tough. I went to those deep places to think about life, and let’s be honest when you are diagnosed with cancer you are truly wondering how much longer your life will be. So you have extra incentive to try and figure things out before you go, whenever that might be.

Those deep places, for me, don’t involve religion or God, not that there’s anything wrong if it does. But for me I had some things I need to figure out before I explore some of the traditional versions of how we got here and what our purpose is. Here’s what I’ve figured out, agree or disagree, you are welcome to do either.

There’s this huge force, I call it the universe, and it connects all of us. Everything here on earth, and all those things out there in space that we can’t see or touch. So we’re all connected, yes, even “W Bush,” Saddam, and Osama are connected to the rest of us. While we are here we can act from one of two main places, love or fear. We can’t come from both at the same time and after a while you can get pretty good at figuring out from which “pole” your behaviour is originating. For me, I’ve decided that I like how love feels, I like what I experience when I’m focusing on it, and I like what happens in the world around me when I’m coming from that place. So I’ve made the effort to do that. Sometimes I slip, other times I’m golden, it’s all part of being human really.

I’ve also figured out that if more of us came from a place of love, in our relationships, at work, with strangers, with ourselves, then our world would have more love. I take so many positives from my diagnosis of cancer. Would I have chosen cancer, definitely not, would I choose to erase it and start over, definitely not. Would I like another cancer challenge today, no thanks! But if it comes I know it will carry the right purpose, just as it has the past two times.

Pulling meaning and positive things from a situation that is viewed as such a negative has happened primarily through my search for meaning. And it is one of the best things I’ve done with my life to this point.