Lessons Learned From “Remarkable Survivors”

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I recently came across an article in Integrative Cancer Therapies that I found intriguing and enlightening.  The authors looked at the mental attributes that may favor prolonged survival in the face of metastatic cancer.  Ten individuals with medically incurable cancers who had outlived their prognoses by from 4 to 14 years were interviewed.  They found three major qualities emerged: “authenticity,” or a clear understanding of what was important in one’s life; “autonomy,” the perceived freedom to shape life around what was valued; and “acceptance,” a perceived change in mental state to enhanced self-esteem, greater tolerance for and emotional closeness to others, and an effective experience described as more peaceful and joyous.

What these “remarkable survivors” have learned from having a fatal diagnosis can be applied to most of our own lives.

So lets take a look at “authenticity.”

Many “remarkable survivors” expressed an awareness of one’s own experience, needs and values or their authenticity.  This typically entails a reevaluation of one’s life and lifestyle and subsequently choosing what was important, while discarding other activities for which an unwelcome obligation was perhaps previously felt.  Examples include the following:

“I don’t see it as a fight but it certainly was cancer that made me step back and reflect on what I want to do, and why I want to do it, and to make better choices for myself and enjoy life a little bit more.”

“As much as possible, and I have to watch this because I can fall into a rut, but I’m doing what I enjoy doing, eg, I’ve proven I can do housework (laughs) and I don’t want to do it anymore.  But I love to garden or I love to go and take my granddaughter to the park, or just all kinds of things.  I have the freedom to do, and I just don’t seem to have the shackles that “oh well I’m duty-bound to do this or that.” And…so many times I say to myself. “Five years down the road is this really going to matter?”

Terry Pfau DO, HMD