10 lessons I learned from cancer

I should probably start by stating that I do not have cancer now, nor have I ever had cancer.  So I am probably not qualified to even write this.  However, please note that I am not being so presumptuous to call this, “What YOU should learn from cancer.”  I have no idea what your experiences are with cancer (or any other major illness), so I am definitely not trying to make light of them or offend anyone.

Exactly two years ago today, my youngest daughter Delaney was diagnosed with cancer (leukemia to be specific).  That day (February 25th, 2013), was easily one of the worst days of my life.  However, during the past two years of her treatment, I have made some observations and learned some things that I think are worth of sharing:

1. People are kind- That is an understatement.  I really have no way to say it without being an understatement.  My wife and I have been overwhelmed and literally brought to tears by the simple kindness of people.  Friends, family, old folks, young ones, people we barely know, and even people we’ll never meet have shown our family kindness time and time again.  This one may seem obvious but I think it is worth pointing out because tonight, or any night, when you turn on the news they will let you know that there are many people that aren’t very nice.  That may be true, but there are a lot more people out there that are truly kind.

2. Prayer works- Either you believe it or you don’t, I know I’m not going to convince anyone here but I can only share from our own personal experience.  I don’t say this because of a specific treatment went well or a certain procedure worked out.  But there have been several times when we have amid the cancer storms, and have felt completely at peace.  Times when we’ve had plenty of reason to get discouraged, but only felt hope.  My belief is that it comes only from HIM who gives hope.

3. So does laughter- I know chemotherapy, dexamethasone, methotrexate, 6 mercaptopurine, vincristine, septra, and a ton of other drugs I can’t pronounce or spell are all good medicines, but laughter probably is better than any of them.  No, it doesn’t cure cancer or heal the body, but it nourishes the soul.  I know we are a crazy family.  We have fun.  In some of our toughest times, we’ve ended up laughing the most.  I know that I have chronicled some of them in this blog here (and here), but there have been far too many others to capture them all.

4. Attitude and outlook matter (A LOT)- One of the most important lessons we learned, we were fortunate to learn early.  We’ve met many other “cancer parents” in the past two years and whenever I am asked for my input, I always try to convey this lesson because I just think it is so important.   Think about your own kids for a minute.  When something completely foreign happens to them, what do they do?  If they are like most kids, they look at their parents to see how they react.  Really early on my wife and I agreed that if one of us were going to get emotional, we would just step out of the room to regroup before entering the room again.  We always just “knew” our daughter was going to beat cancer, so she always KNEW she would beat it!

5. It’s okay to cry- I remember trying to go back to work after she was newly diagnosed and just losing it.  I was in a cubicle at the time and would intentionally wear a jacket with a hood so I could try to cover my face when needed.  I think depression to a certain extent is almost natural when faced with these circumstances.  I think as parents more than anything we want to protect our kids and hope they have a long, happy life.  When something happens to them that we can’t protect them from, we feel we’ve failed.

6. Whether you agree with their advice or not, people mean well- We’ve been offered a whole heck of a lot of alternative remedies that will “cure” cancer.  Besides all the cures, we’ve also heard all the conspiracies about how (usually Western) medicine doesn’t want to find a cure for cancer because it is a billion dollar industry.  I won’t mention the various cures and conspiracies here as my goal isn’t to poke fun at any of the people offering them, but eventually we realized that the people mean well.  We appreciate all the tips, but we’ll stick with the folks that spent all those years in medical school.

7. Half the crap that we think matters, really is just crap- Before our daughter ever had cancer, my wife lost one of her very best friends to cancer.  I still remember something she said about how cancer put everything into an immediate perspective for her and how she couldn’t care less about who some celebrity was dating or whatever the latest gossip is.  This doesn’t only extend to the worthless celebrity stuff, but it is a good reminder to really love our loved ones while we have them.  Sure kids will still need to be disciplined and you’ll still get upset with those you love, but at the end of the day make sure they know you love them.

8. Those lemons you’ve been handed can be used to make lemonade- By no stretch of imagination am I an expert on cancer, but I don’t need to be (and neither do you).  If somebody else can be encouraged by our story, fantastic.  If we can help a charity raise money and awareness that could help eventually eradicate cancer, even better.  Our daughter Delaney is a fantastic example of this.  She is honored to be the Denver Chapter of  The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Girl of the Year, but she is also doing her part even closer to home.  Just last week she was teaching her classmates about leukemia at her school’s science fair.  Here is a picture of her with her award winning presentation:

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9. The higher the stress, the more grace that needs to be extended- One of the saddest things I’ve learned in the past two years is how high the divorce rate is for couples affected by cancer and other serious illnesses.  As the stress builds arguments tend to increase.  When it feels like you are in the middle of the pressure cooker, it isn’t the time to argue who is right and wrong.  It is the time to extend extra grace.  Even when you feel the other person doesn’t deserve it, do it anyway. If it isn’t something you can’t work out by yourself, don’t be too proud to seek outside help.  A divorce added to lives that have already been turned upside down, is the very last thing that is needed. Speaking of grace, it usually isn’t cancer, but I’ve learned that everyone is going through something.   More often than not, you don’t know what that person that seems so angry, withdrawn, sad, or “different” is going through.  Just extend grace.

10. People are kind- I know I already stated this, but it is worth repeating.  Thank you all from the bottom of our hearts.  We honestly can’t express how much we appreciate all of the kindness that has been extended to our family over the past years so I guess I’ll just leave you with a simple, THANK YOU!!!

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18 thoughts on “10 lessons I learned from cancer

  1. Tom…

    Moving as always.. I have started a global relay cancer blog w others around the world… Can I share your post with them…and possibly repost!?

    I hope this finds you and your family well…

    Ron

    “Live like you are on vacation!”

  2. I love what you said Tom and so well written. You guys are amazing and thank you for sharing your hearts and faith through the most difficult time. Love you and your family brother.

    • Thank you Darren. Its hard to believe its been two years since you brought us dinner in the hospital. She still has those Stompeez slippers your family gave her!

  3. Thank you for the reminder today of what is really important in life. God bless you guys! Praying for yall daily here in Texas.

  4. Thank you for sharing your amazing family story with us. Amid all you are going through you take the time to bring smiles along the way. We have followed Delaney’s progress over the years and hold her in our prayers. People are kind – agreed! Blessings to you from California.

  5. I cannot believe how far you and your family have come, especially Delaney. I am non religious, but if I was to pray, it would be for your family. Thank you for sharing your story…you are all so brave and I’m truly pleased to know you all (from Aussie)! As always, all the best to Delaney and hopefully we hear of a fabulous remission soon. Take good care.

  6. I have been following your blog since shortly after October 2013 when my 7-year old son was diagnosed with ALL. While we are across the country his path is similar to Delaney’s in that he was honored patient in 2014 for Light the Night in Westchester NY and is the Boy of the Year for this year’s Man and Woman of the Year campaign. I have to say that you have hit the nail on the head with your post today. I do not think that you can adequately explain how much the prayers, thoughts and help from others- including complete strangers help. When William was diagnosed we had just started school and he was new to the school because he was just starting kindergarten- while part of it has to do with it being a Catholic school, I was amazed at the support and help that we received from people that we had never ever met or spoken with before.

    We continue to pray for Delaney from NY and for you and your family (especially during the steroid weeks).

    Best,

    • Wow Sheilagh, that is amazing thank you so much for writing. Now that we know of your son we will keep your family in our prayers as well. Thank you again!

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