What do you do when the doctor says that you have cancer? What is the first question that comes to mind? For me, at the age of eighteen, I was hit with debilitating fear followed by “Why me?” I was diagnosed with stage II Hodgkin lymphoma, and for a year I spent days and nights in hospital, underwent chemotherapy and endured pain like never before.
Cancer of any kind (or any stage) cannot be taken lightly. The physical side effects are visible, often all too clearly, but cancer is much more than that. It acts on a deeper level, touching your mind, emotions and spirit. Yet it is not part of our culture to share this openly.
Eighteen and Cancer is my story of that difficult year. Through the chapters of this short book I share my experience of:
• Understanding what fear is and how it affects my life
• Learning that I am my own worst enemy
• Discovering mindfulness practices
• Losing almost everything because I got in my own way
• Surrendering: accepting and learning to live with cancer
• Questioning modern medical practices
• The joy of hearing those magical words: “It is over”
• Dealing with the void after the disease (yes, there was one)
This is not a three-step guide to dealing with the disease. I never had one. Rather it is a practical book for dealing with adversity. You can look at a shock diagnosis, or any difficult situation in life, as an end or as the beginning of something new. You cannot control the destination, but eventually I chose to see it as a new beginning, and you can do the same.
What I struggled with the most during my journey was accepting the fact that I had the disease and surrendering, letting go of a false sense of control. I’d like to share an excerpt from the book how I began to overcome this.
Surrender (Part 2)
“Becoming more aware of my own behaviour substantially deflated my ego and allowed me to think about my situation differently. I found I increasingly felt in control, but this wasn’t control in a traditional sense. It was different. I felt a sense of compassion for myself but it wasn’t coming from a position of weakness. I had gained a new perspective, and began to see clearly why chemotherapy was necessary. Instead of that sense of overwhelming darkness, I started to see some light. In a way, I had found the means of letting go, like surrendering to the flow of a river.
After the first treatment I thought I had had it, but my perspective was now very different. I was scared, I could admit that now. Scared of what was going to happen. The fact that I was so young and going through something so frightening really hit home. How do I find meaning in all of this? Will I ever be able to live a full life again? Will I die? “Whoa, hold on,” I thought. “What are these questions?” I was only 18, not an age when you expect to deal with questions like this. Nothing had prepared me for this chapter in my life, let alone for the conversations I was having with myself.
You can understand why I fought it so much. My default way of coping was to resist cancer and all the pain that came with it as much as possible, pretending and hoping that it was just a bad dream. The fear was understandable, but resistance was pointless. I knew better now. I had no control over the eventual outcome. The only thing that was up to me was to take responsibility for my decisions, try to move forward and face reality head on.
There is a quote attributed to Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning, which best describes the lesson I had learnt: “Between stimulus and response lies a space. In that space lie our freedom and power to choose a response. In our response lies our growth and our happiness.” The stimulus provided by my cancer experience was pretty strong, to put it lightly, and my urge to do anything but deal with it was understandable. What scared me most was the prospect of physical pain. I didn’t know if I would be able to deal with it. But pain was coming whether I wanted it or not. Accepting it created a small possibility of moving forward. The more I focused on my conscious response, the less fear would be able to hold me back.
I eventually came to understand surrendering as letting go of the ego that thinks it knows best. This didn’t mean giving up, not at all, but rather accepting what was happening to me here in the present. It removed the anxiety that came from reliving memories of the past or wondering too much about the future. The best thing I could do was to relax, as much as I could, in the face of stress. Surrendering didn’t change my situation, it changed my attitude towards it. Now, this is rather a neat concept on paper, but putting it into practice when you’re caught in the midst of a rip current is a whole different experience.
On a practical level, I found that surrendering to my new reality meant letting go, moment by moment, of what might be when the treatments ended and accepting the pain that came with chemotherapy as necessary. There was no other way around cancer. Difficult situations have a way of humbling us, but they also simplify life by narrowing our options. Sometimes it’s a blessing in disguise, although it can be hard to see it this way at the time. Letting go was a gift – the gift of seeing the truth. The last thing I wanted was chemotherapy, but I had to learn to co-operate. This would prove to be more painful than the physical side effects, but letting myself be driven by ego and fear was too terrible a way to live.”
I hope this book will serve you well on your journey.
What is the point of success and good fortune if we cannot share it? I have been privileged in my life to help people on their journey with cancer using my own experiences, and this book was born in that same spirit.
10% of the net proceeds from the book sales will go to support the amazing mission of Bátor Tábor (“Camp Courage” in English), a philanthropic organisation in Hungary where I was born, that runs therapeutic recreation camps for cancer-afflicted and chronically ill children and their families.
They have a truly inspiring mission:
“Bátor Tábor returns cancer-afflicted and chronically ill children to their carefree childhoods. Our camp is not a summer camp in the classical meaning of the term. We place children outside of their comfort zones through special experiences. By overcoming their fears, they can recognise that they are ready to confront not only the challenges involved in their adventures, but also their illness. We put smiles on their faces; we give them power for their struggle. We change lives.”
I’m very grateful for the organisation’s support with this book project and simply couldn’t have had a better partner. My family and I have been supporters of Bátor Tábor for many years and we are delighted to continue.
Take a few minutes to watch this video and get an insight into their great work: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GmRkvnasfZk
Link to their website: www.batortabor.com
Book on Amazon UK (Please leave a review about the book on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com)
Investor, author, cancer thriver and husband. I’m Hungarian by passport and have spent my adult life living, working and travelling the globe. My wife and I currently live in London, England. I spend my days in private equity investing and working with entrepreneurs and startups. My family supports philanthropic organisations around the world in the areas of health, education and community development.
If you are a kindred spirit, have an inspiring story, have any questions or just want to chat please feel free to reach out on Tamas’ website