Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Coping with Cancer--hope versus honesty

The title of this thread is the problem in a nutshell.
Coping doesn't have to mean “hope versus honesty” -- but some people feel that they can't spend too much time with honesty, or it will destroy them. Hope and honesty don't have to be adversaries, but if in your world they are, then that's your choice. It's not the choice that would sustain me through a four-year-long cancer fight, and it's a choice I've watched take down others--but I'm not here to make someone change their approach. Go ahead, give it a shot. But I choose another way.

For me, since diagnosis, coping has always been about hope through honesty, within honesty, because of honesty. Hope and honesty are inseparable. For me, without honesty hope is fleeting and one-dimensional, at the mercy of external things over which I have little control. Without honesty and reality, there is no room for hope to evolve, to get strong enough to be able to help me cope with changes and the normal ups and downs of life, much less cope with cancer. Without honesty, my emotions would be all over the place, and I wouldn't be able to function. But when coupled with honesty, the hope inside of me is neither diminished nor expanded by external influences unless I choose to let those things affect or inspire mre. Hope becomes something I can control. My choices. My strength. Based in honesty. Big enough, and strong enough, to handle what is ahead, no matter what that turns out to be.

I've been told publicly and privately that I didn't have the right to take away anyone's hope--like that was something I was trying to do. To me, that just reinforces that the people who made those statements don't really understand where the strongest hope can come from.

Hope, like self-respect and confidence, is neither something that can be taken away or given to you by another person. Hope lives within you. Only you can access it. Only you can silence it. It is your job to nourish it--and lots of people don't have the first clue how to do that. External influences can inspire you to spend even more time nourishing your store of hope, but no one, nothing, can take hope from you unless you give them that power.

I don't have the power to take away anyone's hope—because each of us controls our own hope, and how we use it. And just as I don't have the power to take away hope, neither do doctors, or other people, current events, sudden deaths of famous people or posts on a forum. If those things take away your hope, even for a second, it's because you gave them permission to do so. If they give you pause, and then reason to regroup, you may be beginning to understand that hope springs from within--and you can control what affects it.

But these days, rather than looking in the mirror to recognize and become our own sources of hope and strength, to be the people we are destined to be, we more often look to others to give us hope and motivation—things no one can give us. We have to find the capacity for those things within ourselves. Any external inspiration can be a little fuel for own internal fires of hope and strength, but once that external fuel is gone, it's up to us to keep those internal fires burning. And by the same token, any external demotivation—a setback, the death of a friend—may briefly dampen our own internal fires. But again, it's up to us to move forward and keep those fires of hope at the level where we need them. It's no one else's responsibility but our own.

To paraphrase Gandhi, who was speaking about self-respect,
“They cannot take away our hope if we do not give it to them.”
To paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt, who was speaking about inferiority,
“No one can make you feel hopeless without your consent.”
As we try to deal with cancer, we have to understand and accept that we control our own hope—and no one can take hope away from us unless we give them that permission.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous4:45 AM

    Hi Gaelen,

    I found a link to your blog on the Colon Club (I'm a new member there).

    Just wanted to say that I love this post. It says so much of what I've been trying to say to others since I was diagnosed in May.

    The thing about honesty is that, even if it scares the hell out of you, at least you know where you stand and you can start dealing with the reality of all that.

    I've learned to bite my tongue when well-meaning people tell me to keep thinking positive and that I have to FIGHT this cancer ... I really dislike the implied notion that people who end up dying of their illness just weren't trying hard enough or weren't thinking pretty enough thoughts.

    Anyhow, thanks for this post. It's got me thinking about also writing something on this topic.


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