I am no stranger to cancer; in fact you might say I know him pretty well. As a carrier of one of the Lynch Syndrome mutations, I have had two encounters with him, one in 1992 and the other in 2007 (yup, 2017 marks 10 years since the last time I personally encountered cancer). And with every year that passes, I have a diminished desire to know him any better. Sure, when I was in the throes of diagnosis and treatment I wanted to know everything about cancer: why I encountered him, how we were going to get rid of him. And when we found out that my son has the same genetic mutation that I do, we wanted to know how to reduce his chances of having an encounter with cancer.
But these days, with cancer now almost 10 years distant, I am less interested in cancer and more interested in life. Not only because cancer now seems like the dangerous hitch-hiker I see in my rear-view mirror rather than the enemy within, but also because I see the end of the world looming on the horizon, not the world, but my world at least. To be sure, I am not old yet, but as I reach my mid-fifties I know that there are more days behind me than in front of me, cancer or no. And this sometimes causes me pause as I wonder more and more about significance, my significance.
In his book, Falling Upwards, Richard Rohr contemplates the phenomenon of growing old and of the value of the end of our lives. To paraphrase, Rohr says, “During the first half our lives we spend our time on education and careers and family—the accumulation of the things and experiences that will define us—and we create a vessel which is the jar of our lives. In the latter half of our lives we take this vessel and we fill it with all the things that it can hold, that is, we learn to be what we have created. The problem with so many of us is that we think we can spend our whole lives building the jar, and we become dissatisfied when we realize that is not possible.”
I am now more focused on being who I am than in accumulating more things and experiences. Cancer taught me that, but so did living life. And I am happy that I have two or three (or four?) decades in which to become who I have set myself up to be.
When I talk to others about my cancer journey, whether that is to one person or to one thousand people, I always end with the same idea: my wholeness is more important than my health. I wish that I could have come to that realization twenty years ago. The realization that although our bodies fail, we still have the opportunity to work on our souls.
Dennis Maione is an author, speaker, and teacher from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. He has been on a 20+ year journey through 2 bouts with colo-rectal cancer, in large part due to the presence of a Lynch Syndrome mutation in his genes. He speaks and writes about his cancer journey, his insights into the medical system, and finding heroes and villains in the unlikeliest of places.
Dennis fills his time with writing, speaking, and teaching. His first book, “What I Learned from Cancer”, is available in electronic and paper form from the webstore at dennismaione.com. At his website you can also sign up for his newsletter, read his blog, and be the first to know about new books and other offerings. His newest book, “Finding Wholeness”, is expected out in 2017.