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Embracing the Suck of Cancer

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By: Michael Ansley

“EMBRACING THE SUCK” was a term I had heard early in my naval career. For some reason, it was something I hung onto and used routinely from that moment on.  There were many times when something unplanned happened (e.g., an extended deployment or something broke) and I just had to deal with it to accomplish the mission.  “EMBRACING THE SUCK” required me to accept the unexpected, analyze it, “deal with it” and continue on.  I liked developing solutions to complex problems and seemed to excel at it.  As a leader and an optimist, I would be able to communicate to my team the underlying mission (the “WHY”), cushion the blow and get the job done.  “EMBRACING THE SUCK” is synonymous with making the most out of a crappy situation. Doing this, I was able to convince most people that the glass is almost always half full.

I am sure you can vividly recall the day you were diagnosed.  For me, the day included the following: receiving my next assignment as Commanding Officer of a Submarine (YES!), a doctor’s appointment (to get back on my marathon program), a workout (followed by, “Wow I am exhausted”), a phone call (“What’s up with those white blood cells?”), the Emergency Room (“You got the wrong guy.), Oncology Ward (“Why me?”).  My leukemia diagnosis truly “SUCKED!” But, did I mention that I tend to be an optimist?  I quickly –within hours – engaged my medical team and asked, “What’s next?” Let’s do this and get this crap out of me.  In short order, I “EMBRACED THE SUCK;” with my life on the line, I saw no other options.  In the words of a famous philosopher, Yoda, “Do or Do Not, there is no TRY!”  Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t exactly easy, I was all in with a crappy hand.

Like all of us, I was scared, cried and screamed out.  But I knew that my family and friends counted on me to lead them throughout this crisis.  Maintaining a positive outlook empowers them and my medical team to prop me up when there are moments of doubt.  In the end, a positive attitude becomes contagious, like a self-licking ice cream cone.  Find something positive to focus on to take your mind off of the day-to-day grind of treatment.  For me, I became involved with volunteer organizations, raised money for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society; and between cycles of chemotherapy, managed to complete a half marathon.

Right now, I am “EMBRACING THE SUCK” of Chronic Graft Versus Host Disease.  My running joke is that my scleroderma will eventually give me the six-pack abs that I have always wanted!  I am still active, finally have finished my first full marathon and am still doing half marathons.  By no means am I setting any records, but I am out there making a difference and maintaining myself as healthy as possible.  Below are some tips and tricks on how to accomplish all of this:

  • Establish priorities – a fellow patient told me the following: “God, Family and Friends; all the rest is just stuff.”  Words that I live by to this day.
  • Life is too short to cry.  Laugh, Smile and Love.
  • Treat people the way you would want to be treated.
  • Keep yourself active and engaged in life. If you want to do something, do it.
  • Cry when you need to but try not to wallow in it.

I honestly can say that there was a lot of goodness that came with my diagnosis.  I gained a better perspective on what is truly important to me: “God, Family and Friends.” Everything else is just stuff.  Minor inconveniences of life (e.g., work and traffic) tend to bug me less than before.  Every sunrise and sunset is something I look forward to admiring.  Remember this one thing: from the very moment of diagnosis you are a “Cancer Survivor.” As a patient you have a choice about how you will handle the disease.  There is a fair amount of research that shows maintaining a positive attitude improves your overall outcome. Keeping a positive attitude throughout treatment (“EMBRACING THE SUCK”) prevents cancer from winning and enables you to enjoy your life. “In times of crisis some run towards the fight!”

Me with my medical team and Yoda during cycle 1

Me with my medical team and Yoda during cycle 1

 

Finishing my first half marathon between cycles 3 and 4

Finishing my first half marathon between cycles 3 and 4

 

Finishing my first full marathon with my friend Randy-2017 (finally)

Finishing my first full marathon with my friend Randy-2017 (finally)

 

Wife, friends and I during the 2011 Submarine Birthday Ball

Wife, friends and I during the 2011 Submarine Birthday Ball

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