Watch Minchin deliver the Occasional Address (aka guest speech) at his alma mater, The University of Western Austrailia. His advice to graduates on how “to be” is funny, inspiring, beautiful and real. To sum it up very very simply, he says:
1. You don’t have to have a dream.
2. Don’t seek happiness.
3. Remember, it’s all luck.
5. Be hard on your opinions.
6. Be a teacher.
7. Define yourself by what you love.
8. Respect people with less power than you.
9. Don’t rush.
Listen to these words of wisdom, and you might just get through life perfectly…Or at least, kind of unscathed.
I thought I’d take this opportunity, as my body ejects the cancer cells and recovers for the next round of chemotherapy, to discuss how different people have reacted to being told I have cancer. Like responses to chemo, everyone’s experiences are different. Of course, these are my experiences; but I believe they contain universal truths.
If you are in a relationship with a caregiver then they will continue in that capacity for the duration — you are in good, loving hands. If you are not in a relationship with a caregiver you need to understand that the person you fell in love with may not change into someone who can nurse you back to health. It doesn’t mean they love you less, it’s simply who they are. It may be difficult to understand, but the person you chose to share your life with is the same person — you are the one who has had a change of circumstance. Let them be themselves; continue to love them for who they are; don’t try to make them into someone they are not; and you will both be happier for it.
I don’t have any biological children, so I don’t have any familiarity for this area. I’ll defer to others to comment on their experiences in the comment section below. What I will say is that having been a child I know that the love for a parent is strong — never forget children love you, unconditionally.
I had an interesting relationship with my mother prior to notifying her that I had cancer (my father passed many years ago). I’d call her and she’d talk about herself, never once asking about me. It was when she was in her late 80s that I told her I had leukemia; then she never talked about herself until I asked, and only briefly — she wanted to know everything I had done since we last spoke. It completely changed the dynamic of our relationship in that she became both a friend and a nurse to my patient. This change made our times together before her passing that much more rewarding; and, while I may not like to, I have my leukemia to thank — a silver lining.
We grow up together and then we part, some farther than others. What I would suggest we all remember is that our siblings have their own lives and families; and the distance in multiple factors (age, miles, etc.) impacts the manner in which they respond. Some will be selfless, while others will resort to still being a sibling within the hierarchy of the family. If you can understand this then you can handle how they will behave, from denial (since they don’t want to think they may also get cancer due to any hereditary factors) to taking over (usually an older sibling, which can be a blessing and a pain). But let them live their lives as they, too, need to live with your cancer in the best way they know how.
Cancer is the ultimate decider of who your true friends, or angels, are. In our lives we are lucky if we have a few best friends who, when the cancer chips are down, are there without having been asked. We think we know who these people are, but the wonderful thing about having cancer (I know, somewhat of an oxymoron) is the joyous surprises of love your friends will shower on you in both big and little ways. It’s as if a ray of sunshine pierces your heart each time an offer, a mention, a meal, a smile, a call, an email comes your way. The simple act of asking, “How are you?” is a radiant sunrise given so effortlessly, yet promising so much.
I would ask that you also forgive those friends who seem to disappear. I had two such friends who, once I told them I had leukemia, never called me again; and this after I had been there for them during their recovery from being run over by a car and a divorce. But I can’t blame them, for I was the one who chose to be there for them during their time of need. We each deal with adversity in our own way, and this is how they chose to deal, or, as the case may be, not to deal, with my misfortune. Be prepared for this and you will be a stronger person in the end. And don’t be afraid of letting these people go no matter how much you may think you love them or have invested in them, for if they truly love you they will come back. (I know, sounds like releasing that butterfly slogan. Be prepared for them not to come back.)
People who we meet and interact with on a limited basis may surprise you upon finding out you have cancer. There are people you won’t know well who have a need to be helpful — let them. There are people who are good friends of your friends who will rally around you in support of that friend — embrace them. There are people who will observe silently from the sidelines — help them. There are people who make offers with all good intentions but no follow through — forgive them.
And then there are people from your past (near or distant) who may reach out offering encouragement, providing a moment of uplifting pleasure from their simple act of having contacted you — be ever thankful.
They don’t want to know anything; and if they know something, the less they know the better — for the company. You need to bear in mind that it is the company for which you work. If you receive health care from your company, all the more reason for the company to not want to know about your health. But tell your boss as soon as you know you have cancer; give them as much information as you have because you will need them, the company’s health insurance, when the time comes.
My bosses, for the most part, were supportive in our discussions; but they would never broach the subject with me — I had to initiate any conversations either verbally or in writing. What you need to realize is that they are doing their job, as you should be doing your job. It may seem cold and harsh, but it is the reality of the workplace today — do not hold it against them.
And yet here you’ll find people who care and don’t have an issue by asking you, from time to time, how you’re doing once they hear you have cancer. People you pass in the hall will display concern for your wellbeing — totally unsolicited — as they, too may have experienced cancer in one form or another during their lives. These are the same individuals you may have worked with for years or only briefly who suddenly take a keen interest in you — hold close those that do.
