What does it mean to find hope in each day when it feels as though the world is crashing all around you? As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the globe, and each day brings more pessimism over the latest infection rates, economic contractions, business closures, and the like, it can seem a huge challenge not to get lost down the metaphorical rabbit hole of uncertainty, anxiety, and despair. One begins to wonder, in the midst of so much trouble in the world, how can we still find hope for the future?
Keeping hope alive in uncertain times can be a hard thing. Without a doubt, this current situation is an unprecedented crisis, affecting all of us on a scale never before seen in most of our lifetimes. For those of us who are cancer patients or survivors, the truth is it feels as though we’ve been dealt a pretty crappy hand. First cancer, and now this? It’s a truism to say that nobody ever said that life was going to be fair, but this situation feels like pushing that cliché to the extreme. In a time where isolation has become the norm, where social distancing and restrictions mean we must keep friends and family at bay, and where fear and anxiety are a constant threat to our mental health, what can we do to see a light at the end of the tunnel? How can we keep going when we know that things may have to get worse before they get better?
I’d like to say a few words about what I’ve found about the power of hope in my life. Almost two years ago, I found myself facing an eerily similar set of circumstances to those we are all facing today. In June 2018, I went from being a healthy 27-year old, spreading my wings as my career began to take off, happily married to the love of my life, and contemplating starting a family of my own to a weak, frail, cancer patient struggling to survive against a ruthless disease that didn’t care whether I lived or died. The battle I faced with leukemia over the next 16 months turned my world upside down. It confronted me with challenges I never imagined I would face, but also revealed to me a hidden reservoir of strength I never knew existed. That reservoir of strength was hope.
As I faced the treatment that was to come in the months ahead, I grew to understand the challenges that all cancer patients come to know intimately as they navigate that difficult road they were forced upon against their will. The grief and anger over lost or delayed dreams. The frustration and boredom found in months of waiting and seemingly endless periods of isolation. The difficulties of having to tell your friends and family that they can’t visit because they’ve been sick recently and you are immunocompromised. Coming to grips with “new normals,” such as the loss of independence and the debilitating side effects of treatment. All of it took a heavy toll on me, both physically and mentally.
But in spite of those things, I managed to find hope in unexpected places. I found it in the smiles and laughter of my nurses when they would try to brighten my day whenever I would see them. I found it in the heartfelt messages of support and love I received from friends and family around the world. I found it in the graceful, resilient strength of my wife, who never left my side and took on my battle with cancer as her own. And perhaps most significantly for me, I found it in God and my Christian faith, secure in the believe that while none of us have any guarantees over what this life may bring, I could rest assured in the hope that my eternal future remains secured, and no matter what happened, I was never alone in facing it. In all of these things, I found a hope that got me through my most challenging days of treatment. And now, in these uncertain times we all face, it is that same hope that I seek out each day.
Some of this may sound like cheap platitudes to you, especially if you have found yourself exhausted and worn down from the curveballs life has thrown at you, but I speak only from my own experience in what I have found to help me through my own hard times in life. As we all face the uncertainty, anxiety, and challenges of our present situation, I would urge you to find ways to keep hope alive in your own lives, however you may find it. One truth I have come to know for sure is we are stronger as a community than we are as individuals and by supporting each other, we can — and will — get through this. Of that, I have no doubt.
In the months following my recovery from cancer, I have had the privilege of being able to give back to the young adult community in recognition and gratitude of all the support I have received. I met other survivors and their supporters, and eventually started my own support group in Central Alberta to help others going through what I had experienced. There is something intensely therapeutic about being able to bond with others over shared common ground, and in knowing that whatever we are facing, we are not doing it alone. In that knowledge, I continue to find hope for the days ahead.
Mike Wark is a young adult cancer survivor from Red Deer, Alberta. In June 2018 he was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) and following seven months of treatment, including a stem-cell transplant from a genetically matched anonymous donor, was pronounced in full remission in January 2019. He co-leads the regional support group Young Adult Cancer Central Alberta (YACCA), and is passionate about connecting with fellow young adult survivors.