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I was diagnosed with cancer last week

I was diagnosed with cancer last week

I want to tell you about my reaction when I was told I had colon cancer last week and how I have been dealing with the diagnosis ever since.  Not because I think you are particularly interested in details about my health, but because I did something very unusual—yet something anyone can learn to do, something that can eliminate suffering from your life.

Here’s the relevant background

I have been visiting an oncologist (a cancer doctor) regularly for over eight years because of an earlier diagnosis of a type of blood cancer.  That illness was never very serious and had been managed originally by a very healthy diet, alternative procedures like acupuncture, and a bunch of herbs and supplements.  Eventually the condition did get worse and my doctor recommended (and I agreed to) a course of chemotherapy that resulted in total remission.

When I visited my oncologist about three weeks ago for a normal checkup she noticed that all my blood work was back to normal, as she had expected, except for my red cells being abnormally low.  They were so low that I had anemia.  She explained to me that the red cells should have improved along with the other blood markers.  She said she wanted to run some addition blood tests to find out why.

There was an event: I had anemia.  I didn’t give that event any meaning.  In other words, I didn’t know anything for sure as a result of that event.

The new blood tests showed that my iron and certain other related blood markers were very low.  That was another event and I didn’t give it any meaning.

The doctor said the most likely cause of the results was internal bleeding, so she ordered a fecal occult blood test to check for microscopic blood in the stool.  That test was positive.  That was another event and I didn’t give it any meaning.

To find out the source of the bleeding she ordered a colonoscopy. The gastroenterologist who did the colonoscopy told my wife Shelly and me that the biopsy of two masses in the colon indicated colon cancer.  At that point we knew the source of the low red blood count, the iron deficiency, and the blood in my stool.

I also learned that if the cancer had not spread beyond the lining of the colon and it was removed surgically, the problem would be totally solved.  If it had spread to other organs, then the prognosis could be serious.  But all I knew for sure was that I needed a relatively simple surgery to remove the piece of the colon that contained the two malignant masses.  That was another event and I did not give it any meaning.

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And because, as I’ve explained on several occasions, virtually all feelings come from the meaning we give events and not the events themselves, I never got scared or upset in the least as I got each new piece of information about my condition.

But what if you were told your odds of survival were very low?

When I told Shelly I was writing this she warned me that some people might say: “Sure you’re not scared; you know you’ll probably be cured.  What if you discover the cancer has spread and the odds of you surviving were very low?”

I am in the process of arranging to have surgery in the next week or two.  My oncologist said that given all the information she has, the odds that the cancer has not spread and will be removed totally when the section of colon containing the malignant masses is surgically removed is 80%.  But I think that no matter what they find when the cancer is removed and analyzed, I probably will continue to give the pathology report no meaning.

I have gotten to the point where I am no longer attached to things, including my life, and, at the same time, I am incredibly passionate about my family and my work and all that I still intend to do until the day I die.

Create meaning consciously

How can I possibly be passionate if I have stopped giving meaning to events?  One criticism that has been leveled at the idea of living without giving meaning to events is that people without emotions would be robots, automatons.  They would cease to be human, as we understand human.

To begin with, I am not arguing that people should live without emotions.  I am simple stating that it is not necessary to live with the emotions that result from the unconsciously- and automatically-created meaning in our minds.  You can if you want to.  But there is an alternative approach.   It is possible to consciously create meaning when you want to.

Here’s how.  In a game we pretend that something is more important than something else.  If you get a little white ball in a hole hundreds of yards away with less “strokes” than someone else, you “win.”  Getting certain cards “beats” someone with other cards.  Amassing more property with houses and hotels than everyone else in Monopoly enables you to accumulate all the money and “win the game.”

In every game we make up the rules and then pretend that they are the “right” way to play.  And here’s the important part: When we “win” we are excited; when we “lose” we are disappointed.  In “reality” nothing has changed.  Our relationships, our work, our wealth, etc. are all the same.  And yet we can be passionate when playing a game.

