Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Why Cancer Couldn’t Hold A Good Man Down And Led To Lessons In Resilience

Hey everybody! I’m Rob. I’m a fully formed human who has recently come to the conclusion that, in spite of my best efforts, I am, in fact, aging. You might be aware of this odd phenomenon as well. I’ve got to say that it came as a complete and utter surprise to me.

YouAreUnltd columnist Robert Hawke has discovered how to “play with time” when life gets rough.

I am aware that all humans (and yes, all living creatures) age, but I was pretty sure that I was immune. It turns out that is not the case. Much to my chagrin, all the signs are there. I have grey hair, I remember Justin Trudeau’s father and I think all the best music was written at least 25 years ago.

One of the great things about getting older is that, at this point in our lives, we have had many adventures – some of them good, some of them terrible. But hopefully we have learned from these exploits and picked up some useful tools along the way.

The biggest challenge that I’ve had was coping with cancer. The golf ball-sized lump I found in my throat turned out not to be from watching the movie Up, but caused by thyroid cancer. I wasn’t the sickest person in the world, but I certainly had my challenges with the disease. Ironically the toughest part of the experience actually came after my surgeon looked at me and said, “You’re cured.” It was a truly transformative journey.  Because it was so hard, I found that I learned a tremendous amount about myself and how to get through difficult times. I’d like to share one of those with you.

I remember when I was sick and feeling completely overwhelmed by my circumstances. There were endless medical appointments, money troubles, anxiety attacks, fear of death and I frequently ran out of chocolate pudding – my comfort food of choice. With all of this on my mind, there were times I felt paralyzed by everything I had to deal with. I developed a coping mechanism that really helped me. I played with time.

How does this work? Instead of thinking of all the things you have to do this week or even today, just think about what you have to handle in the next hour or even the just next 10 minutes.

Why 10 minutes? Because human beings are incredibly resilient. Unless you’re a porpoise with a laptop, (and if you are, please drop me a line), I’m guessing you’re a human being. We didn’t get to be the dominant species on the planet without incredible determination and grit.

I figure that whoever we are, we can make it through the next 10 minutes. We can endure anything for a short duration, and frankly, that’s all we have to do!

Once that 10 minutes is done, you can make it through the 10 minutes after that. And so it goes. I can practically hear you saying: “Rob, this is ridiculous. How does doing this make anything different?” Well, it’s a matter of focus.

When I was sick and really struggling, I would think to myself, “OK, I can’t get through this whole thing but I’m pretty sure I can handle this x-ray, or this transit ride home, or this walk to the store to buy milk.” I would literally congratulate myself for being able to go to the store to buy eggs. I broke down time and events into smaller and smaller increments. In doing so, the giant challenge of recovery became much more bearable.

You can do the same thing. The next time you’re having a really tough time – not just burning your grilled cheese sandwich or finding out your Netflix got cut off for no reason – say to yourself: “I don’t feel like I can handle this whole thing, but I can take the next 10 minutes. In fact, I can take the next 10 minutes of anything.” You might even want to set the timer on your phone to remind yourself of how awesome your powers of resilience are. I do this frequently.

The old adage “one day at a time” can be useful, but I don’t think it takes things far enough. We need to break things down into smaller chunks that work for us. Eventually, when things are better, you will naturally start thinking about time in larger increments. In fact, this can be a really good indicator that you’ve gotten through the worst part and things are looking up.

Playing with time is a useful skill. For those of us who know a trip around the sun can have its ups and downs, it can be a lifesaver.


About Robert Hawke

Robert Hawke is a speaker, author and comedian. He has uplifted and entertained audiences at conferences, medical schools and universities. His keynote, Connecting With Patients: The Final Frontier, was developed for Sunnybrook Hospital and presented at PharmacyU in Vancouver. Hawke honed his storytelling and comedic skills while working for The Second City Comedy Troupe in Toronto and internationally. He has shared in a Canadian Comedy Award and Gemini Award Nomination for Best Writing In A Comedy Series. In addition, he wrote the books, Kicking Cancer’s Ass: A Lighthearted Guide To The Fight Of Your Life and Doing Happiness: Uncovering The Hidden Benefits Of Feeling Good. He lives in Peterborough, ON.

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