Cancer – It Takes Over Your Mind Too

I have never had cancer so I have no notion of the first had experience of the disease. This post isn’t about the first hand living and dying of cancer, it’s about the second hand experience of cancer – being alive with someone you love who has it.

The thing with cancer is that it never goes away, even when it is gone, it isn’t ever not there – it just isn’t there right now. A piece of your peace dies with the knowledge of this diagnosis. It is a flash-bulb moment marking the end of that life and the beginning of this new one.

It is the start of a new mental process that runs unstopped until your loved one dies. It’s a process that is mostly in the background, out of the consciousness, yet very taxing on the finite mental resources that exist within each of us. It’s a process that has it’s biggest impact exactly when you forget that it’s there – it reminds you that someone you love is sick and that the blissful moments you knew before are gone forever.

It’s like having a monkey on your back – sometimes the monkey is sleeping allowing your to live a cancer-free existence, like everything is fine and life is good. The rest of the time that monkey is drunk, playing a trumpet and spilling drinks all over your happiness.

And all the while, life goes on. There are bills to pay, dreams to have and life to live. It was coming all along, maybe not the cancer, but the death. The clock of life has been ticking down. Just because some doctor tells you with more clarity that it’ll be arriving sometime soon doesn’t change the fact that it has always been rolling towards us.

This is the piece that I have the least enjoyment with. You put on your game face and try to pay complete attention to the one you love, marked for death, yet not at all different from how they were a few weeks ago. And it is always close by, the though that says “they have cancer and they are going to be dead soon,” spoken with your own voice. Words you couldn’t have imaginable last year when you were all eating at Christmas and they said “hey, who invited this turkey to dinner?”

Training – Real Emergencies Vs. Fake Emergencies

There are very few accidents in life so there are very few emergencies. What most try to pass-off as an emergency is simply just something that wasn’t planned for, but which should have been predicted had the outcome been more important or had priorities been kept in mind.

Don’t get me wrong, emergencies do exist, and they are usually identified by an instantaneous and complete shifting of priorities. They are very rare and most people will have a couple of actual emergencies in their life time. In the realm of personal training, the cancellation call to the trainer is very low on the list of things to do when a real emergency kicks in. Survival or immediate service to those in need are hallmarks of a real emergency. For this reason, great personal trainers will never bill a client for an emergency because they cannot be avoided.

Some examples of a real emergency would be heart attack or stroke for a parent, injury in a car crash, delay due to actual highway / public transit congestion or closure, gas leak, bomb scare, fuel spill, tornado or other acute extreme weather event.

Some examples of fake emergencies would be children’s school event, sports game, or concert, impending work or school deadline, hot date, spontaneous trip or vacation.

The difference is in ones ability to anticipate the event or the amount of lead time or warning the client had about the event in question as well as the actual need to shift priorities. Work and school deadlines tend to be well communicated and well established ahead of time. The same is true for children’s school, sports and concert events. The date and times of these things are usually announced months ahead of time and are rarely spur of the moment things given the number of people involved with them.

What are we getting at here?

Very simple, our most successful clients have never missed a session due to an emergency. They have had to rescheduled sessions later in the week or do an extra session in the previous weeks, but if their program requires training 4 times per week, they always average 4 training sessions per week.

The most successful clients know their priorities and stick to them no matter what happens. They have the same opportunities to take spontaneous trips, dates and other events but they know exactly why they are training and do not sacrifice their future goals for immediate gratification. They don’t regard things they have a choice to do or not do as emergencies so their priorities cannot shift.

The least successful trainees or those who do not achieve their goals have a different view of emergencies. For those who are less committed to their goals, their future selves or achieving their potential, an opportunity to have fun now supersedes actual hard work and success. Worse than this is the tendency for these people to not know what the next few weeks of their life looks like – they don’t have schedules or day planners outlining the upcoming events like school activities, sports events for children, etc…. These people have little desire to create a new and better future because they just make plans and let life happen each day, labeling things emergencies so they can get out of their training session; effectively losing another day of their life just because they didn’t care enough to not lose it.

I recommend billing people for missed and cancelled sessions because there is no excuse for missing or cancelling a session. It isn’t personal but creating a new life is hard and if someone doesn’t care enough about their future to know what that future looks like – the upcoming events for their weeks – use the loss of money for a missed session as leverage for them to do what is important in the long run vs. doing the thing is fun right now.

Knowing It’s Time To Move Forward

People leave unsatisfying situations. They’ll work hard to stay in situations that they find satisfying and will make a lot of other sacrifices to keep things going. But when they leave, it’s because they have seen that situation for what it is – unfulfilling / unsatisfying – and they realize that there is not enough to be gained, or a lot to be lost, from remaining.

Regardless of the area of life – relationship, job, school, where someone calls home, hobby, etc… – the process is always the same for me.

Mindless enjoyment or contentment fades as the awareness that something is missing or out of place grows. Resentment or contempt arrive bringing along a fantasy of a different existence. Bitterness and hostility will soon appear if things do not change. If the situation remains the same, all of the negative emotions bubble-up suffocating and killing the once mindless bliss of “happy”.

I have become very aware of this process because I have gone through it a lot. I can feel or hear the seeds of resentment percolating in my consciousness very early on and have learned to pay attention to the potential harvest that may come to be. I don’t do anything other than notice the sensations the first few times I become aware of them as I may be having a tough day, be tired, hungry, whatever, just that something is off so what I attribute the negative moment to may have nothing to do with it. But I notice it, check inside, and get back to life with as clear a head as possible.

Most of the stuff never comes up again, lending validity to my notion that an empty belly, lack of sleep, or general BLAH can color the lens of perception. That’s good to know because, well, it’s just good to be reminded that I search for a reason AFTER I feel something and not necessarily the other way round.

But when the stuff does comes-up again and becomes impossible to let go of, I realize that the shift has occurred – like everything that is moving, a small change in the direction of life, when ignored, will deliver a big change in destination over the long run – so I make a dramatic change.

In most cases this means that I get out of the situation – leave a job, relationship, situation – and start something new or put more focus onto the other things I’m involved in. Occasionally I’ll spend some time to unpack my feelings / thoughts in order to track the actual cause of the misalignment. When this approach is successful, it creates a decision point where I can either change the situation or change my expectation of the existing situation.

Personal development grows from learning a new skill to help manage an existing situation, so figuring-out my thoughts / feelings / internal narrative is a critical practice. The key is to learn the new skill and implement it ONLY when it benefits all parties who are involved in the situation. There are times to make things work and there are times to move forward into something else.

Regardless of the outcome, when I start to notice that things are not as they need to be, I know that the process of change has begun and that it may be time to move forward.