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It is possible to play life as a game.  It is possible to give meaning to your family, to your work, to anything you want to give meaning to. On some level you know that you made up the meaning, but while playing the game of life you experience it as real.  And when you do, you can experience joy or sadness.

The difference between consciously creating meaning and thinking the automatically- and unconsciously-created meaning is real is that you can choose to remember you are playing a game at any time.  When you think your meanings are real, you are at the effect of them.  When you know you consciously made them up, you are not.  (For more details about playing life as a game see an earlier post, http://www.mortylefkoe.com/life_is_a_game/.)

You don’t need meaning to act

Another common fallacy is the argument that you need to give meaning to events in order to be motivated to act.  You do not.  If you got fired from your job, you would not have to see it as a disaster to look for a new job.

In fact, by not giving meaning to events—thereby eliminating the possibility of stress and upset—you are able to think more clearly about the best possible action to take to deal with the events.  Moreover, I and many others whom I’ve trained to dissolve meaning automatically have found that when we dissolve the meaning we have given to events we see more possibilities for action than we had seen before.

If I discover that my cancer has spread and that I only have a 5% chance of survival past five years, even getting that information would have no meaning.  And yet I would research every possible allopathic and alternative treatment that might help me survive.  I would intend to be one of the surviving 5%.

(In the past couple of days since writing this we discovered that the cancer in my colon has metastasized and spread to my liver.  I now have fourth stage colon cancer.  As a result the surgery was cancelled and I will be starting chemotherapy in a couple of days. I am still not giving meaning to my condition.)

How to deal with a doctor’s diagnosis

I remember reading 28 years ago in Dr. Bernie Siegel’s book, Love, Medicine and Miracles: “Accept your doctor’s diagnosis; ignore the prognosis.”  In other words, if a doctor’s expert opinion is that you have a specific illness, you probably do (but not necessarily).  But doctors can never predict for certain what will happen to you as a result of the diagnosis.  I realized many years later that a diagnosis is the event; the prognosis is meaning.

I read Dr. Siegel’s comment long before I became able to automatically dissolve the meaning I unconsciously and automatically gave events all day long.

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You can do it too

My purpose of describing how I’ve reacted to the recent changes in my health is not to brag or to imply I am enlightened or better than anyone else.  I would not reacted for most of my life the way I have recently.  For most of my life I gave meaning to events 20 to 50 times a day like almost everyone else does and I was upset and anxious much of the time.  I am telling this story because I learned how to stop giving meaning to events so consistently that I don’t give even a cancer diagnosis any meaning.  And, as a result, I have felt no upset or anxiety since my oncologist’s initial concern about my low red blood cell count.

There is nothing I am able to do now that you can’t learn how to do too.

Courage is highly overrated

Several friends who I told about the events I’ve just described said that I was displaying incredible courage.  Actually I’m not showing any courage at all.  Courage is acting in the face of fear; acting in spite of fear; not letting fear stop you.  I am not experiencing fear, so my ability to calmly think about what to do next and move forward is not a display of courage.

My friends’ comments made me think: If you are going to feel fear, it’s good to have courage so your fear doesn’t stop you. We look up to and want to emulate heroes, people who act with courage.

But there is an alternative that’s even better than courage: Eliminate the meaning that causes the fear so that you don’t have to act despite experiencing it.  If you put people who show courage on a pedestal as people to emulate, then you are saying, implicitly, that if you want to be a hero it is important to have fear that you can overcome.  If you don’t feel fear, you can’t act in spite of it and show courage.

Praising courage is part of a bigger cultural issue that assumes life is going to be difficult and praises people who learn from their “inevitable” unhappiness, their pain, and their sorrow.  If your life is miserable, you might as well learn from it, but actually, none of those unpleasant feelings are inevitable.

