My teen years were pretty amazing. I had a girlfriend, a brand new truck, played sports, was involved in everything from student body (ASB) to drama. In my senior year I was even crowned homecoming king. My life was what most teens dream of. I wasn’t bullied, I was well known, and I was pretty much liked by the people who knew me. Oh and I had cancer. I thought I’d save that little dinger till the end of this intro.
When I was sixteen I was diagnosed with stage 3B Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It’s a fairly predictable cancer and takes well to treatment when caught early. My problem was the doctors were pretty certain I had the big “C” for about a year and a half before we discovered it. My initial odds of living through it were fairly low. There’s more that story but I’ll save it for another day.
While the initial shock of going from care free teen to young man that one television reporter described while doing a news story as a young man, “fighting for his life” was a lot to handle, I was determined this disease would not impact me. I was so determined that God was going to use the experience for good that I chose to only see the good, share the good, and live the good that came from being sick. And there was a lot of good.
Being sick gave me perspective. It allowed me to recognize what really matters in life and focus more on the important than the trivial drama that most of us get caught up in. Cancer came with perks that teenagers love; front of the line passes at amusement parks, optional school attendance, late nights with cute nurses in the hospital playing poker, and sleeping in for as long as I liked without my parents bugging me to get up and make my bed.
Those were the things I focused on. I was determined to find purpose through the experience that gave it meaning. I took that goal to the extreme. Doors of opportunity opened and I ran through them sharing all the good and fun that cancer created in my life. During the last 25 years of my life I shared with more people I can count how cancer was “the best thing that ever happened to me.” Yes it’s true. Those were my words repeated loud and often. I spoke to thousands of young people encouraging and challenging them to “cheer up” when bad things happen because those bad things make them better. I even started a book that I never finished called, “Cheer up! You’ve Got Cancer” because I wanted the world to know all the good that comes from the bad. Which is true. Good things do happen in bad situations. The Bible actually promises good for every situation:
“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” Romans 8:28
However, in that simple verse I chose to ignore a simple truth. God works it all for our good. It’s not that everything is good. In fact he doesn’t even promise we’ll feel good when it’s over. He just promises us it will be for our good. I compare it to disciplining my children. There is nothing about a spanken (don’t judge) or a time out that feels good to either my boy or to me. I don’t like having to do it. He doesn’t like how it feels. But it is good for both of us. I do it for his good. But let’s be honest. It sucks for him and for me too.
And this is where I found myself twenty-five years later. Out of nowhere, I lost control of my emotions and began sobbing uncontrollably over a hair cut. Yes there’s more to that story later too. One simple act that I’d completed thousands of times since I was sixteen sent me into an emotional tailspin at forty- one years old. Cutting my hair created a flashback to my teen years I was not prepared for. And, in a moment of vulnerability, I got real honest with myself. I event spoke the words out loud for ME to hear.
“Cancer sucked.” “Cancer was scary.” “Cancer was hard on me.” “Cancer was hard on everyone who loved me.” “Cancer was not GOOD.” “Having cancer was NOT the best thing that ever happened to me. It was one of the worst things I’ve experienced.” “Cancer wasn’t fair.”
The next week I found myself in a session with my counselor pouring all that had been building for the last 2.5 decades. I told him how ashamed I was for feeling the way felt and how even more ashamed I was for all the people I had told to “cheer up” when they faced life’s unfair beat downs. I told him how foolish I felt for being so impacted now over something that happened so long ago.
He did what a great counselor would do. He asked questions. His questions helped me realize more truths which is why I’m writing this today.
• 100% of people don’t know what to do or how to act when faced with a trauma like cancer.
• Acknowledging the trauma’s difficulty doesn’t make us weak
• Finding the good in the bad doesn’t mean we are in complete denial
• We are not alone. Everyone feels pain. Everyone feels fear. Most people don’t know how to respond.
He then encouraged me with this.
“You’re story is important, Jeremy.” He told me. “People need to hear it. You may want to consider writing it down.”
So that’s what this is. It’s my attempt to tell my story. Not just the cancer cause I still refuse for that “C” word to define me. Because while trauma does have impact on everyone, there’s more to all of us than just trauma we have faced, are facing, or will face.