“My Voice” by Donald Wilhelm

Donald Wilhelm - 'Survivor'

What does it mean to me to be a survivor?

It’s a private club that I’m extremely proud to belong to.  Although the initiation to get into the survivors club stinks, I feel a kindred bond with folks with similar experiences, even though I may never have met them.

Further, I feel like I am blessed because I get to help other people every day deal with their experiences with cancer.  The more stories I hear from around the globe, the more grateful I remain for my own situation.  It gives me a great sense of purpose to help others and this is something that I was unable to attain in all of my previous career stops.

Moving past cancer, in my case emotionally and not physically, was the single biggest catalyst to developing my current positive mental attitude and lust for life.  There are many medical studies published that link the mind to the body.  It has been shown that the thoughts you regularly keep, are the ones that are most likely to manifest in your physical body.  Have you ever stressed yourself into a breakout of acne?  Or how about acid reflux?  There are so many medical conditions that doctors prescribe pills for that would simply disappear if folk could consistently lower their stress levels.  And you do this by changing the thought patterns you have in your mind.  If you are constantly thinking about cancer and what it might do to you, chances are your thoughts will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Instead, why not spend your days thinking about how lucky you are?  Be grateful for the family and friends you have.  Be thankful that you are alive to do normal, household chores.  Take pride in the fact that you’ve learned to take control of your emotional life and now realize what true happiness is all about.

I am truly grateful for every moment I have in this life and am able to see the mystery and beauty in most things other folks simply ignore.  If I’m stuck in a long line at the grocery store, or trapped in a construction zone, I simply appreciate the experience as a chance to work on my patience.  And above all else, I’m thankful that I’m alive and able to do simple things like shopping and driving.  If I’m in the car, I just turn up the radio and start singing along the best that I can.  Inside of me, above all else, I am HAPPY.  This, I feel, is the ONE key to winning over cancer.   This is what being a SURVIVOR means to me.

We are all terminal.  I know you’ve heard this before.  But how many of you have actually thought deeply about that?  How many of you have changed the way you live and think based on this reality?  If you live your life afraid to die, you are only dooming yourself, and your family, to disappointment in the end.

One of the “benefits” of having cancer, is that the disease almost always gives you time to “get your affairs in order.”  Unlike with a sudden heart attack or stroke, you have a chance to mend broken fences, write a will, share laughs and hugs with loved ones, and forgive those who you’ve been holding a grudge against.  In my opinion, if you’re doing the above, you have truly learned what life is all about.  The key is to do this and beat your cancer at the same time!  Your life will be changed for the better, no matter how long you end up living.  Remember, “Life is measured in depth, not length.”

Being a survivor has given me a maturity and clarity that most folks develop over a lifetime.  I tell people who ask me how old I am; “I’m 39, going on 80!”

Cancer has an innate way of forcing people to reevaluate the priorities in their lives.  When you’re faced with your own mortality, on a daily basis, stuff like “stuff” loses its importance to you.  I used to have a boat, snowmobiles, a vacation cottage and many other things that I thought brought me happiness.  But the truth is that these things never assured me of happiness.  They did assure me of continuingly high monthly bills and stress though.

For all of the survivors that will read this, I encourage you to live with an “attitude of gratitude.”  If you spend most of your days being thankful for what you already have, a true inner-happiness will consistently replace any worries or anxieties you may be experiencing.  The people around you will notice a difference, though that’s not why I’m suggesting you do this emotional work.  It will change your life.  It will help you find true happiness.  Isn’t that all anyone really wants anyway?

I wish you health and wellness.

Donald Wilhelm, author
“This Time’s a Charm; Lessons of a Four-Time Cancer Survivor”