By Jason Decent and Jeff Tomczek
As high-school friends, we complained about bad teachers, girls and minimum wage. As young adult cancer patients both facing the greatest challenge of our lives, we realized there are far worse cards to be dealt. Now, removed from the harshest of our experiences with disease, we are happy to share five things that cancer has left us grateful for this holiday season.
1) Relationship Building
Cancer alters the patient’s view of existing relationships. People rise up in the face of disaster all the time. In the routine of normalcy, you don’t always recognize that, but when you’re the reason, you take notice. Having a life-threatening illness heightens your awareness of others by exposing their caring to you. Even minor connections may grow into major influences in the face of cancer. Colleagues or acquaintances become friends. Distant relatives become present. Already strong bonds become iron-clad. Don’t wait for cancer to examine the relationships in your life. Build foundations for new ones and reinforce those you value most.
Facing mortality at an already impressionable stage of life is without a doubt an overwhelming task. However, it awakens you to see that your decisions and choices in the present are what define you. Dwelling in the past is limiting. Projecting into the future is stifling. When you see firsthand that you can only control what life lets you, you open yourself up to living in the moment. This goes for everyone. Live for now, forgive the past and hold no fear of the future.
Becoming ill truly showcases the best in mankind. Through the selflessness of loved ones, gifts from friends and the kindness of hospital staff, you truly see that we are a collective humanity. However, it is the small acts from total strangers that will really build your faith in us as a species. An anonymous donation, a helpful hand at the store or a warm-hearted individual opening a heavy door goes a long way. While sick, you truly begin to see these gestures in bright, beautiful color. The world needs more of this daily.
While enduring chemotherapy and facing countless restrictions you are forced to entertain yourself. Catching up on all the TV shows that you have told others you’ll eventually get around to viewing (Mad Men, Homeland, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, etc.) and discovering new music (Angus & Julia Stone, The Givers, Childish Gambino, etc.) are both positive results of extra free time. Both these activities go well with loving contributions of homemade food. Care packages and quality media certainly aid the battle. Gather your best artillery.
5) Social Media
As hours crawl past, with the sun rising and setting outside your hospital window, you promptly miss participating in the outside world. Fortunately, our platforms for staying connected are better than ever. With Wi-Fi equipped hospitals and doctor’s offices it’s easy to log-in to chat, Skype, Twitter or Facebook while tracking emails and swapping songs on Spotify. Toss in a few healthy YouTube viewing sessions and track your friends at events on Foursquare or Instagram and you’ll feel like a healthy, contributing member of society. Better yet, connecting to others just like you and forming a community of quarantine makes the entire experience relatable. All experiences are now relatable thanks to social media. There is no longer reason to feel alone.
This Thanksgiving, while we indulge in feasts to celebrate all that we have been blessed with, cancer patients worldwide will be struggling with their treatments and searching for the positives in their circumstances. In time, they too will come to see that, like with anything in life, the attitude and approach they take to each day can make the worst of times better. Perhaps cancer teaches us what we have known, but often we need a reminder that gratitude has powerful effects and there is always a silver-lining if you choose to see it.
Jason Decent and Jeff Tomczek grew up together as classmates & friends in West Bend, Wisconsin. Jason was diagnosed with an operable brain tumor in December of 2010. A lawyer, he lives in Los Angeles with his wife Julie. In June 2011, Jeff was told he had a treatable form of leukemia. A marketing consultant and writer, he lives in New York City. Now both without signs of disease, the two are thankful for each day. They still accept contributions of homemade food with no sign of stopping anytime soon.