During the cancer journey you will come across many new faces. Some will become your angels and friends for life, while others will be looking to you for direction and information, and still others may dismiss you as being condescending. Don’t ignore the strangers you encounter as they are looking to learn, seeking how to be brave, wanting to know more without acknowledging it. For, yes, we all want to have the knowledge, to be empowered — they simply may not know it yet. Please note that those who may condescend have their own issues they are trying to cope with — let them be.
How you react to being told you have cancer, and how you deal with it on an ongoing basis, is as individualized as snowflakes. My advice is to not blame anyone, especially oneself — it isn’t productive. You might begin by reviewing the many self-help books and guides, as well as alternative routes to take. Learn as much as you can about your individual cancer, and then begin the process of educating yourself on how best to continue with your life with cancer. This takes many forms, from the food we eat, to where we live, to whom we have around us, to options for healing with herbs and meditation as well as the medicines you will be prescribed. No one told me I couldn’t try something if it had even the remotest chance of it making me feel better. But do ask your health care provider first as some things have been clinically proven to be harmful to the type of cancer you may have, and they will know.
If your cancer was brought about due to negligence or work related practices, it is understandable that you will be upset with the responsible party. I ask that you remember that anger does not make you healthier — it actually serves to make you worse. First and foremost — be good to yourself.
As for me, I still feel disoriented and confused from time to time, along with short-term memory loss where I can’t remember names and details combined with an inability to concentrate or focus for long periods — what I call chemo brain; fatigue is a constant, while my fingers tingling has lessened. During this entire cycle I have had nasal congestion and cough which appear to be lessening. And the other side-effects I experience dissipate as I get closer to the next round of chemotherapy — at least they have so far.
Timing: Oct. 7 through Oct. 12, Cycle Three (3) of chemotherapy.
Where the streets have no name…
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 1
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 2
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 3
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 4
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 5
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 6
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 7
Maybe you’ve got a Manic Monday this week… why not make it a Mighty Monday? Could your Warring Wednesday become a Winning Wednesday? The list goes on: make your Tuesday Tranquil, your Thursday Thoughtful. Let Fridays be fit and fun, and certainly find a way to be Smiling on Saturday. No matter what kind of week you’re having, compartmentalizing each day and giving yourself the opportunity to positively change each “leg” is possible. Like a good wine and cheese, each day of the week can be paired with a complementary exercise (either mental or physical) that can transform and better it. Let’s break it down.
Sunday: It’s Sunday night. Maybe you’ve laid out your clothes, packed lunch for the next day, sent the last email of the night and settled into bed for a bit of shut-eye. So why can’t you sleep?! If you’re like many people, Sunday is the hardest night of the week to fall asleep. Stressing out on Sunday night sets you up for a major work week traffic jam. Who wants to start Monday off groggy and unfocused?!
There are active choices you can make to turn a Sleepless Sunday into a wonderfully Sleep-filled Sunday. A great choice to make is to pair Sunday with some quality to-do list time. Physically write down your list — the major events, the things that need to get done and the things you want to get done. Accept your goals but also accept the possibility that everything might not get completed.
Try to make sure that there’s a good balance between the things you do and things that are good for you on your list: that’s a recipe for success. Your list can be your mental exercise, but for those of you looking for more physical engagement on Sunday, consider a vinyasa flow class. This form of yoga gets your heart pumping but also values restorative poses and relaxation — a great combo for a Sunday! Now that you’ve mentally prepared for the week it’s time to put it away and get some sleep.
Now that Monday has arrived, your to-do list is live and running — the week’s journey has begun. Monday can be manic for a variety of reasons: maybe your list now seems daunting, maybe your boss added three new things to that list, maybe your sister needs you to watch the kids… that’s fine! Take the opportunity to turn a Manic Monday into a Mighty one. Feel empowered by the fact that so many people find you capable and responsible.
On Monday morning you’ll find out if your journey is set or if you have to make a small detour or two. Remember, there’s a whole week ahead to accomplish your tasks. Pair Monday with a walk outside. The combination of exercise and fresh air (preferably during a mid-afternoon break from work) will rejuvenate your mind and body. Even 15 minutes can refresh your senses and ready you for the rest of the day. When you return to your desk, you’ll likely have prioritized certain tasks for the rest of your day, and before you know it, they’re complete! From Manic to Mighty? It’s a walk in the park!
By Tuesday, your week is really taking shape. Many people I know see Tuesday as a slower day both mentally and physically, and as a result, tensions can run high. Make the choice to avoid a Testy Tuesday — let it be Tranquil. On Monday, you made the necessary adjustments for your week’s journey and on Tuesday, you’ve got to put them into action! Tuesday can test your ability to stay on track. Knowing that Tuesday can be a bump in the road, wake up preparing to try your best. And sometimes you need a little help to get a kickstart! Tuesday is a perfect day to challenge your body and mind with an intense cardio or bootcamp type of class. The high-intensity of these kinds of classes will allow you to combat and then release stress and ready you for the rest of your week. With so many varieties — kickboxing, interval training, dance-based classes, even a challenging run — you can choose what’s right for you. Use exercise on Tuesday to bring energy into the week, into your body and into your mind.
