Two months ago when we first learned my dad has incurable metastatic prostate cancer that has spread to nine places in his bones, and later that he was not a candidate for surgery or radiation*, it was tough. I thought that the rest of this summer was going to be really, really hard. In some ways, it is. In others, it has been joyous. But most of all it has been POSITIVE, thanks to my dad.
Let me tell you about my dad. He’s a hard ass. He’s competitive. He’s a perfectionist. An outdoorsman. Serially successful. Notwithstanding nine back surgeries, he’s an endurance athlete. Lover of animals (but strict). He’s demanding. Type A trait and a hard worker. As my daughter would say about comparing herself to me, when I compare myself to my dad, the apple does not far fall from the tree. The things I admire most about him have always been the things I have groaned about in my own self.
Notice words I did not use in that paragraph. Positive. Introspective. Calm. It’s pretty hard to be those things when you’re exacting on yourself. A goal setter and goal smasher? Sure. But a meditator? Nope.
Cancer has changed that. At the suggestion of a friend, author Marcy McKay, I bought Dad Radical Remission. It lists 9 common factors in radical remission stories for people with cancer who were given very grim prognoses. He’s spent a ton of time researching and implementing the right options for diet, supplements, and exercise, which are three factors on the list. He’s all over that kind of thing. Other factors, like surrounding yourself with love, faith, and a mission outside yourself are automatics for him. But some of the factors weren’t in his normal sweet spot. Daily meditation, low stress, positive mental outlook. Not only has his life been filled with BIG mental and physical stressors, he drives himself by creating a certain level of internal stress. And if you’re too positive, that’s just permission to slack off. Meditation? Waste of time.
That was the old Peter. The new Peter meditates daily. He refuses to let anything upset him. He’s found the mental strength to find the silver lining in every cloud on his horizon, even if occasionally “in the moment” of bad news, the initial reaction is authentic and not yet positive—but he gets there quickly. Honestly, he’s so Zen I hardly know him! Just kidding. Sort of. Certainly he’s calm in a way I’ve never known, and mentally present in all his interactions in a way I haven’t seen in him in many years.
As a physician, he knows very well there is no pill or procedure that will be his panacea, although modern medicine will still help him.. Extending his life so that he lives with his cancer, as an unwelcome but stubborn companion, as many years as possible, will be up to him, and will be because he enhances medical treatment, not relies completely upon it. (Don’t Google life expectancy for metastatic cancer in the bones, it’s too depressing, and we aren’t doing depressed.) The mission outside himself that he is formulating is to help other people who are given similar diagnoses. It’s terrifying and overwhelming, and the doctors are so specialized that it’s hard to find someone to muster you through all the options for enhancing your own life extension, and, ultimately, making that as easy as possible, so that someday you are living with your cancer, not a prisoner to it. (His author daughter is actually getting ready to ask him to write a book on it!)
As he says, “We all die someday. But I want to put that off as long as possible, and die WITH my cancer, not FROM it.” When you have an incurable disease, that’s the very definition of positive. And inspiring.
I am in the middle of the “rewrite” of my first draft of the book (SWITCHBACK) I am writing, that is inspired by a younger version of this man. I’m setting daily goals and crushing them. But I’m trying to be softer with myself. Less pushing, more focus on a mission outside myself, taking care of myself and spending time with the ones I love along the way. I have Dad to thank for the change in my outlook. It’s more positive, more calm.
(But I haven’t started meditating. Dammit. I just can’t force myself….Help. I have a problem.)
Living with your ______ (whatever that is). Think about that positive mindset for a second. I think it transcends cancer, don’t you?
* NOT YET, anyway. Once he shrinks his tumors, he’ll get his chance. <3
p.s. the photo above inspired the cover of Switchback