Finding hope



Hope is a funny thing. When you don’t have it, you don’t often realize it’s missing. Despair overtakes us. The sky seems grey and silent even if things are blooming, the birds are busy, and cars are whizzing by.

We think we know the way the story ends. We tell ourselves it’s a familiar way, we know the road. The problem is, we only think of a few scenarios – forgetting many possibilities may be in store. Hope offers a possibility. The lack of hope creates a feeling of negative certainty that may not even really be valid. Hope reminds us that while random bad things happen, so do random good things. If the only hope we have is a law of averages, that often is enough to consider there are more positive outcomes. Open the door to new ideas for yourself, just a tiny bit. Remember that there are possibilities. Even if there is only one possibility you can see. But how?

Our mission with cancer is to remember that we have hope, because even with a fraction of a percent of a chance, there is still reason to hope.

No cancer is 100% deadly. People survive, sometimes even against great odds.

Hope is like drawing a circle.

I woke up thinking about circles the other day. I can draw a perfect circle. Can you? It’s not just that we’re artists, and have steady hands. Try drawing a perfect circle with any tool you wish. Maybe you’re clever and can find something to trace around like a glass, or a frisbee, or spool of masking tape.

But what if I asked you to create a circle that was thirty feet wide? Or precisely 32 inches wide? What if you had no hope of doing what I asked?

imgresIf you have a center, you can expand your circle to any size – whether a piece of paper or a football field. You create a tether and connect it to the center. Very simple. This is an important analogy because life is a lot like that.

When you’re centered, you can accomplish so many more possibilities. You can have hope, because you have a tool, or an approach to do or see things a little differently. When things don’t go right, you find your center again, and move on with a better perspective.

Hope is finding a way for one more possibility – just one. Start with one.

Hope is learned.

People teach each other hope. Babies learn it from parents as they learn to walk. Friends hold each other up. Family prays. Strangers smile. We do not hope alone – and if we do, it’s usually for a short time, until others help us continue.

Hope in a crisis can save lives, inspire people to keep searching for cures. It has helped people establish freedom and continue in the face of seemingly terrible odds. If no slave had hope, there would be no freedom. There would be no lightbulbs, planes or water purification. In fact, I would bet anything in your life that is good, likely started with a hope against all odds.

So how do you find your center?

What is all this talk about “being centered” or “finding your center”? Here’s a good example: Think back to when you were in 2nd grade.

Have you ever had the experience where the teacher, perhaps having a bad day, made the whole class put their heads on their desks until things quieted down? I remember a few times where they dimmed the lights and we sat that way for what seemed like forever, until the whole class was calm and quiet. That quiet alertness you experienced with your head down, waiting for the teacher to say “Okay, you can sit up now”, is kind of like finding your center. With your head down you weren’t asleep (yet) and you were actively waiting.

Unbeknownst to you at the time, you were learning to find your center.

This is why I think it’s good for kids to sit in a quiet church, and work through the boredom, or self-soothe and learn patience during a long road trip. Like the rowdy pup I’m dog sitting, once things settle down, peace happens from the inside, and that’s a critical thing for people (and dogs) to learn. That emotional place is a very important one.

It’s a shame that a lot of people haven’t done that since they were forced to, back in grade school. But lucky you – you can revisit that experience any time you like, merely by sitting in silence for a few minutes. No cheating by sleeping! It’s not the same.


Do kids still have to do this? Putting your head down on your desk, old school way.

Actively do nothing for the span of 10 minutes. Stand outside and let the wind blow around you, or stand in the shower feeling the water. Keep your thoughts simple and focused to one thing – like feeling the wind or feeling the water.

In controlled silence, not being distracted mentally by busy thoughts or worries, there is great peace. From this peace you can tap into things like intuition, guidance, direction. When you get really good at this, you can find your ‘center’ very fast, which is great in stressful times in your life or workday.

Too hyper for silence?

Try keeping your body, mind and soul busy at the same time. Incredibly, all that mayhem can actually create peace by keeping the busy stuff occupied. It’s great for hyper thinking people like me.

What works for me is the rosary. I like being Catholic (even if I don’t go to church as often as I should). The rosary, in its simple brilliance, has you keep your fingers busy by going bead by bead after each prayer. Your mind is busy as you meditate and envision the different parts of the Bible each section represents. Your mouth is busy by saying the prayers. It works. You end up finding your center (rather easily, in fact) and end up with calming insights.

