I was talking to a friend a few weeks ago when she told me about her impending retirement.
“What are you going to do with your free time?” I asked.
“I’m going to volunteer at the local hospital,” she said.
“That’s great! What do you want to do?” I asked.
“I’m not sure, but I figure they’ll give me something,” she said.
I wished her well in her new endeavor, but I knew that her volunteer position would not last two months. Six weeks later, she was back on her couch.
It is absolutely noble to want to make a difference in the world. It’s rooted in the DNA of the better angels of our nature. The issue that arises, however, is when we seem to pick a cause by throwing darts at a board.
A hospital always needs help. I think I’ll volunteer there.
But what happens when the volunteer work gets hard? Being passionate is the desire that motivates us to walk through the door. But passion isn’t enough; we also need to have real world experience to meet and overcome those trying times. Without both, there is no anchor and rudder. If you go too far off course, you might never make it back.
There is a modern day poet named Prince EA, and he said one of the most breathtaking things I’ve ever heard.
“Kinda is lethal. You kinda want a career change, you kinda want straight As, you kinda want to get in shape. Simple math. No numbers to crunch. If you kinda want something, then you will kinda get the results you want.”
Cancer is not kinda… anything. It’s full bore, punch in the gut, slap in the face… everything. Even though I had the good cancer, the type that’s predominantly curable, there were times when I didn’t care if I lived or died anymore. I just didn’t have the strength to fight.
That’s why coming out the other side as one of the lucky ones affected me so greatly. When I survived cancer, it awakened a passion in me to make it mean something. In turn, I had to live it and relive it. So I embraced my crisis, my diagnosis, my treatment, and the aftermath. I embraced the amazing. I embraced the suck. My story became a part of me, and sharing it with others only made me more emboldened. It was no longer my experience; it was now part of my fabric.
However, before I jumped in with both feet, I wanted to make sure that I was going to be in it for the long haul. The only way I knew that I would stick with it was if it was something I already loved to do. It is not by accident that I’m a video producer. I always wanted to do it, I went to school for it, I worked exceptionally hard at my craft, and I became a good storyteller. And I knew there were stories to tell… stories that people may have been too reticent to tell themselves, for whatever reason.
Yet I really felt passionate about helping those people, because those of us who have gone through cancer have a unique education that we never really wanted, but a newfound knowledge base that could potentially help all those who will come after us.
And that’s when I realized that I, indeed, could help others. All I would have to do is use what I know to make it happen.
However, if I was going to try to convince people to be authentic, I was going to have to be authentic. I couldn’t tell stories about others unless I was willing to get naked about my own story. I had to be willing to share the good, the bad, the humorous, the embarrassing, and the lessons learned.
So that’s what I did. I wrote a book about my own cancer journey that gives the reader a humorous view of way too many details of my life, from epic failures to anatomical quirks that had disastrous results. As one of my friends put it, “This thing is really shameless. That’s good; it reads like you held nothing back.”
Had people told me that I would write a book, I would have told them that they were smoking something. However, my desire to be the bear… taking the lessons I’d learned and attempting to create something well outside my comfort zone for the benefit of others… was by far the greatest thing I ever did for myself. The catharsis of reliving each moment, whether painful or funny or self-flagellating, took away so much of the latent fear that I’d had.
It was not only okay to laugh at some of my misfortune, but it became almost therapeutic. And it didn’t just become therapeutic for me: it allowed others to genuinely laugh at cancer… something that tends to give people pause. I knew the importance of laughter, though. In some of my darkest hours, it was often laughter that got me through.
I call myself an Accidental Activist because cancer never popped up on my radar, and I never thought to do anything with any crisis in my life prior to hearing those three words. Yet while I would never deem cancer a “blessing,” it did finally give me perspective that I severely lacked, and it gave me the motivation to help others.
So I guess it wouldn’t be out of the realm to say, “Thanks cancer. You bastard.”
Dan Duffy is a husband, dad, video producer, blogger, and accidental activist. A survivor of stage three testicular cancer, Dan has spent the better part of a decade sharing his experience with others, and encouraging patients, survivors, and caregivers to share their stories. His organization, The Half Fund, is a not-for-profit mission dedicated to lifting the veil on cancer through films and music and books.
The first project for the Half Fund is The Half Book: He’s Taking His Ball and Going Home, Dan’s own humorous, poignant, and abjectly real immersion into his own cancer story. It is currently available on Amazon in both print and e-book versions.