Roll with life’s punches
Life has an uncanny and infuriating habit of sucker punching us when we’re already down. How often have you ever looked skywards and pleaded “…could I please just catch a break?!”
A case in point. My brother, Philip, was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin Lymphoma last July. It seems he had unknowingly contracted the Epstein Barr Virus (EBV) about seven years earlier, and it had subsequently mutated into cancerous Lymphoma. We were obviously concerned and worried, to say the least, but his consultant Haematologist remained positive and reassuring throughout.
Philip endured more than six months of chemotherapy treatment, and it’s fair to say he has had more fun with his clothes on during this time. The treatment, the tablets, the horrendous side effects were not a walk in the park, but he faced his adversity with courage and a laser-focused determination to win. I have never been more proud of him; he has truly been an inspiration, not to mention stronger than strong.
Philip’s last chemotherapy treatment was on Wednesday 2 March, but then he had to wait a fortnight to undergo a PET-CT scan, to learn how effective the chemotherapy had been. The scan took place on Wednesday 16 March, but then he had to wait a week for the results. This was an agonising wait, as I’m sure you can imagine? On Wednesday 23 March, Philip met again with his consultant Haematologist, who thankfully gave him the all clear, he is now cancer free. The relief was palpable. There are no words to do this justice, we can only feel our feelings.
Whilst being given the all clear, Philip mentioned how he had been experiencing pain in his right calf muscle for the past week or so. The doctor arranged a scan for the following morning, which confirmed her preliminary diagnosis. Philip has deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which is a common occurrence following chemotherapy, and now requires a further six months of treatment. And therein lies yet another sucker punch for Philip, following a conveyor belt of continuous sucker punches, leading up to this moment. Understandably, Philip’s morale suffered a direct hit, and we reflected on this for a short while. However my brother is made of sterner stuff, and he decided to reframe his thinking. This is the gist, and I’m telling you so it may help others in similar, or comparable, circumstances.
COURAGE vs ADVERSITY
A boxer gets into the ring to face an equal, or greater than, challenger. The boxer fights with everything they have to beat the opponent who is attacking them. When the boxer emerges victorious from the battle, they are likely to be bruised, bloodied and battered: split lips, cut eyes, broken nose etc. These will be the scars from battle going forwards, and they will continue to hurt as they take time to heal. These are the scars that may even remain, to remind you that you are stronger than the adversity that tried to beat and break you. These are the scars to be grateful for, to (perversely) enjoy because they tell you you’re still alive, and that you have triumphed. These scars will eventually heal (whether they fade completely or not), but the triumph is yours forever. Scars are only ever badges of courage and honour.
It would have been natural for Philip to adopt a “poor me” attitude towards having to now defeat his DVT – particularly so soon after his victory over Lymphoma – but it’s not what happens to you that matters, so much as how you choose to respond. At the end of the day what were Philip’s options? He either picked himself off the mat and got on with the DVT treatment, or not. It’s as simple as that. If he had wasted precious, finite time feeling sorry for himself, the DVT would have killed him quicker than the Lymphoma ever could. There was no choice. Philip has had to climb back into the ring, utterly exhausted from his Lymphoma victory, to now defeat the DVT challenger. The DVT represents a scar, which will heal in the fullness of time, but is the price he pays for ultimate victory.
The lesson from Philip’s experiences is this: when life continues to punch you senseless, you must roll with those punches. It is my deeply held conviction that people want to feel like soldiers, like heroes (and not victims) during these times of crisis and adversity, and a positive mental attitude (PMA) is how to achieve this. It has been well documented that a PMA can disproportionately and positively affect the outcome of what you’re up against. If you doubt this, may I refer you to the leaf-cutter ant, which can carry 50 times its own body weight, or the bumblebee who redefines our understanding of physics-defying flight? The universe and nature provides, and your PMA is inside of you already, you just need to locate and activate it. Whatever you, or your loved one is up against today, you’ve got this and you can do it.