Sunday, December 10, 2006

An Unwanted Journey: Day 0382 - Evaluating my cancer experience

One of the best hobbies I ever had was participating in a local Toastmasters club. In fact, the only reason I left the club was to sing in a church choir which met on the same week night. This last year, I have neither attended Toastmasters nor sang in the choir. Most of the time in the evenings, I slept.

One of the things Toastmasters does especially well is speech evaluation. In each club, members are expected to learn how to provide evaluations for one another. There is no such thing as a "boss" in Toastmasters who pretends to know all things about making speeches. We are all there to learn and provide support for one another. Evaluating another person's speech is perhaps the single most important skill learned by anyone attending Toastmaster meetings, and, once learned properly, it is a skill with tremendous carry-over value for everyday life.

Now that I've finally had some good news, I have been thinking about an overall evaluation of my experience of diagnosis and treatment. It occurred to me that the principles I learned at Toastmasters might be applicable to an evaluation of my experiences with cancer. At the very least, it certainly couldn't hurt.

One of the first principles with applicability to cancer experience is to listen carefully. This might appear obvious, but when we are in the thralls of cancer treatment, listening to our bodies, to our moods, and to those around us can take extra effort and concentration. But it is energy well spent. Sometimes imagining that your body, your emotions, and your illness all belong to another person helps one to concentrate.

A second objective is to preserve the "other person's" self-esteem. This is difficult with cancer because we usually think of cancer as foreign invaders, something alien and other, something to be killed in battle. But when evaluating our experience, it is important to remember that, no matter how difficult and debilitating, cancer has provided us with useful life lessons. As long as we live, we are worthy of esteem and respect, no matter how much has been taken away. Sometimes other people imply we are damaged goods, worth less than before cancer, less able to assume responsibility or to manage. Untrue! Instead, we are worth more, better able to deal with life and death and the viscissitudes of our cancer experience and recovery.

If it is useful to provide criticism, do so gently, diplomatically, and always in the context of praise for one's accomplishments. In other words, criticize constructively. We are often far too tough on ourselves. Cancer can bring out that tendency even further. But if we sandwich suggestions for improvements with actual praise, our ego will be preserved.

In that context, growth is likely, probably even inevitable, but it is not instant. When we move into recovery, we are still travellers moving towards a destination. We are not instantly transported to that destination.

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