Wednesday, February 4, 2009

It will never happen to me!

Many of us live our lives largely unaffected by news events or by the turmoil of others. We are bombarded with atrocious events in the print and news media and think to ourselves “It will never happen to me”. We have empathy for those affected by war, disease, violence and poverty, but it rarely extent past our comfort zone. This week I was forced out of my comfort zone. Media reports had a direct impact on my live and the plight of someone conjured up painful memories.

Last week news broke that the final death blow was delivered to the organization I work for. Legislation fashioned in an undemocratic manner was adopted and signed thereby blighting the future careers of all of us who are affected. A sombre mood followed. Having to face the challenge of integrating with another organization, not having a clear sense of direction and being confused by the process that is to follow is daunting to say the least.

For the first time decisions made by government will have a direct impact on my life. It’s easy to slip into depression and become muted or even passive aggressive due to a sense of powerlessness. Reading the news articles I wonder how many other people read about their fate in the news and whether the feeling of obscurity I had is the same. As the initial impact passed and the shockwaves grew slighter, I realized how resilient one must be to survive. I adopted an attitude of liability towards my own future; no matter what will be thrown at me I will be prepared to face the challenge. It may be easier said than done, but being negative and anticipating that which I don’t know will only hinder the successful negotiation of my future. This holds true for most trials in life.

During the same week a colleague was diagnosed with cancer and a famous actress, I admired, died from the disease. My colleague is a young vibrant woman who has always been in great health and good spirit. The news of her illness visibly destroyed her. Having an oncologist tell you to make sure your affairs are in order is the worst words anyone can hear. The same words fell on my mother’s ears just over 4 years ago. She learned that she had terminal cancer and had less than 18 months to live. We all know that we are going to die, how ominious it must be to know your specific deadline.


I saw my mother go through all the phases from denial, anger, bargaining and depression. Acceptance was tough for all of us but most arduous for my mother. I saw the strong woman that raised me wither away as the disease ravaged her body and at times stripped her of her dignity. The morning she died I felt relieved that her suffering was over. It took a long time to eliminate the visual memory of my dying mother and surrogate it with a memory of her at her prime - therapy helped. We were fortunate, we had time to prepare and had time to say good bye. I am not sure I understand how difficult it must have been for her during the last 9 months of her life, but she remained strong willed until sheer will and faith was not enough.

Cancer is an inhumane and indiscriminate disease. Saying good bye to my colleague as she sets off on the battle of her life, the memory of my mother prevented me from saying phrases like “Stay strong”, “You can beat this” and “Everything is going to be ok” - those words are futile. She will not stay strong, she may die and things are not going to be ok: She will be sick from treatments; her body will be scarred from surgery; emotionally she will go to the darkest places she has ever been and if she survives the memory of her illness will haunt her every time she falls ill, discovers a lump or see her scars. The only words of encouragement I could muster was “Laugh every opportunity you get, cry when you must, take it a day at a time and never loose your will to live”.

The past week helped me get perspective. As I said before, there are no certainties in life and that which is unexpected in all probability could happen to you. I realized that I should be grateful for what I have in my life and embrace adversities as it can only devastate me if I allow it to. The challenges that I face seem insignificant compared to that of others, and I will always remember that all people’s experiences are inherently egoistic. Your own problems, at the end of the day, are more important to you than those of others.

I challenge everyone who read this to take a “tea break” from your own life and have a good look around you and savour the moment.

Don’t let an opportunity go by to laugh. Don’t be afraid to cry. Life is too short.

Till next time.





HERE COMES THE SUN as sung by Nina Simone

6 comments:

Rambler said...

Hectic post, but beautiful at the same time. Sorry to hear about the confusion in your life and the loss you experienced... always hard and deeply confusing.

I saw a book in Exclusives yesterday on how to live a regret free life in 30 days - where you assume the next 30 are your last. Not sure I'd buy it, but important to remember that life is short, and we are what we make of it...

Pierre said...

Thanks, we all go though phases in our lives where we are confused, experience loss and have to face certain hard realities. I think they are all necessary to help mould the people we are. If life was just easy, none of us will have any interesting stories to tell and we would all be utterly boring.

Viktor Emil Frankl with his pioneering logotherapy said that one should always find the meaning of your own suffering in order to evolve. Poignant words coming from a psychiatrist that survived the holocaust. You should read his book Man's Search for Meaning (first published under a different title in 1959: From Death-Camp to Existentialism) it's very inspiring. First read the book in 1994, and it changed the way I face adversities.

I was concerned about publishing this post, as it is something very personal, and less amusing than what I have published before. But the blog is not called "The delightful and dreary sides of gay life" for nothing. So this was the dreary bit. Hope it doesn't put people off from following the blog.

Frank J said...

Great post Pierre, even if it's for reasons that make one all teary eye'd.

I have been through many of the same things you speak of here - and it touched a nerve.

And seeing your 'humanist' face for the first time has made me all the more interested in following your blog in future.

Pierre said...

Thanks Frank J ;-)

Anonymous said...

Pierre
Just read your blogpost above [through a Facebook contact]
Cancer is indeed an inhumane and indiscriminate disease, I know because I've been there!

I'll answer the rest through the text of your blog so I don't miss aomething ....

"Saying good bye to my colleague as she sets off on the battle of her life, the memory of my mother prevented me from saying phrases like “Stay strong”, “You can beat this” and “Everything is going to be ok” - those words are futile."

Yes and No! These expressions are nice to hear and can give emotional encouragement, so they have their place; and just because one person succumbs to cancer doesn't mean another person will.

"She will not stay strong, she may die and things are not going to be ok: She will be sick from treatments; her body will be scarred from surgery; emotionally she will go to the darkest places she has ever been and if she survives the memory of her illness will haunt her every time she falls ill, discovers a lump or see her scars."

Again yes and no! None of us know how we will react to such a circumstance, it's true some people crumble, but it's also true that some people absolutely blossom. Looking back nine years on my experience of advanced Testicular Cancer, I can see I wasted far too much emotional energy waiting to be sick from the chemotherapy, and it was wasted effort! We all react differently to the drugs, some folks are sick, others are not.
How she reacts to her illness is largely up to her, our job is to make sure she has a good support network, that she does not feel alone, and that she receives every possible encouragement.

"The only words of encouragement I could muster was “Laugh every opportunity you get, cry when you must, take it a day at a time and never loose your will to live”."

Bloody brilliant encouragement! Sane and sensible, which is what's really needed.

I could go on ... but just know this - if I can assist in any way all you have to do is ask!!

Pierre said...

Thanks for your comment.

As it turns out my colleague did well with her surgery. She will only get the final results this Friday. After three days in hospital she was allowed to go home.

She's in a positive frame of mind, and being the person she is, I believe she will remain being positive. Your mindset, in my opinion, is the most important factor in fighting any disease.

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