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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 September 12, 2019

12 Things You Should Remember When Feeling Lost in Life

12 Things You Should Remember When Feeling Lost in Life

Even the most charismatic people you know, whether in person or celebrities of some sort, experience days where they feel lost in life and isolated from everyone else.

While it’s good to know we aren’t alone in this feeling, the question still remains:

What should we do when we feel lost and lonely?

Here are 12 things to remember:

1. Recognize That It’s Okay!

The truth is, there are times you need to be alone. If you’ve always been accustomed to being in contact with people, this may prove difficult.

However, learning how to be alone and comfortable in your own skin will give you confidence and a sense of self reliance.

We cheat ourselves out of the opportunity to become self reliant when we look for constant companionship.

Learn how to embrace your me time: What Your Fear of Being Alone Is Really About and How to Get over It

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2. Use Your Lost and Loneliness as a Self-Directing Guide

You’ve most likely heard the expression: “You have to know where you’ve been to know where you’re going.”

Loneliness also serves as a life signal to indicate you’re in search of something. It’s when we’re in the midst of solitude that answers come from true soul searching.

Remember, there is more to life than what you’re feeling.

3. Realize Loneliness Helps You Face the Truth

Being in the constant company of others, although comforting sometimes, can often serve as a distraction when we need to face the reality of a situation.

Solitude cuts straight to the chase and forces you to deal with the problem at hand. See it as a blessing that can serve as a catalyst to set things right!

4. Be Aware That You Have More Control Than You Think

Typically, when we see ourselves as being lost or lonely, it gives us an excuse to view everything we come in contact with in a negative light. It lends itself to putting ourselves in the victim mode, when the truth of the matter is that you choose your attitude in every situation.

No one can force a feeling upon you! It is YOU who has the ultimate say as to how you choose to react.

5. Embrace the Freedom That the Feeling of Being Alone Can Offer

Instead of wallowing in self pity, which many are prone to do because of loneliness, try looking at your circumstance as a new-found freedom.

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Most people are in constant need of approval of their viewpoints. Try enjoying the fact that  you don’t need everyone you care about to support your decisions.

6. Acknowledge the Person You Are Now

Perhaps you feel a sense of loneliness and confusion because your life circumstances have taken you away from the persona that others know to be you.

Perhaps the new you differs radically from the old. Realize that life is about change and how we react to that change. It’s okay that you’re not who you used to be.

Take a look at this article and learn to accept your imperfect self: Accept Yourself (Flaws and All): 7 Benefits of Being Vulnerable

7. Keep Striving to Do Your Best

Often those who are feeling isolated and unto themselves will develop a defeatist attitude. They’ll do substandard work because their self esteem is low and they don’t care.

Never let this feeling take away your sense of worth! Do your best always and when you come through this dark time, others will admire how you stayed determined in spite of the obstacles you had to overcome.

And to live your best life, you must do this ONE thing: step out of your comfort zone.

8. Don’t Forget That Time Is Precious

When we’re lost in a sea of loneliness and depression, it’s all too easy to reflect on regrets of past life events. This does nothing but feed negativity and perpetuate the situation.

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Instead of falling prey to this common pitfall, put one foot in front of the other and acknowledge every positive step you take. By doing this, you can celebrate the struggles you overcome at the end of the day.

9. Remember, Things Happen for a Reason

Every circumstance we encounter in our life is designed to teach us and that lesson is in turn passed on to others.

Sometimes we’re fortunate enough to figure out the lesson to be learned, while other times, we simply need to have faith that if the lesson wasn’t meant directly for us to learn from, how we handled it was observed by someone who needed to learn.

Your solitude and feeling of lost, in this instance, although painful possibly, may be teaching someone else.

10. Journal During This Time

Record your thoughts when you’re at the height of loneliness and feeling lost. You’ll be amazed when you reflect back at how you viewed things at the time and how far you’ve come later.

This time (if recorded) can give you a keen insight into who you are and what makes you feel the way you feel.

11. Remember You Aren’t the First to Feel This Way

It’s quite common to feel as if we’re alone and no one else has ever felt this way before. We think this because at the time of our distress, we’re silently observing others around us who are seemingly fine in every way.

The truth is, we can’t possibly know the struggles of those around us unless they elect to share them. We ALL have known this pain!

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Try confiding in someone you trust and ask them how they deal with these feelings when they experienced it. You may be surprised at what you learn.

12. Ask for Help If the Problem Persists

The feeling of being lost and lonely is common to everyone, but typically it will last for a relatively short period of time.

Most people will confess to, at one time or another, being in a “funk.” But if the problem persists longer than you feel it should, don’t ignore it.

When your ability to reason and consider things rationally becomes impaired, do not poo poo the problem away and think it isn’t worthy of attention. Seek medical help.

Afraid to ask for help? Here’s how to change your outlook to aim high!

Final Thoughts

Loneliness and a sense of feeling lost can in many ways be extremely painful and difficult to deal with at best. However, these feelings can also serve as a catalyst for change in our lives if we acknowledge them and act.

Above anything, cherish your mental well being and don’t underestimate its worth. Seek professional guidance if you’re unable to distinguish between a sense of freedom for yourself and a sense of despair.

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Featured photo credit: Andrew Neel via unsplash.com

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