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10 Life Lessons Only People who’ve Lost a Loved One to Cancer Know So Well

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10 Life Lessons Only People who’ve Lost a Loved One to Cancer Know So Well

This story is sad. This story is dreadful. This story is tragic. But it is real. And as sad as the story is, it happens all over the world to people indiscriminately—so many times that not many care to keep count.

According to the World Health Organization, there were 8.2 million cancer related deaths in 2012, with the number of new cases expected to rise by about 70% over the next 2 decades. Here are ten life lessons only people who have lost a loved one to cancer know so well.

1. Life is precious and fleeting.

Anyone who’s walked ‘through the valley of the shadow of death’ can attest to how precious and fleeting life is. You are here today and gone tomorrow. My father was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer in January, when I was 17. By April of the same year, he was dead. Let me just say watching someone you love so much slowly wither away and die young (my father was supposed to turn 46 later that year) is no joke. The emotional enormity of the experience, its absolute finality—it breaks you.

2. The words “I love you” mean more when said to a loved one when they are still alive.

The most beautiful words are often spoken when someone has passed away. But, why wait until it’s too late? I never told my father how much I loved him, or even how much he meant to me when he was still alive. I was a stubborn teenager who rarely verbalized my true feelings or said thoughtful words to those I loved—until, as first born, I was required to help draft my father’s eulogy. Sadly, many people are like that (stubborn and unloving) well past their rebellious teen years.

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Surely your loved one doesn’t have to be on their deathbed for you to say something wonderful to them. Say you love them today and show it in a thousand different ways. As terrifying as it may be, tell them. Seriously, why wait until they die to tell them you love them when you can tell them now?

3. A “Thank you” is more significant if a loved one can hear it and respond.

The day my father died of cancer of the liver was my brother’s birthday. He looked calm and happy lying on the hospital bed when he asked my brother and I to go celebrate the birthday rather than stay at the hospital. I can’t recall if we thanked him for letting us leave early, but we ran out of the hospital to celebrate. That same night, around 8 pm, while we were playing video games, my father passed on. I wish we had been more deliberate in saying thank you to dad for being so loving and thoughtful, even on his sick bed.

Don’t wait to say, “thank you.” Surprise someone you care about with these beautiful words before it’s too late. Let those you love know you are thankful for everything they’ve done for you. Make sure they understand that you appreciate them – that you are grateful for the good memories and continued love they show you even when you aren’t very loveable.

4. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

The pain and sense of loss I felt when my father died is unparalleled. I reached rock bottom. I was in the deepest, darkest pit of misery and hopelessness. I can’t possibly fall any farther than that. Even if (God forbid) I lost my wife, my daughter, and my mom all at once (all of whom I love with all my heart and soul and might), I cannot feel such depth and raw pain as I felt when cancer ripped my father from our family. It was my maiden encounter with real pain—a baptism of fire. Now nothing can break me—death can’t break me. I am strong. I have survived the horror of watching someone I love dearly die a slow, agonizing death.

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Cancer does that to you. You know what you’ve been through, and you’re stronger for it. You live in constant gratitude, brimming with love and thankfulness, because no matter where you find yourself, no matter your present situation, no matter the trials before you… you’ve been through hell and survived. Somehow you’re still here, you’re together…and you know you can make it through anything.

5. Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.

We watched helplessly as dad moaned, groaned and writhed in excruciating pain from the cancer. He suffered unspeakable discomfort from all the treatments, surgeries, drugs, and injections, and it pained me more than words can explain. I wished I could take the chemo treatments for him, but I couldn’t.

The sight (weight loss, hair loss, and so on) and the thought of what a loved one is going through kills you inside, but you can’t do anything about it—the pain is inevitable. But when it is all finished, you alone get to decide how long you will continue to suffer and when you should accept it and move on.

6. Time heals all wounds.

When my dad died, I was a total wreck. I refused to go to school. I ran away from home. I had nothing to do with God, for he had “abandoned” us in our hour of need. I started drinking and smoking, but somehow, in the course of time, the pain and hurt subsided. Almost 12 years have passed since my dad died, and trust me when I say the wound is healed. The scars are still there—but the wound is healed.

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Time indeed does heal all wounds. Don’t despair. Give it time. Even though you are in such emotional pain that you can’t see how you can move on after the loss of a loved one, take heart, because time heals all wounds. The scars may remain (possibly forever), but your wound will heal in time.

7. Hard times reveal true friends.

It just so happens that the people who you expect will be there for you may not; and those people you never expected to be there will. I remember a close friend of my mother who was also her church-mate at the time speaking behind her back at church saying that the reason my dad had died was because my mother was not “Christian” enough. That really hurt my mother, because she trusted this woman and would not have expected such hurtful words to come from her.

Cancer has a way of bringing out who your true friends are—the ones who will be beside you through thick and thin, through ups and downs, through the beauty and the ugliness. Once you know who your true friends are, embrace and keep them close, along with your family. These are the people who truly matter. You will lean on them regularly and they will lean on you. Your friendship will nourish and carry you through many trials and tribulations that life throws.

8. Life is worth living.

It is ironic that seeing the face of death causes us to live life with even more passion. Once you’ve experience the death of a loved one to cancer, the way you live and view life after the storm has passed is never the same. I wake up every morning thankful. I appreciate all the loved ones left in my life with greater fervor, because it is crystal clear to me that life is not guaranteed. I recognize that soon it will all end.

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No one can predict the moment of death, and nothing ever prepares you for it, but with every sunrise and sunset, with every bird song and rainfall, with every blossoming flower in the spring and every fallen leaf in the autumn—rise up and celebrate life and all the little notes that compose life’s great symphony.

9. Miracles happen.

Life gives and takes away. Even newborn babies die. People eventually learn to accept the turn life has taken and work with it instead of struggling against it. It isn’t easy, but the more you surrender, the easier it is to maintain peace of mind and move on. Never underestimate the resilience of the human spirit.

It’s amazing how people who’ve lost loved ones to cancer pull themselves through and not only continue to live, but also to live better. It’s a miracle that many who actually endure the whole ordeal of chemo treatments come out of it alive and actually thrive.

10. Life will go on without you.

Mortality is something we all must face. Even though people don’t want to think about death, the fact remains that we will all die one day. And, sad as it may be, the world won’t stop because you are gone. It will keep spinning. The joys and struggles of surviving will continue with or without you. If that makes you sad, just remember this: the horror of life is that it changes; the beauty of life is that it changes.

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That’s why we celebrate and give thanks for all cancer survivors. We celebrate all the valiant souls who have passed on, and all those who are left behind to tell the story. Love and peace to you all.

Featured photo credit: jimp200962 via pixabay.com

More by this author

David K. William

David is a publisher and entrepreneur who tries to help professionals grow their business and careers, and gives advice for entrepreneurs.

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

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How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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