What My Brush with Testicular Cancer Taught Me...
Control Is an Illusion (sort of)
A health crisis for a Health Coach. Needless to say, I put a good bit of effort into maintaining a lifestyle that’s healthy in every sense of the word.
So while I know things just happen sometimes, I’d be lying if I said that the doctor telling me I had testicular cancer didn’t punch me in the gut. My wife, Carissa, and I still haven’t completely gotten over the shock.
Here’s the BRUTAL truth for those of us trying to optimize all the different areas of our lives. We DON’T fully control all these things.
I did my best. I ate well. I exercised. I nurtured my mind, my relationships, and my spirit. But the horrible thing still happened.
The key is that it didn’t mean none of my hard work mattered, that I should now say “What’s the point?” and stop living this way. One of the most dangerous choices we can make after confronting life’s blows is related to how we move forward. We can either see our striving as irrelevant, or we let it fuel us to strive even more so that we are always doing our part to make life the best it can be.
This felt like a tragedy in many ways, but tragedies don’t necessarily have to descend into the seventh layer of Dante’s Inferno.
Not Everything Is Rational
I asked my wife “Why is my body trying to kill me?” as my mind spun with questions about how this was happening.
It was pretty tough not to feel like I did something to bring this upon myself and my family. Cue the blame, shame and guilt.
You know that thing we do where we analyze something into the ground? That’s called rationality.
It’s a tool that serves a high order function in our lives in our modern society and undergirds science. But, in many ways, the success of using a tool like rationality has made us blind to the limits of rationality.
This is blatantly evident in the fact that we are spinning on a ball of rock moving 800 miles per second. Around an incomprehensibly ginormous ball of fire. In a galaxy among billions of galaxies in the known sky.
Still feeling like we should make sense of all things purely with these little brains? Me either.
It’s natural for the brain to start crunching the data when something stressful arises. The trick is to notice that and decide when it’s time to put that tool down. It sure helped me.
Slow Down + Focus on What Matters
This sort of event had the peculiar effect of slamming the brakes on busyness with what I thought mattered.
Whatever you want requires life. If you don’t have life, all at once everything else you care about is irrelevant. And life without health doesn’t yield much life.
Health is a resource for living – for the attainment of goals and the achievement of aspirations. These aren’t even my words. That’s actually how the World Health Organization has defined it.
At the most basic level, what I truly wanted in my life was already there. To say it another way, sometimes what you are seeking is right in front of you, and it’s critical to not allow it to wither or go to waste as you chase other dreams.
Rest. Stop and snuggle your kids. Play with the dog. Leave your office to get some sun on your face. Call that friend. Eat the vegetables. Get more focused on your mission so your working hours are more impactful.
Live intentionally. It’s part of being healthy.
Wildfires Serve a Purpose
Humans are creatures of habit. This can work for us, or against us. We all know the feeling of getting stuck in a rut, regardless of how long it takes us to notice. When we have bad habits we repeat day in and day out, it’s like dead wood piling up on the forest floor. In nature, this dead wood is fuel for wildfire that then restores nutrition to the soil and helps the forest thrive in the long run.
The real danger is when the old wood is not burned off at an adequate frequency. If it piles up too high, then when lightning strikes there is so much fuel and the fire rages with such heat that the topsoil is burned to ash and the land now becomes barren, rather than conducive to growth.
Likewise, a stop-you-in-your-tracks type of event can help to zero in on habits (or other aspects of life) that are no longer benefitting you and prompt burning off the old stuff. Violently jolting you out of your routines (and ruts) prepares fertile ground for the creation of healthier new things.
As a friend recently reminded me, I don’t have to be Superman. I help people as my life’s work, and I’m proud to be the protector and provider for my family. Those things multiplied by time, which grooves habits deeper as they repeat, make it very uncomfortable to need others to take care of me.
Rather than framing my sudden need for support as weakness, I worked hard to embrace the love and care that was offered to me. The armor that served me well for many years as I sucked it up and got back out there again and again was penetrable, which should not come as a surprise since I’m a person, too.
So I’ll give help generously, and receive it humbly when it’s offered back.
After all, we’re one big team in this game of life.