“You must be in denial”

Not too long ago I asked a friend for advice after telling him about a business setback I had experienced.  He assumed I was very upset and when I told him I wasn’t, he replied: “If you aren’t upset in this situation, you are in severe denial.”

Most people are convinced that it is impossible to live without at least some suffering.  Everyone knows that certain situations, like having a severe business setback or a cancer diagnosis, have to result in upsetting emotions.  The best we can do is show courage.

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During the last year or so I have rarely experienced negative feelings of any kind; as a result I feel virtually no stress and no suffering.

My purpose of writing this post is to say the common assumption that suffering is necessary is wrong.  A cancer diagnosis or any other “undesirable” situation doesn’t have to be scary.  Events cannot cause stress; only your meaning can.  In fact, although you can’t always control the events in your life, you can totally control your experience of life.

I’ve written extensively on how to use the Lefkoe Freedom Process to dissolve occurrings.  See especially http://www.mortylefkoe.com/important-improve-life/ and http://www.mortylefkoe.com/what-they-seem-2/.  You can also view my TEDx talk, “How to Stop Suffering,” where I walk the viewer through the process for dissolving meaning: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sMdVM-t5kFs.

 

Thanks for reading my blog.  Please post your questions or comments on how a cancer diagnosis does not have to result in anxiety and how we can control our experience of life.  Disagreement is as welcome as agreement. Your comments add value for thousands of readers.  I love to read them all and I will respond to as many as I can.

If you want to help your friends who want to understand how to stop suffering by learning how to stop giving meaning to events, please share this blog post with them by using the buttons located below.

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Last Updated on May 21, 2019

How to Communicate Effectively in Any Relationship

How to Communicate Effectively in Any Relationship

For all our social media bravado, we live in a society where communication is seen less as an art, and more as a perfunctory exercise. We spend so much time with people, yet we struggle with how to meaningfully communicate.

If you believe you have mastered effective communication, scan the list below and see whether you can see yourself in any of the examples:

Example 1

You are uncomfortable with a person’s actions or comments, and rather than telling the individual immediately, you sidestep the issue and attempt to move on as though the offending behavior or comment never happened.

You move on with the relationship and develop a pattern of not addressing challenging situations. Before long, the person with whom you are in relationship will say or do something that pushes you over the top and predictably, you explode or withdraw completely from the relationship.

In this example, hard-to-speak truths become never- expressed truths that turn into resentment and anger.

Example 2

You communicate from the head and without emotion. While what you communicate makes perfect sense to you, it comes across as cold because it lacks emotion.

People do not understand what motivates you to say what you say, and without sharing your feelings and emotions, others experience you as rude, cold or aggressive.

You will know this is a problem if people shy away from you, ignore your contributions in meetings or tell you your words hurt. You can also know you struggle in this area if you find yourself constantly apologizing for things you have said.

Example 3

You have an issue with one person, but you communicate your problem to an entirely different person.

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The person in whom you confide lacks the authority to resolve the matter troubling you, and while you have vented and expressed frustration, the underlying challenge is unresolved.

Example 4

You grew up in a family with destructive communication habits and those habits play out in your current relationships.

Because you have never stopped to ask why you communicate the way you do and whether your communication style still works, you may lack understanding of how your words impact others and how to implement positive change.

If you find yourself in any of the situations described above, this article is for you.

Communication can build or decimate worlds and it is important we get it right. Regardless of your professional aspirations or personal goals, you can improve your communication skills if you:

  • Understand your own communication style
  • Tailor your style depending on the needs of the audience
  • Communicate with precision and care
  • Be mindful of your delivery, timing and messenger

1. Understand Your Communication Style

To communicate effectively, you must understand the communication legacy passed down from our parents, grandparents or caregivers. Each of us grew up with spoken and unspoken rules about communication.