At halfway to the weekend, you’re over the hump! By this day, you should be truly enjoying the week’s journey. Hopefully your Monday was Mighty and your Tuesday was Tranquil, but if not, choose to make Wednesday Winning. There may be things left to do, but you’ve accomplished a lot so far this week! With half of your journey left, it’s important to keep your energy up. Choosing the right foods throughout the day can provide you with lasting energy and focus. First off, don’t skip breakfast! Depriving yourself of needed energy before a long day is like intentionally flattening one of your tires before taking a road trip. Combine a complex carbohydrate with protein and a good fat for a filling, nutritious start to your day — try stirring a tablespoon of peanut butter into your morning oatmeal.
Secondly, allow yourself snack breaks! You might be surprised that eating an apple at 10:30 a.m. or some cheese and crackers around 3:00 p.m. can make your just as (or even more!) alert as a cup of coffee can. And if you can manage all that, and even if you can’t, try to couple Wednesday with “friend time” — get together with your pals for a little mid-week decompression and fun. It might energize you even more than that 3 o’clock snack!
By Thursday, the week is winding down, and you might be, too. Thursday is like Sunday in terms of the need for some mental preparation. Return to your list, untangle anything left undone, and prepare for your final day before the weekend. Thursday’s goal should be getting grounded and centered, using the Tranquil sensations and Winning attitude built by Tuesday and Wednesday. Thoughtful Thursday allows you to reassess the week. What have you gotten done? Maybe it’s more than what you expected! Maybe it’s less. And either direction is okay. To achieve a Thoughtful Thursday instead of a Thankless one, pair the day with a mini-meditation. That’s right, you don’t need to make time for a full yoga class in order to reap the benefits of meditation. You can do breathing exercises at your desk.
Close your eyes, take 10 to 15 deep, even breaths and think about just one thing. While clearing your mind completely is best, a singular focus can have just as rewarding an effect. When you bring your attention back to your surroundings and eventually back to work, remember this mindful state. You are in charge. This mini-meditation is your most useful tool for a Thoughtful Thursday. This mindfulness and focus will lead you to victory!
Like on Sunday, a mental exercise may not be enough to get you back on track. If you’re feeling this way, add something new to this week’s routine! Maybe so far you’ve done yoga, taken a walk, and gotten your heart pumping in a cardio class. Pair Thursday with a Pilates or barre-method class. These classes are all about specificity and targeting certain parts of your body for long, lean muscles, so they will complement the mindfulness and focus you’ve channeled with your mini-meditation!
What a week it’s been! By the end of the week, there’s a lot to be thankful for — they don’t say T.G.I.F. for nothing! In the same way that you allotted time for a walk, a yoga class, a nice meal and a mini-meditation, take time on Friday to say thank you. Maybe you’re thankful for the coworker who volunteered to help you out on a project. Or maybe you’re thankful for your roommate who took on the grocery shopping this week. You might even be thankful that it didn’t rain on the day you forgot your umbrella. The point is, take a little time to truly appreciate what you can. So often we forget to say thank you for the less obvious moments in our lives, but your journey can be much sweeter if you’re in tune with everything that deserves a little bit of gratitude. Friday’s pairing is a free-for-all! Choose what kind of positive intention you want to put into this day. Is your Friday Fit, Fancy, Fun? Be it a new fitness class, a glamorous evening out or a concert at night, reward yourself on Friday for a job well done this week.
While not necessarily a “reward,” do something for yourself on this day. If you’ve taken each opportunity this week to transform your days, there’s no reason your Saturday shouldn’t be Smiling. Think of Saturday as your journey’s destination. You’ve earned this day, and you are in control of how you spend it. The one thing you shouldn’t do on your Saturday is to make it Stressful! Pair this restful weekend day with something that makes you Smile. Have that Froyo you’ve been craving, see a movie everyone’s been talking about, go get a great workout — you made it! Saturday is a day to tie up any loose ends on your list, but it’s also a day to relax.
And before you know it, Sunday night comes back around. It’s time to pack your bag and make your list, preparing for the week ahead. Even if you follow a routine, no two Mondays are ever the same. There’s a lot in this world that we can’t control, but what we can control are our choices. Make positive choices: choose a mini-meditation, choose to say thank you, choose to eat well. These daily tools are meant to help along your week’s journey. Any good roadmap has structure and suggestions, but that doesn’t mean you can’t choose to detour, and it doesn’t mean you won’t hit a roadblock. What’s important is to accept each day for what it is and to be present in it — don’t fixate on yesterday or stress about tomorrow. Choose to be the best you can be in the moment.
For more by Rupa Mehta, click here.
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