Responsibility to self

It appears I’m on a bit of a “responsibility” theme these past few messages, and that is a word I have always taken seriously. In most areas of my life, anyway. I had responsibilities to family, friends, my teammates in sport, at work, and I was always a pretty responsible kid. At least, I was when I cared about things.

The truth is, I was never a very good student, and much of that was because I didn’t care or was disinterested in the curriculum. However, fortunately, that also changed as I grew. But I do have to be honest, my responsibility does wane when it doesn’t apply to something that I care for in some significant way.

My family, friends, teammates and work duties all fit in that “care for” category and have for as long as I remember. Like my homework for much of grade school, my health was an area that I neglected. The major neglect really arose out of ignorance and a lack of awareness, combined with a healthy dose of youthful invincibility. That changed with my diagnosis of leukemia in 1998. One of the first “pro-actions” (proactive action) I made was to take control of my situation, and in doing so, I took responsibility for myself. As much as I could, anyway.

This was one of the key steps in my life, period. The step of taking responsibility for my situation was one of the most important things I have ever done. It has lead me to the place I am today: happy, healthy, rebuilding and making a contribution using my “bad” experience to do some “good.”

I remember those early days in hospital on 4 North A in the Health Sciences Centre in St. John’s, NL. I used to basically confront each new doc or nurse that came to care for me by informing them of my hockey strategy, that I was in control, and that they played an important advisory role to my recovery and healing. And that is really how I saw things, and still see them, for that matter. Docs and nurses are important advisors, but they aren’t in control. The good ones know that.

I feel this process of taking control and taking responsibility is important, no matter your age, and I realize that as a younger patient (late teens or twenties), it may be hard sometimes, but I feel it is one of the best things you can do for yourself. I’m not suggesting cutting your parents out of the loop (if they are still in the loop), but merely stepping up and playing an active role in your own care and recovery.

The reason I feel so strongly about this responsibility thing is because I’ve experienced the feeling associated with it. Believe me, there are few things more empowering than taking full and complete responsibility for yourself, your health, your recovery, and transition to cancer survivor.

To be clear, I don’t mean cutting others out, nor I do mean that you shouldn’t lean on your support system, that isn’t it at all. Taking control and responsibility is different than that. You can be independent and still rely heavily on others.

In ’99, after I woke up from my coma (three-and-a-half weeks of it), for the first two days I had a tube in my mouth and had almost no physical strength to do anything, yet I very quickly took control and responsibility. In that state, I couldn’t speak for the first almost 48 hours, I couldn’t write, and I had a very tough time communicating, but my parents knew that all decisions had to run by me.

That said, I relied more on them, friends, and the healthcare team than ever before as I transitioned out of the hospital and began the physical and emotional rebuilding process. Over five-and-a-half years later, I’m still rebuilding, still relying on their love and support, and, more than ever, taking responsibility for my health and survivorship.

Taking responsibility is natural for some–I am one of those–but even if it is something you normally shy away from, when it comes to your health, I think it is of paramount importance.

If you aren’t going to take responsibility for your own health, who will? During your treatment, and in the hopefully many phases of survivorship that follow, I feel we all have a responsibility to ourselves to take control and responsibility of our situation and the path we take to deal with it. It is one of the most significant, empowering decisions I have ever made.

Far too often we go to the doctor and want to be “fixed.” Far too often we want something to make us better: a pill, surgery, whatever. It is my belief that we can get rid of our illness sometimes with the use of those things, but we can never truly heal and thrive without taking responsibility for ourselves. Taking responsibility for yourself, your decisions, and the consequences of those decisions is one of the first major steps towards recovering, making things better, and turning those dreams into reality.

Sure, you can get back to life, return to the way things are, but my experience has taught me that you can’t fully recover, physically, emotionally, or spiritually, until you have taken responsibility for yourself and your situation. So, if you’re young (or if you’re old), step up. If not you, who? If not now, when? It’s your life, you’re in charge; all you have to do is decide that you are.

Always…
Live life. Love life.

Geoff

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