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Seeing Cancer (and Life) in a New Light

Editor’s Note: The following is the introduction to a new book I have written in which I seek to offer encouragement and support to anyone diagnosed with cancer. The book shares some of my thoughts and experiences since being diagnosed with colon cancer in the fall of 2013. The book is entitled The Upside of Cancer: How a Terrifying Illness Led Me to Courage, Wisdom and Inner Peace. It’s a slim volume which I plan to publish soon.

There’s no history of cancer in my family, and it was a shock, to put it mildly, when I was diagnosed with colon cancer in the fall of 2013.

But here’s the surprising thing: despite the fear and discomfort I experienced following my diagnosis I am happier now than I have ever been.

It is as if the cancer, designated stage 2, has forced me to go deeper into the courage and wisdom of my true nature. I’ve discovered, in the process, that our true nature is not fear—it is love, which as the disciple John proclaimed, “casts out all fear.”

Don’t get me wrong. Fear still arises. But as I move forward in my 80s I find that almost anything makes me happy now: watching a bird, saying hello to a server in my favorite coffee shop, listening to the sounds of a nearby creek, washing the dishes.

My new happiness has a boundless quality to it. I am dreaming new dreams and setting new goals even though at the same time I am becoming more practical in various ways. This is extraordinary, because I have always been a poet and a dreamer at heart; my wife, JoAnn, is the practical one.

For example, I used to be quite casual about money. I only had time for what I thought of as “spiritual” concerns and aspirations. But now I see money with new eyes: I respect it and appreciate it. I used to look down my nose at tools too—just like my Dad—but now I actually enjoy doing simple maintenance around our house. JoAnn is so impressed she says I’m a new person. “Who’s there?” she calls out sometimes when I come home from the coffee shop and she hears the kitchen door open. “New person,” I reply. How I love her hearty response: “That’s right.”

I share this brief report about my experience with cancer thus far because you too may have been diagnosed with this terrifying illness; and if this is so, I would like to share these heartfelt words with you:

First of all, please take this new adventure one step at a time. My wife has been drilling this simple wisdom into me for years, and it really is the only way to handle the challenges life brings to us.

I can only speak from my own experience. But what I have discovered, and continue to discover is that there are two ways we can look at this phenomenon we call cancer.

We can see it as the grievous and terrifying event which it obviously is. But we can also see cancer as a catalyst that can help us face our fear—especially the fear of death—and awaken to the presence of that which is not dismayed by any calamity: the inner peace at the core of our being.

I salute you in your time of trial. May this little book remind you of the courage, wisdom and peace of your true nature just waiting to emerge in greater fullness.

My heart is with you. Blessings to you.

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