41: The Uninvited Guest

41: The Uninvited Guest

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings

The Uninvited Guest

Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.
~Winston Churchill

No one was more surprised than I when the oncologist told me that I had stage IV lung cancer. At fifty-four, I was in excellent physical condition. I never smoked, have watched my weight and have exercised regularly for years. Tests revealed that because the cancer in my lung had already spread to my bones, surgery was no longer an option. My wife and I were stunned.

My first response was disbelief. Surely my tests must have been mixed up with someone else’s. But the reality of the situation quickly sank in, and I realized that the course of my life was not in my hands, but in God’s. We cried several times on the way home from the doctor’s office, and had to stop the car to regain composure.

All I could think was, “What am I supposed to learn from this? What must I do with the time I have left? How much time do I have?” I wasn’t thinking “why me?” or “this isn’t fair,” but that the sudden turn of events was a wakeup call for me. I never imagined that there would be many blessings to come as a result of my illness.

Needless to say, the news of my cancer was unexpected and would mean a total change in my life and lifestyle. When he shared the diagnosis, the doctor said matter-of-factly, “You have a one in ten chance of survival.” I looked at him with a mix of fear as well as confidence and said, “Great, I’ll be in the ten percent group.”

I realized that the only thing I could control was my attitude toward the situation, and prayed for the strength to deal with it, knowing that God doesn’t give us tests we cannot pass. Perhaps easier said than done. The thought of leaving my wife, of not seeing all my children married or knowing my grandchildren, was almost too daunting.

I kept thinking of the frightening statistics that the doctor rattled off in his office. As we collected our wits, we began to consider the bigger picture and looked for grains of hope. Prayer, meditation and reading inspirational books were as much in the prescription for recovery as the medications, treatments and tests that would soon become part of my regimen.

After the initial shock, my first test was to share the difficult news with my mother. We went to her home, and I said, “Mom, I have something unpleasant to tell you—I have cancer.” Her reaction was as if the rug had been pulled from under her. I quickly spoke up and said, “We have the best medical team to help us and we know that with God’s help, we’re going to see this through.”

The expression on my mother’s face turned from sheer fright to calm, as she took her cue from us, that we were confident in our path and that we had complete faith. Likewise, our children were comforted to see that their parents were facing this head-on, and they in turn remained as upbeat as they could. Pain is a fact of life—how we deal with it is a matter of choice.

The news of my condition spread quickly among friends, family and neighbors, and the outpour of kindness was overwhelming as well as humbling. We received countless calls and e-mails from everywhere. My eyes filled with tears as so many expressed their wishes for my recovery.

One woman we know sends me a get-well card with an encouraging handwritten message every day. Several friends have volunteered to drive me to chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Our next-door neighbors have always been like family, and opened their home to our children and grandchildren when they came to visit from out of town, as ours is too small for all of them.

I have learned a great deal from this journey. One question that I’ve thought about—Is there anything worse than cancer in your body? Yes, it’s cancer of the spirit. There are so many people who look like they are alive and healthy. But they are miserable with themselves and everything around them. No matter what happens, they are unhappy. Regardless of the positive in their lives, they look for the negative. And no matter who tries to love them or be kind to them, it’s never good enough.

While I wouldn’t have chosen this challenge, I continuously look for the blessings in it more than the curses. I remember asking my wife, “Can you imagine going through this without a solid spiritual foundation?” I shudder at the thought of how I would have dealt with my condition without it.

Anger, blame and bitterness are reactions to illness that are fruitless. I have seen the full range in my cancer support group. If these dear people have taught me anything, it’s to accept a challenge for what it really is—and face it head-on. I have shared laughter, tears and many heart-to-heart talks that would never have taken place without my illness. And, while I certainly don’t pretend there’s nothing wrong, I don’t dwell on what I cannot influence or control.

My uninvited guest arrived as a complete surprise, but it eventually and unexpectedly gave me the opportunity to do what few people are able to do—live life to its fullest—each and every day. No, I don’t mean doing super cool stuff, traveling to exotic places, acquiring extravagant toys or “grabbing for all the gusto” I can as an old beer ad used to suggest. I mean living each moment with full appreciation that there might not be another.

When my wife was seriously ill a few years ago, one of our daughters prophetically said, “We will all grow from this.” Sure enough, we did. And we will undoubtedly grow from our present situation. Of course, we don’t know for certain what my fate will be. In the meantime, we have the power of prayer, faith and the kindness of others to guide us along the way. As one friend said, “Pray like it all depends on God, and work on getting better like it all depends on you.” Amen.

~David Hyman

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