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home : health : health October 21, 2018

1/26/2018 9:42:00 AM
Cancer and Me: Losing my religion
By Jim Williams

That's me in the corner. That's me in the spotlight, losing my religion.

- "Losing My Religion" REM (1991)

I have found myself of late, sitting in the corner, with the spotlight on me, losing my religion. Cancer will do that to you.

Now mind you, some people have an abundance of strength, good will and support to overcome almost any ordeal. It's not easy, but they manage. Others of us, after awhile start to wonder if the ordeal will ever end. I mean, it does eventually, for all of us. I don't know of anyone who has gotten off this planet alive. But in the interim, I sometimes wonder that should I make it through this (at least for awhile) if I will ever be the same. Will some of the side-effects forever be with me. If you think about that too long and too often, it starts to wear on you. I've always tried to take it day-by-day, but after about 600 or so days, my religion is starting to crack.

The support shown by my wife, family, and friends has been amazing. The feedback I have received from some of you about these columns has been very inspirational. In Viktor Frankl's book, "Man's Search For Meaning," he borrows a quote from German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, that says, "Those who have a 'why' to live, can bear with almost any 'how'."

Frankl learned this the hard way, having been a survivor at both Auschwitz, and Dachau Nazi concentration camps during World War II. Many prisoners had plenty of "whys" to survive, but the conditions, and cruelties as they were, were too much to overcome. But it was also in those prisoners who had the "why," as opposed to the others, who had the better chances for survival.

They didn't lose their religion.

How one hangs on to their religion also has a lot to do with the way a person is "wired." Some people are just mentally tough, and can handle situations that others cannot. You see it in sports all the time. Derek Jeter rises to the occasion in October; Alex Rodriguez melts and fades away. My wife is mentally tough. She also has a faith-based background. While she has gone through some very trying times, she has managed to get through it. She has been with me every step of the way, and has been my "why." She has been my rock, and my shoulder when I have needed one; which of late has been often. Her religion is intact. She helps me with mine.

I've been working hard at finding my religion and adding some slack to my rope. When I was a much younger man, and even before my first bout with my buddy cancer, I didn't think about the end much. It was still so far out there, and because I was always in relatively good shape it was not a cause of much anxiety. My graying hair and receding hairline were causing more grief. There wasn't much I could do about either of those, and now that one is gone and what is left is white, all I can say is that I got through that all right.

Writing has helped immensely. Getting these thoughts out of my head and into these columns has been a great exercise, almost therapeutic. I guess having another "why" helps.

Having contributed something that maybe others can get something from will add to my legacy, whatever that is. I've heard say that leaving something behind like a child or your work helps you achieve immortality. I don't know about that, but as Woody Allen once said, "I don't want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality by not dying."

I feel much the same way; but since that may be difficult to overcome, I'll continue to write, try to stay positive, and take it a day at a time.

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