5 Things Being Diagnosed With Cancer Has Already Taught Me (That I Wish I’d Learned Long Ago)

by Brandon

In my previous blog, I asked if you, my readers, wanted me to blog about my recent cancer diagnosis. I wanted to know if you think that would be weird or if you think it would be good to take you on this journey with me. Well, the response I got was incredible. I literally got hundreds of replies, through comments on the blog, emails, comments on Facebook, and through private messages.

The overwhelming response was, “Yes, blog about it,” so that’s what I’m gonna’ do.

Keep in mind, the blogs will be sporadic. Right now, I’m spending the weekend at home before starting the treatment process early next week, so I have time to blog. I’m sure there will be times when I simply don’t have the time or energy to write about it, so expect some periods of quiet. That won’t mean bad things are happening. It’ll just mean the time and energy aren’t there. These blogs are highly emotional for me, so you might find a few typos. If you do, cut me some slack. I have cancer! Okay, with that out of the way, I’ll start with a little list… 

I’ve only been diagnosed for a few days, but that was more than enough to completely change my outlook on life. As a matter of fact, the moment the doctor confirmed it was cancer, everything changed. My entire outlook on life was altered. Things I thought were important were suddenly meaningless and things I thought were meaningless suddenly mattered. I feel like I was a good person before this diagnosis. I think I understood, generally, what life was all about.

But my understanding was intellectual. After my diagnosis, I understood these things on a deeper, more emotional level. Some of the things on this list might be things I’ve said before, but before, they were little more than philosophical meandering. Now… in my mind and heart… these things are reality.

Of course, I’ve learned much more than 5 things (and I’m sure I’ll learn even more as I continue this journey). This list – which is in no particular order – is just the first 5 things that come to mind…

5 Things Being Diagnosed With Cancer Has Already Taught Me (That I Wish I’d Learned Long Ago)

1. Moments Matter

This is something I’ve talked about before, but now, I understand it on levels I never before conceived possible.

The truth is, 99% of our pain and worry doesn’t exist in the present. It exists in the past or the future. For example, when I feel emotional pain because I have cancer, that pain is rarely rooted in the present. Right here, right now, I’m fine. I’m sitting at my desk, writing a blog. I have medication that knocks out the overwhelming majority of my pain. If I wanted, I could go to the living room right now, boot up a video game, and enjoy a few hours of gaming. My pain comes from the past and the future. It comes from the memory of that doctor telling me I have cancer and it comes from the knowledge that I’m about to undergo some very difficult procedures. But in this moment, I’m okay.

And that’s what a diagnosis like this teaches us. It forces us to embrace those moments. While we do need to learn from the past and prepare for the future, a diagnosis like this forces us to push the past and future away when necessary. It forces us to embrace the fact that most individual moments are good moments. It forces us to embrace the present like never before.

In this very moment, I feel pretty good. My diagnosis has taught me to treat this moment as a gift. It has taught me to enjoy this moment and treat each and every good moment as if they were the only moment.

This is definitely something I wish I had done my entire life.

2. People Matter

This is a big one. When I got my diagnosis, I didn’t want to get back to work (even though I love writing). I wanted to be with the people I love. I wanted to call my Mom and Dad. I wanted to see my sister and talk to my brother. I wanted to hold my wife’s hand. I wanted to hug my wife and I wanted to see her smile.

When facing something this serious, my first thoughts were about the people I want to be with.

Sure, sometimes I want to be alone, but even then, I need people around me… or at the very least, I need to know they’re there if I need them.

Because people need each other. It’s that simple. When we’re healthy, we sometimes pretend we don’t need other people, but that’s horse hockey.

We need love. It’s the fuel that powers our souls.

And only people can provide that fuel.

Also, for the record, when I say “people,” I’m not just referring to human beings. Our furry companions are people too. Sometimes I think my cats are plotting my murder, but when they see me in real pain, they change. Somehow, they know. And during those times, they are not shy about putting their murder plans on a shelf and just showing me love.

I wish I had embraced love and other people more before I got sick. As far as regrets go, that’s a big one, but it’s one I never plan to have again.

3. Laughter Matters

Laughter is the best medicine.

Yes, it’s a cliche, and yes, it’s a bit of an exaggeration. I mean, when I’m in pain, I’d say my pain pills are probably the best medicine.

But laughter is a close second.

Whether it’s a funny movie, a good joke, or just making really inappropriate jokes about my cancer, laughter always – and I do mean always – brings healing with it.

Sometimes, I’m weak. Sometimes, I let the fear and the pain get to me and I just… wallow. It’s rare, but it happens. I’m human, after all. And when the wallowing happens, I can literally feel myself getting worse. Wallowing brings no healing. None at all.

But when I’m laughing with friends… when I’m smiling because my idiot friends are making jokes about the fact that I have cancer… I can feel myself getting better. I can feel the pain taking a back seat to the pleasure.