In some families, direct communication is practiced and honored. In other families, family members are encouraged to shy away from difficult conversations. Some families appreciate open and frank dialogue and others do not. Other families practice silence about substantive matters, that is, they seldom or rarely broach difficult conversations at all.

Before you can appreciate the nuance required in communication, it helps to know the familial patterns you grew up with.

2. Learn Others Communication Styles

Communicating effectively requires you to take a step back, assess the intended recipient of your communication and think through how the individual prefers to be communicated with. Once you know this, you can tailor your message in a way that increases the likelihood of being heard. This also prevents you from assuming the way you communicate with one group is appropriate or right for all groups or people.

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If you are unsure how to determine the styles of the groups or persons with whom you are interacting, you can always ask them:

“How do you prefer to receive information?”

This approach requires listening, both to what the individuals say as well as what is unspoken. Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson noted that the best communicators are also great listeners.

To communicate effectively from relationship to relationship and situation to situation, you must understand the communication needs of others.

3. Exercise Precision and Care

A recent engagement underscored for me the importance of exercising care when communicating.

On a recent trip to Ohio, I decided to meet up with an old friend to go for a walk. As we strolled through the soccer park, my friend gently announced that he had something to talk about, he was upset with me. His introduction to the problem allowed me to mentally shift gears and prepare for the conversation.

Shortly after introducing the shift in conversation, my friend asked me why I didn’t invite him to the launch party for my business. He lives in Ohio and I live in the D.C. area.

I explained that the event snuck up on me, and I only started planning the invite list three weeks before the event. Due to the last-minute nature of the gathering, I opted to invite people in the DMV area versus my friends from outside the area – I didn’t want to be disrespectful by asking them to travel on such short notice.

I also noted that I didn’t want to be disappointed if he and others declined to come to the event. So I played it safe in terms of inviting people who were local.

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In the moment, I felt the conversation went very well. I also checked in with my friend a few days after our walk, affirmed my appreciation for his willingness to communicate his upset and our ability to work through it.

The way this conversation unfolded exemplified effective communication. My friend approached me with grace and vulnerability. He approached me with a level of curiosity that didn’t put me on my heels — I was able to really listen to what he was saying, apologize for how my decision impacted him and vow that going forward, I would always ask rather than making decisions for him and others.

Our relationship is intact, and I now have information that will help me become a better friend to him and others.

4. Be Mindful of Delivery, Timing and Messenger

Communicating effectively also requires thinking through the delivery of the message one intends to communicate as well as the appropriate time for the discussion.

In an Entrepreneur.com column, VIP Contributor Deep Patel, noted that persons interested in communicating well need to master the art of timing. Patel noted,[1]

“Great comedians, like all great communicators, are able to feel out their audience to determine when to move on to a new topic or when to reiterate an idea.”

Communicating effectively also requires thoughtfulness about the messenger. A person prone to dramatic, angry outbursts should never be called upon to deliver constructive feedback, especially to people whom they do not know. The immediate aftermath of a mass shooting is not the ideal time to talk about the importance of the Second Amendment rights.

Like everyone else, I must work to ensure my communication is layered with precision and care.

It requires precision because words must be carefully tailored to the person with whom you are speaking.

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It requires intentionality because before one communicates, one should think about the audience and what the audience needs in order to hear your message the way you intended it to be communicated.

It requires active listening which is about hearing verbal and nonverbal messages.

Even though we may be right in what we say, how we say it could derail the impact of the message and the other parties’ ability to hear the message.

Communicating with care is also about saying things that the people in our life need to hear and doing so with love.

The Bottom Line

When I left the meeting with my dear friend, I wondered if I was replicating or modeling this level of openness and transparency in the rest of my relationships.

I was intrigued and appreciative. He’d clearly thought about what he wanted to say to me, picked the appropriate time to share his feedback and then delivered it with care. He hit the ball out of the park and I’m hopeful we all do the same.

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Featured photo credit: Kenan Buhic via unsplash.com

Reference

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