Two qualities that were mentioned were “authenticity” or a clear understanding of what was important in one’s life and “autonomy,” the perceived freedom to shape life around what is valued. In addition, a feeling of having profoundly changed was another feeling that was consistently reported among these remarkable cancer survivors. An example of this follows:
“(The cancer) sort of shifted the way I was developing in life and the goals I was pursuing…I was totally focused on building a ‘bigger me’…I was sort of following what our culture says is the approved path and then when I faced the fact that I might not live very long, I realized that all of that would die…and I started to question who I really was. It seemed like the whole focus of my life then shifted. And now I think my focus would be to experience life today more fully and to accept life as it comes to me and be part of that and just enjoy.”
Many of the long term survivors expressed themselves as having become much more tolerant and accepting of the cancer. They became more apt to share emotions and to seek opportunities to help other people. They realized that the most important thing in life is to learn how to give love and to let love come to them. Often people think they do not deserve love. They think if they let love in they will become too soft and vulnerable. But a wise man once said, “Love is the only rational act.” We all need to learn to like a child. We need to find the humble innocence in life and then enjoy all that it brings.
After finding answers to questions and learning to live life, another survivor said, “I think I’m a whole lot easier to be around. A friend told me that when she first met me I was the most uptight (laughs)….type of person…and was such a perfectionist. Everything had to be done well and completed and so I wasn’t an unpleasant person but….I just was not the type of person to go down and sit in the staff room for the sake of sitting there. I am at a very different place now. I am a much easier-going person and more tolerant. I was a very judgmental person and so that’s where I think I’ve really grown a lot. I just feel a whole lot freer and sillier and more childlike.” If people inherit this quality and learn to love like children, they will be happier and more successful in life just like this survivor.
Terry Pfau DO, HMD