I gotta admit, this is the one thing on this list that I always followed pretty well. Like I said in my previous blog, Rule Number One: Everything Is Funny has always been in play at my house.

But now I understand the power of Rule Number One on a whole new level.

4. Saying “I Love You” Helps

I grew up in a house full of love. We all loved each other and we knew it. My family wasn’t just a group of relatives sharing space. We were a group of friends who enjoyed each other’s company. We watched TV together, we had shindigs together on weekends. We even made funny videos together (usually of us lip-syncing to various songs).

But we rarely used the words “I love you.” To be honest, it just didn’t feel necessary. Besides, that was a time when manly men didn’t say such things to other manly men.

After my diagnosis, though, I decided the time for holding back those words had passed. I now tell everybody I love that I love them. I don’t leave it to chance that they understand. I tell them outright… my friends and my family, whether they’re male or female.

And you know what? It feels good. It feels damn good. And it feels damn good to hear them say it back.

I wish I’d known how good it feels a long time ago.

5. Putting Shit Off Is Almost Always a Bad Idea

It’s really that simple.

If I had gone to the doctor sooner, would I have been able to prevent this fight from happening?

Maybe, maybe not.

But it almost certainly would have made the fight a little easier.

Going to the doctor can be scary, but not going when you should can make things eventually reach a point that is much, much scarier. Trust me on this one.

And it’s not just about the bad stuff.

Putting off the good stuff because you have “plenty of time” is also a bad idea.

I am so thankful that my wife and I decided to pursue my dream of being a writer when we did. I’m glad we didn’t put it off.

When I’m feeling down, I go to Amazon and look at the 177 reviews for Day Soldiers and I look at that 4.4 (out of 5) star rating, and I think, “Wow… Never, in my wildest dreams, did I think I could accomplish something like this.”

It’s a good feeling, and I’m glad I did it. Yes, it was scary, but it was worth it.

And now, I wish I’d done more. My wife and I fully planned to go to that Harry Potter theme park (she’s a huge Harry Potter fan), but we haven’t yet because the time wasn’t right. I’ve wanted to go back to Halloween Horror Nights in Orlando for years, but we haven’t made it a priority because we had plenty of time.

I have dozens of other examples, but you get the point. While we still plan to do those things, we now have to wait until I beat this whole cancer thing.

So my advice to you… if there’s something you want to do (or accomplish), don’t let it be some vague dream. Start making plans today and put that plan into motion.

“Plenty of time” is a myth. It doesn’t exist. Whether you live to be 30 or 130, you’ll never have plenty of time.

So do the things you want to do. Find a way to make them happen.

6. (Bonus) Cancer Has the Power to Get Your Anti-Star Trek Wife to Watch Star Trek

I’m a Trekkie. There’s no denying it. I like all Star Trek. The original show, the Next Generation era shows, the old movies, and the new movies. I just sometimes like to lose myself in the Star Trek universe.

My wife is the opposite of a Trekkie. While she likes sci fi (she’s a big fan of Star Wars, Doctor Who, Firefly, and many other sci fi classics), Trek just isn’t her thing. As a matter of fact, it’s the one thing she has always ardently refused to watch.

Well, when the doctor told me I had cancer, I immediately turned to my wife, with tears in my eyes, and said, “Now, will you watch Star Trek with me?”

And guess what?

She didn’t say no!

To be fair, she didn’t say yes either, but this was the first time she didn’t immediately say no.

It was a huge win for me.

So while we still haven’t watched Star Trek together, I think I have a very good chance of getting her to watch it.

I think I’ll start with Wrath of Khan. I mean, I’m a Trekkie, but even I can acknowledge that the first movie (The Motion Picture) can be a chore to watch. I mean, damn… that first shuttle ride to the Enterprise takes like 15 minutes.

So I’m gonna start with Wrath of Khan. I think that might win her over…

Okay.

So that’s it for now. Until next time, take care of yourselves, embrace the good moments and embrace the people you love. Laugh often and tell people you love them. Don’t put shit off.

I love you guys.

–Bran

 


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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

C. A. Newsome March 2, 2014 at 12:55 PM

Great stuff, Brandon.
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Brandon March 2, 2014 at 1:22 PM
Mona Ingram March 2, 2014 at 1:17 PM

So true, Brandon. Thanks for the reminders.
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Brandon March 2, 2014 at 1:22 PM
Clare Hoskins March 2, 2014 at 1:17 PM

We’ve never met however I wanted to wish you strength, health, love and laughter. I love your books and dip in and out of your musings (!). Lots of prayers coming your way and Star Trek is ok- series better than the early films but we (hubby and I) LOVE the latest films. Your wife might prefer them ;)

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Brandon March 2, 2014 at 1:22 PM

Thank you, Clare, for the support (both emotional and by reading my books). I’m glad you enjoy Day Soldiers, and don’t worry… when I get back on my feet, Day Soldiers 5 won’t be far behind. :)
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Jennifer Miller March 2, 2014 at 1:40 PM

Brandon,

Thank you so much for sharing with your readers. It can’t be an easy thing to chronicle and share with us, your fight with Cancer. I say fight because that’s what your doing, your fighting. I will be in prayer for you and your family. Keep up the positive attitude!

