I wrote this a few years ago, before going through cancer again. I find these words to still be very true, so I present this to you regarding my first battle with cancer and the lessons I learned. These lessons were still true my second time through. 

Lessons from Surviving

What would you do? You are 26. Life is good. Your whole future is in front of you, but deep inside you know something is wrong. It is later confirmed by the doctor…you have cancer. There is a chance you could die. Picture it in your mind. What do you do?

This situation is from my life. I had this conversation with my doctor. It was the fall of 2004. He told me if I didn’t have surgery, the cancer would kill me. So, I had surgery and underwent 20 sessions of chemotherapy. Dying was not an option I was going to consider.

What do you do when adversity stands in your way? How do you make it through? What can be done to give you the best chance at success? I am going to discuss these questions, but first let me say this: I believe in you. I am convinced that you can overcome much more that you think you can. You have strength inside of you. You may not feel it now, but it is there…ready to come out. You can overcome adversity. You are stronger than you think you are.

Here are five things you will need to overcome adversity:
1. Name the adversity.
2. Develop a clear picture of what you want.
3. Keep a positive attitude.
4. Lean on your support system…there are more people that care than you think.
5. Faith.

A bend in the road is not the end of the road… unless you fail to make the turn. ~Author Unknown

Name the adversity

There are times in life we encounter adversity. Some of us come up against it in some form every day. It comes with being human. It is not something that can be avoided. I have heard that there are only three phases in life. You are either headed into a storm, you are in the storm, or you are coming out of the storm. I think there is a fourth stage as well, brief seasons of peace. Make no mistake though; those times can go in an instant.

When I was 25, life was good. I had been married for 5 years. I had a steady job. I was enjoying myself. There wasn’t much that a good nap, good friends, and a good meal wouldn’t fix. Then, came the lump.

It felt like I had been kicked hard in a way that hurts a man most. I blew it off for a short time, because after all I was invincible. After the pain persisted I made a visit to the doctor. I was referred to a specialist. Within 5 minutes of meeting with the specialist I was being scheduled for surgery. There was no time to think. There was hardly time to plan. I just knew I had a tumor and they were going in after it. Enter adversity.

Cancer is not one of those things that you can stand up to by yourself and beat. If you could I wouldn’t have gone through surgery or chemotherapy. I needed help. I had just named what was wrong in my body and measures could be taken to combat it. I listened to the doctors, weighed what they had to say, and then picked the best treatment plan for me. Thank the Lord it worked. It has been six years and I am cancer free.

What is it you are going through? Call it by name. Don’t beat around the bush. Is it an addiction? Are you in debt? Are you overweight? Whatever the adversity is, name it. Only then can you start to take steps to overcome it. It may take time to overcome. You may need help getting it done, but now is the time to start. There is a lot of life to live on the other side.

Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself – J. K. Rowling

If you’re going through hell, keep going. ~Winston Churchill

Develop a picture of what you want

Dying is something that was never a consideration in my mind. Sure, it was a possibility, but it wasn’t one I was willing to accept. I had a clear picture of what I wanted in my mind. I wanted to live. Now, I understand that many people faced with a similar diagnosis are not as fortunate as I was. There are times when medical science fails and the worst happens. I don’t make light of that at all. If I was going to have the chance to live though, I had to have my mind in the right place.

I ask not for a lighter burden, but for broader shoulders. ~Jewish Proverb

Think about that in any adversity that you have gone through. How can you achieve something if you don’t know what it is you are working for? You can’t. You don’t pay off debts if you don’t have a plan. You don’t lose the weight unless you know what you are after. You don’t achieve anything of worth if you don’t have a clear picture in your mind of what you want to accomplish. This includes making it through chemo.

Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are. ~Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha

Keep a positive attitude

On top of knowing what I wanted, I had to stay positive. I had a Sunday School teacher call me to tell me that he was concerned and was praying for me. There was care and concern in his voice. There was also a little fear. I told him that things were going to be ok. I said it with confidence. I knew that things would work out. He was amazed at the way I was handling it. Some of it was bravado on my part, but to me there was no other way.

I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much. ~Mother Teresa

When I say I had to stay positive this is what I mean: I was committed to doing whatever I needed to do to get through. I was realistic about my treatment. I asked questions. I did my best to understand what was going on. I looked for the best in my situation. When the doctors told me my chances I believed that I had a chance. I did my very best to stay positive. It was hard sitting in a chemotherapy chair, but I tried as hard as I could.

Diseases can be our spiritual flat tires – disruptions in our lives that seem to be disasters at the time but end by redirecting our lives in a meaningful way. ~Bernie S. Siegel

Lean on your support system…there are more people that care than you think

Along with having a clear picture of what I wanted, and having a positive attitude, I had a support system in place that helped me through my hard times. I cannot say enough about the importance of having people around you to support you when you are going through difficulties. My wife, my parents, my in-laws, my friends, my church all came together to help me.

The summer after my treatments were over I had been declared cancer free. Our best friends walked with us through the whole deal and we all decided to take a vacation to South Padre Island to celebrate my recovery and to get some much-needed R&R. One of my favorite memories is standing in the ocean just before the sun went down. My good friend Colt stood next to me. We stared off into the massive body of water in front of us. Nothing needed to be said. He was there. He supported me. I wasn’t alone.

Have faith

Lastly you need to have faith. I had no guarantees that the chemotherapy was going to work. I had really good odds, but anyone who has spent time in Vegas knows that good odds and guarantees are completely different things. I had to have faith that my purpose on this earth wasn’t finished and the One who created me still had a mission left for me.

What about the single mom in debt who is working two jobs? She has faith that all of her hard work is going to pay off. That one day she will be able to be out from under the debt. She can’t do it without a plan, but she has her plan in place. She believes that things are going to turn out as they should if she does what she is supposed to. Chances are they will.

Have you ever heard the phrase faith without works is dead? What does that mean? It means I can believe something all day long, but I still have to put in the work for it. I had faith that I was going to get better. I believed it down deep inside. I tried to take better care of myself. I did what the doctors told me I need to. I had faith that things were going to turn out good, but I still tried to do my part to make sure that they would.

You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you. ~Walt Disney

A problem is a chance for you to do your best. ~Duke Ellington

I didn’t want to go through cancer. Nobody does. However, I made it through to the other side by God’s grace. My life is not the same now as it was then. I like the quote from Benjamin Disraeli that says, “There is no education like adversity.” I know that this has been true for me.

I am much more focused and driven than I used to be. I know that I am not invincible. Time and opportunities are precious and I want to take advantage of them. There are things to accomplish, friendships to build, an impact to make. I have purpose. I am not sure I had that before.

Now, what about you? Are you going through a hard time? Has adversity been knocking hard at your door? What are you going to do about it? Are you going to roll over and give up? No. I don’t think so. That isn’t you. You are stronger than that. You are stronger than you may even know. I am convinced of this.

Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors. ~African Proverb

Take a good hard look at the adversity that is facing you. Develop a clear picture of what you want. Form a positive attitude and do the best that you can. Gather a support system around you to help you through this time. Have faith in yourself. You can make it through to the other side. You may even be a better version of you when you do.

When the Japanese mend broken objects, they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold. They believe that when something’s suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful. ~Barbara Bloom

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