Today I attended the funeral of a beloved member of the Atlanta Jewish community. While there, I had the sacred opportunity to learn more about someone I knew, but didn’t really know. There were many moments where I felt greater appreciation for the man, and one that really struck a chord.

Tel Aviv, 2016

During his beautiful eulogy, the deceased’s son shared that his father had once said (and I’m paraphrasing), ‘Instead of thinking of myself as fighting cancer, I prefer to think of it as I’m co-existing with cancer.’

What I find striking in this statement is the power of writing your own story, something this man clearly did. As the author of his life story, this man preferred the idea of co-existing over the idea of fighting. For him, “co-existing” was a more compelling, meaningful, and useful way of thinking about his life and his situation.

I suspect that all too often we adopt the metaphors, images, and even world views of others instead of doing the work of understanding and articulating our own. We don’t even notice it because our own meanings are so deeply influenced by others and by society more generally. One could even argue that we can’t arrive at any meanings outside of the shared vocabularies of our culture.

I think of all the times I’ve heard people use the phrase “fighting cancer.” There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the phrase and I would never suggest that there is. But I wonder, were they all “fighting”? Did they think they were fighting or did others describe them in those terms? And even if they were fighting, what did or does fighting mean to each? And in what other, perhaps more personal, ways did they and do we think about our life and situation.

Before today, I can’t think of a single person “co-existing” with cancer. That doesn’t mean there aren’t many. What I learned today has less to do with the specifics of cancer than it does with the idea of authoring our lives.

What really matters is that we populate our lives with ideas, concepts, and ways of thinking and feeling that reflect our deepest commitments whether they be “fighting” “co-existing” or otherwise. What matters is that we determine for ourselves the nouns, verbs, adjectives, metaphors, parenthesis, and exclamation points of our lives.

Co-existing with Cancer

5 thoughts on “Co-existing with Cancer

  • June 21, 2017 at 9:52 pm

    Beautifully written, Micah. A wonderful reminder to really live in the moment rather than to “sleepwalk” through each day mindlessly responding to events.

  • June 22, 2017 at 7:57 am

    Micah- thanks for this piece. In my world – we work with “parts” of the self. Some coaches and therapists, talk about the more disturbed and destructive parts of ourselves as enemies, gremlins, essentially parts to be banished or vanquished. I am much more partial to the approach which has us develop a relationship with those parts and understand what they need. Developing some agreements and a way of being together that is healthier for both. This feels similar. Choosing relationship over rejection…

    • June 22, 2017 at 9:53 am

      What your saying resonates. Choosing relationship– since there’s actually no other choice anyway (rejection being a form of relationship!)

  • June 22, 2017 at 11:05 am

    Micah – this is so beautiful. And yes, I would say Bob was fighting. You fight emotionally, physically, spiritually, mentally, to keep yourself focused on living and breathing and making the most of every second of life. Once he decided to let go and stop fighting, it wasn’t long until he passed away. There is a fight inside cancer patients that is indescribable to those of us who have never experienced the diagnosis ourselves. I am in awe of it. <3

    • June 22, 2017 at 7:42 pm

      I hear that and witnessed that for sure. And guessing you never stop fighting…

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