Personally, I think this prayer would be great for everyone. But the main thing is that you find your connection, your center. Keep an open mind and try what sounds peaceful, calming and loving. Like an off-key note versus perfect pitch, you will know it’s right when you find it.

Give hope – Wave at someone.

I read about a young guy who waves at people all of the time. His girlfriend asked him if he knew all of the people he waved to, and to her surprise, he said no. She asked, “Why do you wave at all of these strangers, then?” He said that he had heard many people who committed suicide did so because they thought no one cared about them or noticed them. So he waved in the off-chance that perhaps someone he waved to was contemplating suicide, and might not go through with it.

Give hope – Slow down.

As patients, we’ve learned to slow down. The people we passed on the street or in stores who are wheelchair bound we thought we were politely not noticing. Now I resolutely lock eyes with emaciated, bald people in wheelchairs and smile. A lot. I’m very sorry I hadn’t before – I was taught not to stare, but I ignore that now. I’ve noticed that people without hope are not used to being looked at, so now I look at them longer, harder and make them smile back if they can.

Sick people, old people and sad people operate at a slower pace. It’s important to slow down and just be. When you’re not used to that it may require some patience, but gear down and just sit, listen and talk, and relish in living in a slower life for an hour or two. Visiting is more healing than you know, because simply by being there you help to disrupt despair.

You don’t need a cake.

There are so many people I want to visit, but don’t because I’m not sure what I should bring. Isn’t that kind of stupid? Why is that? I don’t need to bring a cake. And while I’d love to get rid of some of the junk in my basement, no one wants that anyway. What people need is a little conversation, or maybe someone just to watch TV with and sit silently. I can go empty handed and just say hi. So, I’m working on believing I might be more interesting than a cake.

Stay positive. Have hope.

While you’re meditating, consider these thoughts:

No cancer is 100% deadly. FU cancer! People survive it. Miracles happen. Spontaneous cures happen – maybe we don’t know always know why, but they do. There is always a survival story, no matter the cancer or its prognosis. We heard about a guy with many more brain tumors than Kevin’s, and he’s still kicking 15 years after they were discovered. Your story may be one of those, so might ours. Even if the chance is very, very remote, it is still a chance – and it could be your chance. Don’t rule it out.

Statistics are always old. Statistics can look pretty convincing. It’s normal to seek them out to find out how long you’ve got, right? But consider this: You can’t have statistics with new, more effective meds because they don’t exist yet. The survival rates you read about are OLD. I mean think about it – how can you have a 5-year survival rate statistic without studying for at least 5 years? A lot of research has happened in 5 years. Many cancers are being treated completely differently and more effectively than they were 5 years ago.

Focus on what you CAN do. One of the biggest problems cancer brings to your doorstep is a loss of control. A complete reminder that your body is not doing what you want it to do. Get some of that control back and do what you can. Learn to eat better. Exercise comfortably. Cut out bad habits, both physical ones and mental ones. Work on things you’ve needed to do, like apologize to people, mend relationships and take good care of your spirit by doing things you LOVE. Cancer offers a chance to really inspect your life, and redefine what’s important. Use that perspective and live with joy.

Remind yourself of the difference between living and dying. Ask yourself, “what is dying?” Because if you’re not actively dying right now, um, you’re living. This seems obvious until you have cancer, because we become so preoccupied with statistics and chances and time left. If you’re alive, live. Laugh, and fucking grab life by the horns dammit. Do the smart things, like being prepared. But once that practical stuff is done, the rest is just needless worry. Learn to sort needless worry from practical worry, then live.

Prioritize your worry. The simple truth is, my friend (and take it from a professional worrier), if you worry and obsess over every little damn thing, and die getting hit by a bus tomorrow, you’re gonna be really pissed off, because all of that worry wasn’t preparing you for anything. It was simply a waste of your time. Make a list of what’s a real concern, resolve it and move on.

Research and push for clinical trials. Patients are changing, but many docs are still behind a bit. Soon well-researched patients and caregivers will be the norm. Work as a team, and be a part of it. Leave no stone unturned. Ask questions and work at feeling good, inside and out.

Remember that love is stronger than cancer. You will experience more love than you’ve ever known was there from complete strangers, friends and family. This heals the soul. If only the world operated this way for everyone all of the time! While we hate the cancer, we are also very aware that we live in a cloud of love, from people who call, email, text, offer support, laughs, food finances and prayer. Every place we look is love. With that love we heal the inside, so the outside can repair.



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