Woman thinking about her emotions and cancer

Uncertainty: Mixed Emotions and Cancer

“Terrorism is a disease!”

It dawned on me suddenly not more than 10 minutes into a presentation I was giving at a recent symposium for Exceptional Cancer Patients (ECaP) in Michigan.

The topic was “survival” as it relates to the extraordinary challenges of living with cancer. Yet during that presentation I couldn’t escape my feelings concerning the ongoing terrorist acts which have rapidly transformed our nation and our lives. Each time I refocused my attention on the subject of surviving cancer, a voice from within relentlessly interrupted with the word, “terrorism.”

Rather than fleeing from the calling, I gave in and decided to run with it. As my speech progressively evolved, the relationship between cancer and terrorism moved far beyond “logical” well into the realm of “obvious.”

Pondering the concept, I allowed myself to become vulnerable for a moment and feel it’s resultant effects. A number of emotions immediately surfaced – fear, anxiety, worry, outright panic and uncertainty. While I reflected upon the manner in which terrorists systematically utilize a number of strategies to inflict those feelings, the word, “cancer” suddenly became inescapable.

Cancer – terrorism, cancer – terrorism, the volley ensued within me.

Immediately connecting with my audience, it soon became apparent I was sharing their sentiments. It’s one thing to talk about a disease and quite another to sense its effects. These brave souls (I could pick them out of the crowd) had been experiencing the ravages of terrorism from within for quite some time. You could see it in their eyes. There were visible traces of suffering even in some of the individuals well into remission. Their pain was unmistakable … and heartfelt.

Words of inspiration were not enough. While I reached their hearts, it was far more challenging to touch their souls. Sensing the desperate need to unite everyone, I finally chose a closing that brought forth a wellspring of emotion.

Our patients were asked to join me – hand in hand on the stage. With tears in our eyes, we sang perhaps the best known prayer in our nation, “God Bless America.” Our song strengthened a common bond – each of us realized we had experienced the threat of terrorism – externally or internally.

That evening the impact of cancer seemed so painfully realistic from a personal perspective. I envisioned it as a lethal and unpredictable terrorist attack – an invisible invasion that has the tendency to evoke a haunting sense of hopelessness and despair. The uncertainty of not knowing where it may turn up next, or how it might take its toll seemed unnerving.

The perception of losing control created an erosion within – an emptiness deepened by the realization that an immediate resolution is not in sight. Just as a surgical air strike cannot eradicate widespread terrorism, a surgical intervention will not eradicate all cancer cells once the disease has spread.

That evening I fully realized that the diagnosis of cancer and the threat of terrorism were remarkably similar. Both evoke searing emotions and mixed feelings that have the tendency to spark disheartening inner conflicts that are often difficult to resolve.

However my greatest insight of the evening was yet to come. For upon stepping down from the podium, an anxious young woman suddenly appeared before me and asked for just a few minutes of my time. She seemed wounded, and I readily complied as we walked toward an unoccupied corner of the room.

Her eyes were dark and her face was drawn with anguish. She anxiously demanded an answer I couldn’t provide. “How could I have gotten cancer when I eat the right foods, exercise regularly, take excellent care of my children and husband, and never hurt a soul?”

Enraged with her recent diagnosis and mastectomy, the prospect of an unwelcome invader within tore at her soul and threatened the very fabric of her existence. Frustrated and angry, she didn’t process a consoling word I offered. She desperately needed to vent to a person who understood her pain.

Upon regaining her attention, I asked her to focus all of her energies on one word – “choice.”

Resigning to the fact we weren’t making headway on her terms, she reluctantly agreed. I challenged her to consciously choose how she would face the uncertainty of tomorrow and every tomorrow thereafter – internally and externally.

It was then I knew she was teaching me a lesson. For I immediately related her anger and frustration to mine. It was the Light I needed to see. Terrorist threats could easily consume me (actually to a certain extent they were) or I could choose to live every waking moment as fully as possible. The threat of terrorism didn’t have to control me.

That prospect prompted the ultimate realization that only I could empower the foe to destroy my quality of life. It was my choice after all.

The opportunity to choose is illustrated by the words of a Native American grandfather talking to his grandson about a tragedy.

He said, “I feel as if I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is the vengeful, angry, violent one. The other wolf is the loving, compassionate one.” The grandson asked him, “Which wolf will win the fight in your heart?” The grandfather answered, “The one I feed.”

Ultimately the process of tormenting ourselves with disturbing thoughts enables terrorism to take its toll. Choosing compassion and love revitalizes our energy to live life fully in whatever time frame remains regardless of threat.

Perhaps it’s time to ask yourself: Which will you feed? Which will you nurture?

Each of us must choose. Our choices, not cancer or terrorism, hold the power to make all the difference – Mind Over Matter!

©2001 Barry Bittman,
MD all rights reserved

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Written by Barry Bittman MD

Explore Wellness in 2021