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This is one of several essays from my private cancer journal. It is not intended as anything than a record of my states of mind as I struggled with the disease and the effects of the treatment.

Reflecting on helping others


Occasionally I get am e-mail from someone who has read my essays.

It always surprises me. I write these more as a record of my own journey, men climbing face of cliff at sunset and as the moment inspires me, but never to get responses.

But what amazes me most are the types of replies that I get.

I know that I may insult some or shut down dialogue or simply draw silent disdain but I have to say it because it has been gnawing on me and I really am not in the mood to refrain from expressing my opinion. It is not a leisure that I have time to afford.

People tell me that an essay resonates with them or that it has meaning and, at the same time, relate their own despondency with their condition.

I answer each e-mail and I try to grasp what the person is struggling with but deep down beneath it all, I don't understand.

Perhaps my problem is that I am not that person. I don't bring to the disease their particular history, the baggage created from the years that preceded diagnosis, the situation they are in now and the future that they face, for no two people are alike.

I try desperately to remember how I felt in those early days, when my treatment was ripping me apart, in the hope that it will give me some humility and sympathy. But, at the same time, I am no longer there. Yes, it was hell. Yes, I wrote about suicide. But, after 11 long months, I finally came out of it. (See Van Gogh & Attitude)

Since then, yes, I've been battered about. I've been punched in the stomach many times since but I manage to come back, at least emotionally.

I just don't know why and that lack of knowledge hurts because I wish it were some formula that I could pass on to others who still struggle with the emotional and psychological issues.

More than a year ago, I found and read Anatole Broyard's book, Intoxicated By My Illness. He had been diagnosed with prostate cancer and the way he embraced the illness resonated deeply with me. I put a selection at Phoenix5 and wrote about it, so I won't try to recapture it here. And Broyard speaks for himself.

Two months later, I discovered Victor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning. He gave me insight into why people give up in circumstances much worse than mine, and why (and how) to keep going. Unlike Broyard, Frankl's book was not about prostate cancer so I tried to express its relevance to people who struggle with the lack of meaning in their existence because of the cancer.

While each man gave me insight and inspiration, more than anything, they were a resource that I could give to others. Rather than struggle to find and articulate my own attitude, for I don't have command of the language like Broyard nor have I survived a hell like Frankl, I could point to them and say, Here, read this.

But Broyard and Frankl are not easy to digest. That's why I have a dozen other books at my site. I've even considered including sections from a book by "Dr. Phil" (McGraw) who appears regularly on Oprah's US TV show. He's not my style but he's down-to-earth and seems to resonate with many.

At the same time, people like to hear stories of those who struggled with and overcame horrible circumstances. Movies, books, magazines and TV shows (like Oprah) abound with them and especially since 9/11, there is no scarcity of heroes or models of behavior.

But living with (and despite) cancer seems to demand something else. I see it constantly on the various mailing lists where I have hung out for nearly three years. I do understand the fear and confusion that comes with diagnosis and then treatment. That is why I decided to put my journal on line and have kept writing. It does reach some. I only wish I could actually help more to emerge sooner, to get on with their lives. But truth is, each person must find their own way on this journey. Like treatment, it is not a one-size-fits-all experience. The best any of us can do is hope we can make a difference in someone who will, in turn, make a difference in another.

All I try to do is to let people know that it is possible to have a good life with cancer, that it can be done, no matter the stage or prognosis.

Maybe it will help someone to find their way to do it.


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This information is provided for educational purposes only and does not replace or amend professional medical advice. Unless otherwise stated and credited, the content of Phoenix5 (P5) is by and the opinion of and copyright © 2000 Robert Vaughn Young. All Rights Reserved. P5 is at <>. P5's policy regarding privacy and right to reprint are at <>.