Jenn ????

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Brandon March 2, 2014 at 1:45 PM
Andy Downs March 2, 2014 at 1:52 PM

I’m so glad you have decided to share your experience, Brandon. The things you have shared so far are humbling and we will all learn something from them. Thank you. I think about you every day and hope that my positive thoughts reach you and do some good.

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John March 2, 2014 at 2:46 PM

Ah, I love you too, man.

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Corrie Fischer March 2, 2014 at 2:59 PM

Thank you for the words of wisdom and continual best wishes with your battle. You will be victorious. :)

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Russell Blake March 3, 2014 at 12:18 AM

Yup. Carpe Diem, because the notion that you have unlimited time and opportunity is a lie. We’re the captains of our ships, and it’s up to each and every one of us to make our lives worth living. Success, money, power, accomplishment…none of that means much when the shit hits the fan. We’re left with ourselves, our memories, our regrets, and those we love. Best to have as few regrets as possible, and that usually comes from doing, rather than considering doing.

You’re going to beat this. If attitude counts, which it does, you already have.

Now I guess I better schedule that exam. Phooey. Giving up pork and getting a probing all in the same month. Sometimes it’s best to just stay asleep another hour…
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Doug Lamoreux March 3, 2014 at 5:20 AM

Live long and prosper.

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Brandon March 3, 2014 at 11:38 PM

Thank you, Mr. Lamoreux. I plan to take that Vulcan greeting to heart and apply it fully.
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David Michael March 4, 2014 at 8:44 PM

Brandon…I just learned from Russell Blake of your diagnosis. Thanks for being brave enough to share your experience.

I also was given the diagnosis of cancer in the prime of my second career just after I completed a 500 mile bicycle trip across Oregon. I thought I was invincible at age 55. Of course, none of that was true, just my illusion of life at the moment. Fortunately, I had Hodgkins Disease, which is highly curable but it stopped me dead in my tracks. I still had a half million to go for my retirement fund, and the responsibility of managing a company, family, and employees. The cancer was a message for me. I realized internally that I hated the stress and pressure from being a company president with all of its responsibilities. I visited doctors, specialists, an astrologer, a channeler, and counselor. All agreed that if I didn’t quit my work within a year, I’d probably be dead. So…I agreed to the radiation, sold my company, and lived through the first year. And, never looked back. I recognize now, some 20 years later, that the cancer was a gift. For me it was a huge wake-up call and I would never have made the changes necessary without this spiritual prod.

I wish you well on your journey over the next year.

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S.W. March 5, 2014 at 8:47 AM

Brandon, I’ve just found your site from a post by Russell Blake.
I left a comment over there, but thought I’d drop a copy over here for you with some tiny updates…..
——-
Over recent months we have been going through intensive cancer treatment for my beautiful 9 yo daughter. It’s a very tough thing to go through, but it’s also very comforting to have people looking out for you, like you are for your friend . In our case we got great news of remission a few weeks ago. We’re now trying to rebuild and heal. I wish your friend all the best and I’m sure that he is very grateful for your kind support.
——
One thing I can say from very recent experience, is that plenty of people are there to help. They’ll be crawling out of the woodwork. Cancer totally changed our priorities and outlook on the world. We are so grateful that my daughter has come through the operations and chemo. Best of luck with your treatment.

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Brandon March 5, 2014 at 9:47 AM

Thank you very much, S.W., for sharing this. Also, it’s wonderful news that your daughter is healing up. My best thoughts and wishes are with you.
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Lexa Cain March 5, 2014 at 3:21 PM

I got the link to your post from Donna McNichols’s site. I’m so sorry for the hardship you’re going through. You made many great points in the post, especially about the new things that matter to you now. I wish you less stress, rising to your challenges, and surviving what comes at you. And huge congrats on the success of your book! :)
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jokes for kids May 30, 2014 at 7:34 AM

Study researchers have actually invested substantial time checking out the impacts of laughter. They have discovered that laughter can aid people recover from health problems due to the fact that it often tends to reduce blood stress, lowers anxiety bodily hormone levels, and charges the physical body’s immune system. Laughter is additionally known to release the physical body’s natural painkilling substances to offer a general feeling of health. This is an outcome of inducing blood flow and assisting the heart.

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henry July 14, 2014 at 1:59 PM

It seems you got alot wiser in a short period of time and it seems that the cancer diagnoses will eventually make you a more aware human being.
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